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Down, but not out: Why Ducks fans should still be excited for the 2015 season

Marcus Mariota likely played his last down as a Duck last night, and things seem pretty gloomy right now. But that doesn't have to be the case.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe I'm writing another article because it's cheaper than therapy. Maybe I'm writing it because I want to hang on to this season for as long as I can. But as I sit here today, sadly eating my lunch like Urban Meyer on a golf cart, I can't help but be excited for the future of this team. Change is coming, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Marcus Mariota will likely leave for the NFL. He has his Heisman, he has his degree, he's won a Rose Bowl. We could sit here and tell ourselves he'll come back for one last hurrah and lead us to that national championship that we've come so close to. But that wouldn't be the healthy thing to do. It'd be like when a girl dumps you, and you try and keep calling her or texting her because you're not ready to let her go, even though you know it's going to happen. We have to let Marcus go and prepare for the future.

While there has been a number of positive messages about this team going around today, there's also a lot of talk that this was Oregon's last shot at a national title for a long time. I'm here to tell you how that statement is ludicrous. It's entirely possible that in the very near future, a guy like Travis Waller, fresh off of a Heisman season, could be hoisting the national championship trophy while all of us say, "Wow, and here we were thinking Mariota was the greatest quarterback in school history." That's what is so exciting about this team and the future. Today's unproven player is tomorrow's hero.

The last time the Ducks had to replace a quarterback as talented as Mariota, it didn't go well. After winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2001 to finish the year 11-1, the Ducks wouldn't win 10 games again until 2005. From 2002-2004, Oregon went 20-17 with one bowl win. The days of Jason Fife and Kellen Clemens were darker times after Joey Harrington left town. But I don't think the Ducks will sink that low next year.

When Darron Thomas left the Ducks early after winning the Rose Bowl, Marcus Mariota stepped in and led the Ducks to a BCS win at the Fiesta Bowl in his first season. The transition was as smooth as one could hope for. In his first season, Mariota put up almost identical numbers as Darron Thomas did when he led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Who's to say that the Ducks can't repeat that process in 2015? Sure, comparing Thomas to Mariota isn't really fair, but comparing the process of replacing one of the team's most essential players is fair. The Ducks have had to replace talented quarterbacks before, and the 2015 team will be just fine, with or without Mariota.

Because you see, what this team showed us is that they had so many different ways to beat you. And those weapons will be back in 2015, even if Mariota isn't. They'll still have guys like Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner in the backfield. Whoever takes over at quarterback will have plenty of talented receivers to work with. They won't rebuild, they will reload. Don't be surprised if Oregon relies heavily on guys like Tyner and Freeman while they adjust to a new quarterback. Even without Mariota, this team has some incredibly talented football players.

We're scared because for the first time in a few years, we're venturing into the unknown. We've already turned Mariota into some sort of mythical football god that simply could never be replaced. Whoever Oregon's quarterback will be in 2015 must prepare not only to take over the reigns of one of the best teams in the nation, but be ready to handle the impossible task of replacing Marcus Mariota. Because this is college football, and we aren't allowed to keep Marcus forever, as much as we'd all want to.

While I can't compare the 2015 team to those post-Harrington teams, I can say that I don't think we're looking at a 7 or 8 win team next season. Will they be good enough to get back to the playoff? I hope so, but I don't know. If by some miracle, Mariota returns for one last season, the Ducks will be ready to make another run at a national title. But if he doesn't, like we all are preparing for, Mark Helfrich and his staff will be ready to start fresh, hungrier than ever.

Personally, I'm already counting down the days until the Ducks kick off their 2015 season in September. I am optimistic about this team's future, and you should be, too.