For Oregon Football, the Time is Now

Marcus Mariota 111, UCLA,13,KC

For the last half-decade, Oregon football has been one of a handful of teams that has been, at some point during each season, a true contender for a national championship.  For a variety of reasons they have fallen short of attaining this goal.  They have come very close on multiple occasions, but have failed to close the deal.

In each of those years the Ducks have also shown an uncanny ability to reload, instead of rebuild, and somehow manage to improve at nearly every position. Yet inevitably a time will come when a program peaks or plateaus and it may very well be that Oregon is reaching that point.

Marcus Mariota might be the greatest quarterback Oregon has ever had.  He is the complete package.  He throws with accuracy and strength, he makes excellent decisions on the field and he can run like a gazelle, attributes that have executives in the NFL eagerly anticipating his ascension to the next level.

This will be Mariota’s last year in an Oregon uniform; it is a guarantee that he will be playing in the NFL next year.  And meaning no disrespect to the quarterbacks waiting in the wings, but Mariota’s are some very big shoes to fill, and it is highly likely that the Ducks will take a step back at the position when the next generation takes over.

Marcus Mariota 71, California,13,SF

Steve Francis

Mariota squirts through an opening in the Cal Bear defense.

This season, Byron Marshall will be a junior and Thomas Tyner a sophomore.  Both are quality running backs with a huge upside, but if next year’s quarterback is not as effective as Mariota, defenses will be able to focus more of their attention on the running game, making the offense prone to periods of stagnation, much like when Darron Thomas was at the helm.

There is little doubt that Oregon will continue to field teams with great offensive potential, but after this year, Oregon will be much less likely to field teams that have national championship winning potential.  Certainly players like Marshall and Tyner have the chance to become superstars, in this season or the next, but without the ability of Mariota running the show, their chances of winning it all diminish.

This team has been building towards the ultimate goal for some time now.  Last year seemed like a golden opportunity, but toward the end of the season, certain members of the team exhibited a lack of hunger and humility, and this attitude came back to haunt them in the losses to Stanford and Arizona.  Hopefully this year’s team remembers what happened, and have a renewed sense of urgency, commitment and hunger.  Should they fall victim again to those same entitled attitudes, they will not be in contention this year either.

To complete the process, to achieve the goals and standards that have been established for this program, Oregon will have to remember how hungry and determined they were when Chip Kelly took over the program.  They will have to return to the “us versus world” attitude that was so powerful. They will have to think like underdogs again, and regain that chip on their shoulder (no pun intended).

This has to be the year.  Even with such fresh faces on the defensive side of the ball, even though key players like DAT and Josh Huff have moved on, the time is now.  Not in the future.  Today, this week, this month and this year.  This is Mariota’s time to stake his claim as not one of the best quarterbacks in Oregon history, but the undisputed best.

Who knows what direction the program will go after Mariota has moved on to the NFL?  Certainly, surprises happen and new players step up in unexpected ways, but there is little disputing that Marcus Mariota is special. There has never been a player like him before in Oregon’s history, and it is likely that there will never be one like him again.

This is his year to shine, and seize the moment.

This is Oregon’s year to be the best.

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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Don Gilman

Don Gilman

Don Gilman is a second-year communications major at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. In addition to writing for FishDuck.com, he has been published in the Roseburg News-Review Newspaper, the UCC Mainstream Newspaper, Bucketlist Publications and is the featured author in the June, 2013 edition of eHorror magazine (under a pseudonym.) In 2013 Don received two awards from the Oregon Newspaper Association's annual statewide college competition: Third place for Best Feature Story and second place for Best Spot Photography.

  • Geauxdux

    You write, “toward the end of the season, certain members of the team exhibited a lack of hunger and humility, and this attitude came back to haunt them in the losses to Stanford and Arizona.” Which players are you talkng about? Why not call them out rather than refer vaguely and anonymously to “certain players?”

