Late Sunday night, with the sports world reeling from the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and the death of Rick Majerus, while being thrilled by the college football championship games and NFL Week 13, the bowl games for the 2012 college football season were announced. For the Oregon Ducks, there was no surprise: A trip to Glendale for the Fiesta Bowl, January 3rd, against Kansas State.
For most teams, the night bowl games are announced is a night of great joy, great sorrow, or great frustration. Northern Illinois busted into the Orange Bowl - against all odds - and will have their day on the sport’s brightest stage. Wisconsin will get another shot at the Rose Bowl while just up the road, Oregon State rejoiced at the prospect of a bowl game against national powerhouse Texas, selected by the Alamo Bowl over UCLA.
On the other end of the spectrum, Louisiana Tech, once touted as a BCS buster themselves, won't even play in a bowl game, while preseason #1 USC will have to settle for the Sun Bowl. At the crest of it all, Alabama and Notre Dame can sit back and celebrate, at least for a moment, running the gauntlet to the BCS National Championship game. Oregon was supposed to have that National Championship coronation Sunday night. But one miserable, confusing, futile night against Stanford prevented the Ducks' second trip to the title game in three years. By all means, the Fiesta Bowl is a fantastic destination, and behind that National Championship game, the Oregon - K-State tilt will be the second-most anticipated, biggest bowl game of the year. But it's not quite what it should be.
It's been a weird season for Oregon football. Really, it's been 11 groundhog days and the one ugly duckling. To reach the national championship game, Notre Dame had to kick a game winning field-goal against Purdue, fight back from the dead to beat Pittsburgh in three overtimes, battle through Stanford in overtime, topple Oklahoma down the stretch in Norman, and survive USC in one of the biggest regular season college football games of all-time. Add to that a three point win over BYU and a grind against Michigan and well, you have yourself a season. Whatever happens January 7th in Miami, Notre Dame fans will have some indelible images, and wonderful memories of the 2012 football season.
Alabama fans too. Of course, the Tide had their share of blowouts, but they sure had to earn their trip to the Natty, a last-gasp scintillating touchdown drive to beat LSU in Death Valley, the loss to Texas A&M, recovered for with the help of, in large part, the Fiesta Bowl teams, Oregon and Kansas State, and an unreal game against Georgia on Saturday for the SEC Championship. As good as they are, Alabama stared down the barrel at least three times this year.
Oregon, on the other hand, played 11 games that looked very much alike. There wasn't much adrenaline in the Ducks season. In fact, of Oregon's 12 games, only two were decided by less than 17 points. It was supposed to be USC or bust this year for Oregon, and while the Ducks busted USC in a thrilling game in the LA Coliseum, they were stopped by an inspired Stanford team two weeks later at Autzen. That was the season. The entire thing. What else can you point to as a game that defined the season, or defined a player, or even made you remember what happened outside of the USC and Stanford games? The rest of this Ducks season was mostly memorable for not being memorable.
It's one of the knocks against college football in comparison to the NFL - when you're a team like the Oregon Ducks, you only play a few competitive games a year, as compared to the NFL, where the typical team only plays a few games that are not competitive each year. Oregon has landed in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, one of the elite bowl games in the country. It's a game that has a lot riding on it, outside of the fact that the Ducks have a chance to win only their third BCS bowl game ever, and a chance to finish #2 in the country, there are a number of other things riding on this game.
In the back of minds all over the state and region, and really the football world, people are well aware that the Fiesta Bowl could be Chip Kelly's last game as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks football program. We know that Kelly wants the NFL, the NFL wants Kelly, and it's safe to say that Chip's stock will never be higher. There's not a lot more for Kelly to accomplish in Eugene, and it seems like it is time to cash out.
One of the most amazing things, out of the many amazing things, that Kelly has consistently demonstrated at Oregon is his ability to keep his players from the normal peaks and valleys and losses of concentration that plague most college football teams. Oregon's reward for churning out 11 groundhog days this year is this matchup against the Wildcats - a game between two top-five teams with swimmingly synergized offenses, that utilize different styles, to the same results. It's a matchup that pits two of the most unique, successful, opposite coaches in the country, in age, style, and background. This will be played in the gleaming University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, Oregon's first trip back since the 2010 National Championship loss to Auburn, a chance to negate sad, sour memories.
Speaking of memories, this is the kind of game that will create them; the kind of game Oregon has played seldom this season. We should see a close, exciting game between two evenly matched teams. It's worth noting that Oregon would be in the four team playoff had it started this year, and in the semi-final game for the national championship. That is yet another reminder of the lost opportunity that this season has brought, but the Fiesta Bowl will be a rewarding end for the often monotonous and on one Saturday night, bitterly disappointing season the Ducks have campaigned through. Get ready for a party January 3rd. Get ready for a Fiesta.