It’s a new year and a new level of excitement for Duck fans. The Oregon football program continues to rocket to astonishing new heights under second-year head coach Mark Helfrich, and the Ducks have assembled yet another excellent year, earning a chance to play for the CFB national championship.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2015
The 2014 year was filled with special moments that both define the values and sportsmanship of Oregon athletics and signify the Ducks’ arrival at the highest echelon of college football. Here are five fun and memorable highlights from the 2014 year in Oregon football.
5. Oregon Beats Michigan State
An early test for the No. 3 Ducks at Autzen stadium would be No. 7 Michigan State. The Spartans defeated former Pac-12 champion Stanford in the previous year’s Rose Bowl and boasted a powerful defense.
For a preseason game, this top 10 matchup would make or break Oregon’s title run. After a tight first half and Oregon trailing Michigan State 27-18 in the third quarter, then Heisman-hopeful Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to four unanswered touchdowns and a huge win over the Spartans. This impressive win against one of the nation’s best defenses boosted the Ducks’ stock for the playoff committee by demonstrating an ability to overcome adversity and establish an elite body of work. The victory also served as the beginning of Mariota’s Heisman campaign.
4. “Jesus, Girls and Marcus Mariota”
The now infamous quote from a young Charlie Pape’ explaining the three things kids think about at O’Hara Catholic School (Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota) during a Mark Helfrich press conference went viral around Oregon and received national attention. The question arose from an otherwise serious Q and A session for coach Mark Helfrich and became a hilarious moment of levity for everyone. It was a fun moment for fans to see a giggle from the usual “all business-no nonsense-no distractions” side of the Oregon coaching staff. This moment will be remembered as producing one of the most memorable quotes in Oregon sports history.
3. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s Video to Duck Fans
The Rose Bowl was being billed as the marquee event: Oregon’s hottest cornerback, senior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, against last year’s Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston and his go-to receiver Rashad Greene. Everyone was drooling. And then the unthinkable happened: Oregon’s All-American cornerback tore his ACL during routine drills at practice, effectively ending his collegiate career.
Fans, media and teammates were devastated that one of their favorite, hardest working defenders would miss the post-season the Ducks worked so hard to reach. But Ekpre-Olomu did something special and unexpected. The senior released a video to Oregon fans, alumni and supporters, thanking them for the years of support and assuring everyone that “everything will be okay.” This was a class act from a true “Man of Oregon” and is one of the more special moments in 2014.
2. Pac-12 Championship — Revenge!
Oregon’s sole regular season loss came from Arizona, a bitter pill for Oregon fans. It seemed their national title hopes were dashed yet again, losing for the second straight year to the Wildcats. Well, Oregon won the rest of their regular season games and won the Pac-12 North outright.
The Pac-12 South was a meat grinder, but eventually spit forth a representative: Arizona. If Oregon was going to have a shot at the national title, they would have to confront their demons in the Arizona Wildcats.
After a slow start at Levi’s Stadium, the Ducks eventually delivered the goods, suffocating Arizona’s offensive efforts and shredding the Wildcats’ talented defense. The rout was on and the Ducks won the Pac-12 Championship. There was no longer any doubt that the Oregon Ducks were the true champions of the Pac-12.
1. Marcus Mariota Wins the Heisman Trophy
Arguably the hallmark moment in Oregon sports history, quarterback Marcus Mariota became the first Duck and native Hawaiian to win the Heisman Trophy in what was a landslide victory. Mariota’s victory was a testament to his work ethic, selflessness, sportsmanship and relentless pursuit of perfection. For Duck fans, this was a moment in history that most likely won’t be repeated. It is a testament to the University of Oregon, the coaches, the alumni, the players and the fans. The Heisman voters got it right this time. Mariota is the best player in college football. Thank you.
Thank you Ducks for a very special and unforgettable 2014 in sports. The new year of 2015 has started off with more great memories created with a Rose Bowl victory and a shot at the national title. Happy New Year and go Ducks!
Top photo by David Pyles