    • FishDuck

      Why don’t we name the players? Because we don’t do that on this site. Rather than stay completely away from the negative–we acknowledge it and deal with it, but there is no reason to call out certain coaches or players.

      You know what he was talking about anyway–why go further with it?

      • tramadon

        Thank you. That is exactly why I did not name them, There is zero need to call them out further. We all know who they are.

    • DUCK_Fan_4ever

      One certain running back who has decided to move on and declared for the NFL draft. TV cameras caught him laughing and being jovial during the 4th quarter against Stanford. Oregon was getting their butts kicked at the time.
      Also heard about some players commenting before the Arizona game that they had been to the Rose Bowl the previous season, and since the NC was now out of the picture they werent going to get up for a game. Actually had they played Arizona like they could have, I think they may well have been playing for the NC. Stanford lost after the Oregon game and Auburn won the SEC with 2 losses. Oregon could have been a 12-1 team, and been playing Florida St.

  • nascent

    The only problem with this assertion (Mariota is the pinnacle of Oregon quarterbacks, and this represents the best/only chance ever) is that, our best and National Championship season was with a different quarterback…Darron Thomas. There is a lot of pressure being put on this year’s team to do it all…or else there is no future. This is crazymaking, and the fans are setting up anything other than a NC as a let down. Fanbases set themselves up for disappointment doing this. No one knows what ups and downs may happen this season, nor can they see the future of players that aren’t even at school yet. Each team is unique…let’s see what they can do, and applaud any success they might have without outsized expectations, that more likely than not will lead to disappointment again on what is likely to be a great year.

    • tramadon

      I think you misunderstand. I never said this would be there only chance, only their BEST chance, at least for a while. Listen, I write these things with the full realization that I may very well be wrong. In fact, I hope I am! I hope Oregon keeps being in the title hunt every single year, but realistically, there is going to be a point where our beloved Ducks drop off some. My point is this: Before Kelly took over, we weren’t always in the title hunt, we were good but not necessarily great — at least on a yearly basis. Since Kelly came the goal has been, in virtually every coach’s, player’s and fan’s mind, that they were playing to win the National Championship. I strongly feel that if Oregon is going to do it anytime soon — not forever — then this has got to be the year. Players like Mariota don’t come around too often, and I firmly believe he is someone who can take us to the pinnacle of the sport.

  • Iraggone

    What’s missing in this story is the running back who will make the biggest difference for Oregon this year, Royce Freeman.

    • tramadon

      It could be, but I doubt he is going to jump over either Tyner or Marshall. It just doesn’t happen too often. But who knows?

      • Iraggone

        I recommend taking some time to study Freeman’s high school play films. This kid instinctively moves to open space on the field. This differs greatly from Tyner’s play films during his HS years where he was more of a power back only. Freeman is big, fast and agile.

        • tramadon

          You know, honestly, it doesn’t really matter what his high school highlights were, it is just that true freshman rarely take over their first year. DAT was a rare case for a freshman getting that many minutes, but even then, he was never able to supplant the backs ahead of him. But who knows? I am excited to see the next group of talent that is coming in, whether or not they break into serious playing time.

          • Platypus1

            Agreed about the impact of a true freshman. It is quite rare. DAT got on the field due to his highly unique attributes: Speed and elusiveness. I would argue that Freeman also has a unique attribute as a true freshman, at least for Oregon: Size. We’ve been missing that goal line, short yardage back for awhile now. LMJ had the vision and explosiveness in many of those instances, but a true 230 lb back can add an exciting component to the Oregon offense. I don’t really see Freeman competing as much with Tyner or Marshall, but more of the “Thunder” than fans often reference.

        • Robert Jones

          Tyner was NOT a power back. He ran 10.43 100M and absolutely avoided contact at all costs, earning him a “soft” label that carried on into his freshman year, when he needed some tough love from coaches and team mates to get him ready for the NCAA. It is Royce @ 6’1″ 220 that is built like a mack truck and can “power” through the line, but then shrug off or run over linebackers on his way to the goal line. Personally, I think Royce has a tougher football mentality than Tyner, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take Tyner’s spot by midseason.

