The Oregon Ducks, led by their tremendous defensive effort, thrashed the Kansas State Wildcats, 35-17, in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.
Depending upon what happens in the BCS Championship Game, the Ducks are poised to finish as high as No. 2 in the country this year, which would amount to another successful year in the books and back-to-back BCS bowl wins for the guys from Eugene.
Yet, as they sit with one loss and look back on the year, the Ducks must realize just how close they were to returning to the BCS Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.
Unlike Kansas State, who got mollywhopped by Baylor, the Ducks are sitting in a position that any SEC fan—particularly those of Alabama and LSU—should know quite well. Unfortunately, the Ducks will not get the same storybook ending.
The 2007 edition LSU Tigers won their conference but took two losses into the BCS Championship game before walking out as champions. The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide had one loss and no conference title, but still walked away with the crown.
The similarities are striking from a seasonal standpoint, as the 2007 LSU Tigers, the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide and the 2012 Oregon Ducks all hold the "undefeated in regulation" distinction. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they were not able to climb high enough in the rankings following their late season loss to Stanford in order to get back into the mix.
The question of "what if" is unmistakable here for the Ducks. If they could have gotten past Stanford at home in overtime, they would probably be matched up against a team that had done just that this season, Notre Dame, for the nation's most coveted prize.
The Irish against the Ducks in Miami? Brian Kelly against Chip Kelly? The uptempo style of Oregon's lethal offense against the physical, tough play of Notre Dame's vaunted defense? Manti Te'o against Marcus Mariota?
That would be a spectacular matchup. And, to the delight of much of the nation, no SEC team would have a chance at the title for once.
But, alas, it was not meant to be. Oregon's missed opportunity in overtime led to Alabama clawing their way back into one of the top two spots, giving the Tide a shot to win yet another title.
Still, the Oregon Ducks—undefeated in regulation—are your 2013 Fiesta Bowl champions, and that is a victory in and of itself.
The "could of, should of" game is nice, but ultimately, the Ducks are returning to Eugene after a successful season. Finishing with a 12-1 record signifies a great season, and now, the eyes of the Oregon faithful must turn to the future.
First up? They must answer the Chip Kelly question. Will the coach stay or leave, especially with guys like Arik Armstead, Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas all coming back next year?
At this point, Ducks fans should be asking, "what's next?" and not, "what if?"