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Oregon Football: After Missing out on BCS, What Do the Ducks Have to Play For?

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Oregon Football: After Missing out on BCS, What Do the Ducks Have to Play For?
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Despite an uncharacteristic 2-2 record in the season's final four games, the Oregon Ducks have already secured another season with at least 10 wins.

By beating Oregon State in the season finale, the Ducks accomplished the feat for the ninth time in the past 14 seasons.

So what do the Ducks have to play for following a disappointing end to a once promising season?

Despite missing out on a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2008 campaign, the Ducks can reach the 11-win mark for the fourth consecutive season. If they beat the Texas Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, it would be just the fifth season in program history to end with 11 wins.

The payout might not be as much as a BCS bowl, but the payoff could be huge for the Oregon program. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Oregon needs a bowl win before turning its focus to 2014.

While it doesn't benefit the program this season, missing out on the BCS might turn out to be the best thing for the future of Oregon football.

The high level of success the program achieved under former head coach Chip Kelly appears to have become too routine for the Ducks. With Mark Helfrich in charge of the program, the Ducks took a slight step backward in 2013.

After falling to Stanford in the Pac-12's game of the year, Helfrich was faced with his toughest test as a head coach. He needed to challenge the team to respond to adversity, which hasn't been very common in Eugene. While it's tough to put the blame squarely on Helfrich and his staff, the Ducks never really recovered from the loss to the Cardinal.

As it turns out, the Ducks had plenty to play for after the loss. Had they bounced back and played like themselves over the final three games and earned a spot in the Pac-12 title game, they would have had a legitimate shot at facing Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.

Everyone knows that didn't happen, and the Ducks were left out of the BCS in favor of Oklahoma. With little to play before beyond pride and an 11th win, the staff must find a way to motivate the team going forward.

There are plenty of programs that would trade places with Oregon in a heartbeat, but if the Ducks want to remain near the top of the college football world, they need to beat the Longhorns.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
After a 6-0 start in 2002, Oregon lost 16 of its next 30 games.

The Ducks have been in situations like this before. In 2002, the Ducks were coming off an 11-1 season, which ended with a Fiesta Bowl win. A 6-0 start had them sitting at No. 6 in the polls before losing five of the last six games. 

With only pride and momentum heading into the offseason at stake, the Ducks were blown out by Wake Forest in the now defunct Seattle Bowl. After the collapse of 2002, the Ducks went just 13-10 over the next two seasons.

In 2007, the Ducks lost a handful of starters to season-ending injuries in the first eight games of the year. Despite the losses, the Ducks were able to climb to No. 2 in the BCS behind quarterback Dennis Dixon, the Heisman front-runner, who was nursing an injured knee.

Then came a road trip to Arizona. Sound familiar yet?

After a hot start, Dixon went down for the season with a torn ACL. The Ducks' season went down along with their star quarterback. After losing their final three games due to a depleted roster, the Ducks were able to bounce back and win the Sun Bowl in dominant fashion.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Ducks lost Dennis Dixon and a lot more in 2007 before bouncing back with a blowout win in the Sun Bowl.

The Sun Bowl win helped Oregon build positive momentum heading into the offseason. The following season, the Ducks began their current run of six consecutive double-digit win seasons. 

While the Ducks didn't lose Marcus Mariota or their final three games of the 2013 season, the narrative closely parallels the 2007 campaign.

If Helfrich hopes to keep the Ducks on the pace they have set in recent years, he'll need to take a close look at how the program picked itself up by the bootstraps before the 2007 Sun Bowl.

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The Ducks faltered down the stretch but have the potential for another big season in 2014.

A third consecutive bowl win would be nice. So would another 11-win season. Those things would look great on paper, but the Alamo Bowl could set the bar for continued success if the Ducks are able to regroup.

If not, it could set the program back heading into the 2014 season.

 

 

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