  • wtd.ducks

    Good article. I do think this may be the best quarterback Oregon has ever had from a skills perspective and the team should do everything to take advantage of that. But it takes a lot more to get to and win a championship. I think this puts way too much of the responsibility on Mariota’s shoulders. The Ducks were in a position to win a NC with a much less skilled quarterback who had a monster game and a very solid and underrated defense that played great together. For this team to be able to get to a NC and win the defense is the critical element and they will need to improve a lot from last year’s performance in the front 7 and do it with a change in DC. It will be a tall order to get excellent and consistent execution and even last year the transition from Chip on O had some bumps before and after Mariota’s injury. The offense has reached an elite and consistent level and this year, and in year’s to come, seems much less the issue in my view. The most successful Oregon teams over the years have been the ones with the strongest and most consistent D’s. And it takes that to win at the highest level much less take out a Stanford. Go Ducks!

    • tramadon

      You have very valid points. I do think, however, that Mariota is one of those players who can take this team on his shoulders. He is that good, and I doubt he would shy away from the pressure. But you are definitely right about defenses, and I sure hope this year’s D will be a surprise — a nasty surprise for our opponents!

    • MAITAIDUCK

      Well it does take good DT’S too, so we probably should say that and way better O Line play too be able to RUN up the Gut is extremely important. If they can succeed at least in the Running between the Tackles then maybe this Offense has a chance too outscore everyone they play.

  • David

    I think 2 things contributed to Oregon’s offensive slide in the last 1/3 of the season. 1) Mariota hurt 2) Poor Offensive Run blocking. Once opposing defenses took the run game away, Oregon was stagnant and not as effective as it was against Tennessee, WSU, or UCLA. I’m not only excited to have Mariota back, but also to have 4/5 guys back on our line with Grasu as the anchor. Those two things coupled with Marshall and Tyner becoming more consistent runners will make this offense truly special and something the Fans have come to expect. MSU in week 2 will be a very telling week for the season next year

    • tramadon

      Yeah, that Michigan State game will be key, no doubt. In fact, I would say that it will really show us how Oregon will do against our nemesis – Stanford!

  • jduck88

    If the program is able to continue what Chip started there will be QBs good enough to win NCs after MM. Hey it might even be in a year or two with another MM. Line play and skill guys with all that speed are important too. We have yet to know for sure how Held/Frost, and DP as a DC will pan out. Well I hope.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Let me just say if they will be prone to stagnation like when Darron was at the Helm I will take that as a good sign because all we did was go to the Rose Bowl and the NATTY with him under Center, So I’d say that’s a plus.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    1 more thing is I agree with your assessment about this year, but If they do get to that 4 Team Playoff, I would think that this changes the Recruiting and it gets better because kids will see that the Coaching staff is a good one, which too a degree they are, they just haven’t been able to get this Team over the HUMP, So this would be the year to Motivate this Team. They are still a YOUNG Team.

  • John

    I agree with everything you said but we have michigan state so early on. As much as I want oregon to win.. Our track record with this type of team isn’t so good. What is your opinion on this?

  • Derrick Luke

    –The Author is overreacting–
    Well, I get where you are coming from Don Gilman with your article. I understand that it is hard to look at a player like Marcus Mariota, and feel comfortable that he is leaving Oregon at the end of the season. I agree that he is a great player, and he is probably the most well rounded QB that Oregon has ever had. But here’s the reality. Oregon made it to the national championship with a player–Darron Thomas–that, as you said, had moments of stagnation with the offense. If we won with a player like Darron Thomas, than we will be just fine in the future, and we will have plenty of opportunity’s to win a national title. I’m not worried at all in the future, because Oregon is no where near its top recruiting level. How do I know this? Because last time I checked, we’ve never had a top ten recruiting class. Ever! So once we get the top class, or a top 5 class, I will continue to say that we have never peaked…period!

