As fans, we knew going in to this college football season that there were a lot of questions. There were concerns over Helrich's first time as a head coach, what the team would look like without Chip Kelly, and if De'Anthony Thomas could carry the load at running back. Instead of getting answers we seem to only have more questions. Is the golden age of Oregon football over? Was Chip Kelly that necessary to success? Is that seemingly lazy attitude held by some players an indicator of poor player leadership or a bigger issue that comes from the top down? Even though we may look at bowl games as glorified exhibitions that occur weeks after the regular season finishes we can't act like they don't impact our views of the team going in to the next season.
What hurt most about the "been there, done that" comments about the Rose Bowl is that it seemed to be so contradictory to Oregon's approach. The quote, even when put in context, seems so incongruent with the team culture. Oregon always focused on the process and not necessarily the end result and this quote seemed to be against that sentiment. That is why I cannot brush off the Arizona loss. It looked like the team didn't prepare for it and were still hungover from their title dreams dashed. While one could argue that the players made some spectacular plays I would argue that it is easy to want to win on Saturday's. The hard part is motivated to practice to the best of one's abilities Monday through Friday.
One aspect of bowl games that Tako discussed before the bowl season was that the teams that want the win more seem to get it. Those with a purpose in their bowl game tend to do better, because they have more focus and urgency in practice. It appeared that Oregon had lost all urgency and purpose after being knocked out of the title game and not even a conference championship was enough to get their urgency back. But then the Civil War happened.
After the last minute win over Oregon State the instagram feed for a number of players was showing their excitement for having beaten the Beavers. Everything seemed to change in Autzen in those last five minutes. Oregon was not only playing with focus but also with energy that seemed to have been lacking most of the year. Even the crowd was pre-2007 loud again.
Now the Ducks have a chance to take that momentum in to winning the bowl game. Now it is gut check time. Now that there isn't the prestige of a BCS game and no championships to win, there's only one thing left to play for. Pride. How much pride do the Ducks have? Was it really BCS or bust? Do they have more in the tank?
As a fan I can handle a loss. The Stanford game was beyond frustrating and could have been expected with some of the growing pains anticipated this year. However, a loss where Oregon had no business losing is one that I have a harder time accepting. Not because of the loss, but because of the effort.
When I turn on the game and watch the teams line up across from each other I want to see the Ducks have more pride than the Longhorns and give them everything they've got. Oregon may have better players heading in to this game and a better game plan on both sides of the ball, but rarely is that the sole reason why one team beats another.
Oregon great Steve Prefontaine once said, "Someone may beat me. But they'll have to bleed to do it." Track Town is a place where guts is glorified and even not succeeding a grand attempt is still worth supporting. Oregon's going down to San Antonio to play Texas. Texas has the motivation to win their last game with Mack Brown as head coach. Oregon has the motivation to win for themselves and for their teammates. If Oregon goes in and gives it their best then no one can be disappointed even if they come away with a loss, but I doubt that an Oregon team that plays as hard as they can for 60 minutes is going to lose.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.