Originally written on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 1/3/12

The 2012 Rose Bowl very well could be remembered for any number of things: De’Anthony Thomas; Russell Wilson’s bizarre decision to spike the ball with just two seconds left; or really, any number of record-setting performances that made the game an instant classic, and one of the few bowl games to live up to the hype this holiday season.

One thing that it thankfully won’t be remembered for though is this: Chip Kelly will never again have to answer a question about his ability to “win the big game.” The dumbest story line in college football is no more. Kelly has his first bowl win as a head coach, and the Ducks have their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917, after Monday’s 45-38 thriller against Wisconsin.

In a game that no needed no hype, this one absolutely exceeded it anyway. From the beginning, the Rose Bowl was a back-and-forth shootout that threw tradition and pageantry out the window, in favor of goofy uniforms and bunches of scoring. This one may have been "The Granddaddy of them All." But it played out like more of a backyard family game on Thanksgiving, with most fans wondering if the team who had the ball last would win.

While it didn't work out quite that way, for quite awhile, it did look like it might be another BCS bowl game disappointment for the Ducks. Wisconsin opened the game with a relatively easy seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive, and from there, the points basically didn’t stop coming until the final whistle blew. Luckily for Ducks fans, Oregon came out with just a few more on the scoreboard when the clock went to zero.

For the Ducks, it was truly a team effort that saw any number of surprising performances lead to one of the biggest wins in program history.

Thomas, the previously mentioned freshman was quite possibly the star of the show, finishing the game with an unspeakable 155 yards on two carries, including a Rose Bowl record-setting 91-yard run in the second quarter. Senior wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei had a season-high 158 yards receiving, thanks in large part to one of the best passing days of quarterback Darron Thomas’ career. The junior from Louisiana finished with 268 yards and three touchdowns on 17 of 23 attempts. And in a game in which they gave up 38 points, even the defense stepped up when Terrence Mitchell forced a fumble late, with Wisconsin driving deep into Oregon territory. It halted a drive which would’ve most likely ended up with the Badgers getting points.

And yet incredibly, despite all that, despite all the spectacular performances, the Ducks still needed one of the biggest late game blunders in bowl history to close out the win.

It came with just seconds to go and with Wisconsin trailing by a touchdown. After the Badgers defense had forced a punt on Oregon’s final possession, they got the ball back with just 16 seconds left, no timeouts, and trailing by a touchdown. Quickly Russell Wilson hit Jason Abberderis for 29 yards. The next play he hit Nick Toon for 33 more. And as the refs lined up the ball, the Badgers had two seconds left, and time for one play to tie the game.

But instead of actually running a play, the Badgers elected to try and stop the clock by spiking the ball, a move that even now still hasn’t entirely been explained. Whatever the reasoning, the clock read zero, and the Badgers weren’t given a shot at the final play. And Oregon got their win their elusive "big game" win.

And now, once and for all, the critics can stop questioning Kelly.

Really, the talk was asinine to begin with, since Kelly has been one of the best coaches in the sport since taking over three years ago. In his time in Eugene the Ducks have won three straight Pac-12 titles, played in three straight BCS bowl games (including for the 2011 title), and had gone an incredible 23-3 since the start of 2011 entering this game. At most places, those 23 wins would be enough to get a statue built in your honor. But at Oregon, and with Kelly, the question remained: Could his system work against truly elite teams? With losses in his first two bowl games, and a defeat by LSU on the opening night of the season, many wondered exactly that. Never again.

And going forward, it only looks like there will be more smooth sailing for the Ducks heading into the 2012 season.

While it’s almost certain that star running back LaMichael James will be gone to the NFL (James just completed a redshirt junior year) alongside a few star seniors like Tuinei, a good chunk of the core returns. With Darron Thomas back under center, and De’Anthony Thomas taking on a more featured role, the Ducks should start next year in the Top 10, and alongside USC should be the favorites in the Pac-12 entering the 2012. It really is an unbelievable ascension for a program that really had no true football tradition before Kelly showed up in Eugene just a few short years ago.

Kelly and the Ducks had already arrived, but finally, it's now official.

Not even the harshest of critics can say otherwise.

For all of his college football articles, insight and opinions, follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.


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