  • Andrew

    Plateaus?? Only a couple of teams have ever done what UO has done over the past 5 years. Did you say Wilt chamberlain was going to plateau after he scored 100 points in one game as well? College football is special because every year is different. That’s why very few teams can stay atop of the college football rankings year in year out.
    Oregon has been to 4 BCS games in the last five years . the worst Season being last year when they had mariota at the helm (not saying it’s his fault). So to say UOs chances of winning a National title are running out is crazy. The only time UO was in the title game they had DT starting.. Oregon fans might like DT for all he did for the school, but know he was the least talented QB that chip coached when he implemented his offense.
    I think UO will stay in the mix because of coaching. They will coach to players strengths and keep Oregon in the top 15 in the polls come New Years.

    • Ty

      Actually, the worst season was in 2009 when Chip took over at head coach . The starter was Jeremiah Masoli and they lost to Boise state, Standord, and Ohio State in the rose bowl.

  • Cordialduck

    Hard for younger folks to remember, but Oregon has had some pretty capable quarterbacks, most who didn’t have this deep offensive playbook or the skilled teammates to work with. No question that MM has top-shelf physical skills and football smarts but I think the jury’s still out on his ability to pull the team through real adversity. For example, DT and Chip’s confidence before we turned around the 21-point deficit at home against Stanford was clear to everyone with access to the television broadcast. This year’s success–much like the Natty year–may depend more on leadership from players and coaching staff than physical talent.

  • Barry Bronson

    They said the same thing about Tennessee when Payton Manning graduated – the following year the Vols won a NC with Tee Martin at QB. When it comes to predicting college football let me quote the great screen writer William Goldman when a reporter asked his opinion about Hollywood ” No one knows anything”.

    • tramadon

      I agree. I don’t feel like this is how it is going to be…just my belief based on what I have seen. The funny thing about sports is that virtually all sports writing,both from fans and from media is based on opinion. I know I could be wrong, and like I said before, I hope I am! And let’s face it, not many people saw Mariota taking over like he did (let’s remember that it was Bennett that most people expected to be the starter the next year.) So yeah, I fully admit I may be wrong. We just write what we think based on what we see. Cheers.

  • Denise Jensen

    With the Ducks unable to recruit quality players on either the Offensive or defensive line they will be lucky to come away with a eight win season. Sorry! We need to remember the difference between reality and wishful thinking!

    • tramadon

      Well, I think that is not very realistic. Defensively they don’t have a lot of starters coming back, but on the offensive side there is a lot of talent and experience returning, so I don’t think an eight-win season is realistic — at all. In fact, I doubt you could find many sports writers, coaches or anyone who knows anything about Oregon football would think that is a possibility.

  • matt

    the oregon formula works, the offense, the flashiness the hip factor and the player development are proof of that Oregon will never necessarily need 5 star players (mariota was a two star) what it comes down to is whether Helfrich is as good a leader as he is a coordinator and if Mariota, or any future team leader can rally the troop when the going gets tough. Of course some years will be better than others but Oregon is a legitimate national program who will be a consistent mainstay in the national picture and rankings.

    • tramadon

      I think Oregon will be consistently good, but I just feel they might drop off — a little — after Mariota leaves. Maybe not, I totally accept that they may just stay in the National Title hunt for years to come, but I am not predicting that they are going to be bad at all, just perhaps not contending for National Championships.

  • Steven Hagar

    As a Sun Devil fan I am thrilled that you have found one more way to put pressure on your fine QB. Thanks for that. I am sure Stanford, CAL, OSU W, WSU, appreciate it. I think the more pressure the better! That being said I follow the Oregon program because I love the way they play and their consistency. I don’t think there will be a drop off. They have a system that attracts the best players. My hope is that ASU will get to the place the Ducks are now. In the meantime keep piling onto your program. It only helps the rest of us! GO SUN DEVILS!