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Dead week lets Ducks refocus

After season of mixed results, health, school are priorities for Oregon


by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff comes down with the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown in last weeks Civil War game against Oregon State.There are two camps with distinctly different views about Oregon’s 10-2 season.

There are those who say that 10-2 is a good season no matter how you slice it.

Then there are those who will point out that 10-2 is an utter disappointment. That Oregon had perhaps the most talented team in school history this season. A cakewalk preseason schedule. A chance to play for the national championship before losing to Stanford. Then a chance to play in the Rose Bowl before losing to Arizona.

Which camp do the players and coaches fall into? Both — and often in the same breath.

“To be 10-2 ... I know it’s incredible, but it’s not exactly where we wanted to be,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. “But 10-2 is a good season. I’m very happy. The standard or the bar has been set high, everybody understands that. I don’t think we should ever be ashamed or feel bad about 10 wins.”

Running back Thomas Tyner says: “We’re not satisfied. All we can do right now is cherish the moments we have with the seniors. And just play for them and embrace every moment we have together.”

“We’re expected to win a lot of championships here. It hasn’t happened yet. But, getting 10 wins, it’s not easy. The way we’ve been playing the past couple of years, people expect us to get more than 10 wins,” center Hroniss Grasu says.

So now it is wait and see time for Oregon. While the players take a week off from practice to study and the coaches hit the road recruiting, other teams will be playing in conference championship games.

There are half a dozen or more scenarios for what bowl game Oregon could go to — we’ll know Sunday night, probably. If domino after domino falls the right way, the Ducks could wind up in the Orange Bowl, thus adding to their streak of four BCS games. More likely, though, is a trip to the Alamo Bowl — although the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl are conceivable destinations as well.

“We’ll see whatever unfolds,” coach Mark Helfrich says. “It goes back to coulda, woulda, shoulda, and handling your business, and why it’s so important to have a great week every week.”

Whatever bowl game Oregon goes to, the Ducks will be coming off their worst November in several years. But Helfrich says his team’s heart is still intact. He has evaded talking in depth about the morale, however.

“The heart of this football team, I would never ever put into question,” Helfrich says. “The morale ... morale is one of those things ... it’s kind of a huge word. These guys love to play football. That’s why when we talk about the Arizona loss, it’s a very uncharacteristic performance. You can put that 100 percent on me.

“The morale going forward ... this will be a great break right here to get a healthy mind, body and spirit and get ready to rock, wherever we end up.”

One Ducks player whose future is up in the air is star junior running back De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas says he will use the time before the bowl game to decide whether to declare for the NFL draft. He expects to have a decision before he steps onto the field, but says he will not announce it until after the season.

“It’s pretty much just me making my own decision,” he says. “I make my own decisions, so it’s going to be whatever I feel like.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota made his draft decision quickly, announcing Tuesday that he will return to Oregon next season and saying "I look forward to earning my degree next year."

Mariota says he will use the next month to study and work on the health of his injured left knee.

“These next couple of weeks are going to be huge for me,” Mariota says. “It’s a special time for us to get ready academically and also get healthy. I’m not the only one who’s banged up. There’s a lot of guys in the locker room who really just need to get off the field. We’re going to take these next couple of weeks and focus on school and get healthy.”

Should Mariota rebound, the Ducks could be a formidable opponent in any bowl game they go to — especially if they play in a non-BCS game. With Mariota unable to perform at a high level, the Oregon team that showed up to play in November was only a shadow of what it was in September and October.

And because of that, regardless of whether Oregon wins its bowl game or not, Helfrich’s maiden voyage at the Ducks’ helm has failed to live up to the standard set by his predecessor Chip Kelly.

“Our guys’ standard,” Helfrich says, “is very different than everybody else.”