The UCLA Bruins were tossed into the Inaugural Pac-12 Championship game for one reason only.
The USC Trojans were unable to do so. They were disqualified before they were even truly given a chance. Thankfully, the Trojans snagged their moral victory over the Oregon Ducks a few weeks ago. Matt Barkley held his sword high and directed the band as the team celebrated by routing one of the fastest-paced college football programs in the country.
Now, it was Oregon’s turn on their home field, which they rightfully earned, to challenge one of the weaker teams in the Pac-12 to probably the biggest game in conference history. Everyone understood what the stakes were going in, and the odds were stacked firmly against the Bruins.
They were the figurative underdog. No one believed in them against a Chip Kelly offense. It was their opportunity to prove that they deserved to be in the running and for a short while, UCLA was well on their way to staying in the game.
But in usual Oregon fashion, the door was closed quicker than it was opened. Regardless of what turnovers UCLA caused or what touchdowns they scored, the Ducks were always prepared to answer with a long-rushing touchdown or a great punt return of their own.
Plainly stated, Oregon was just too much for the Bruins, and they proved it down the stretch as the final score of 49-31 tells a tale that the game was closer than it truly was.
The game was over and the awards were being passed out as Oregon fans praised their players by surrounding them on the field. Coach Kelly was presented with the very first Pac-12 Championship game trophy and promptly handed it over to the president of Oregon. Then there was the MVP award.
No one had to announce it. Everyone in the stadium was privy to who that trophy would be given to.
LaMichael James ran all over UCLA’s defense. With his fourth game of rushing for 200-plus yards on the season, James set himself up for an immediate entrance into one of the top five spots of Heisman candidacy. He is the power house that fuels Oregon’s offense, and the addition of his speed and vision down the field is what makes the Ducks so deadly.
Darron Thomas is a great quarterback and nothing should be taken from him as far as credit is concerned. Under his leadership, Oregon moved up and down the field into the end zone in less than two minutes multiple times. However, to say that James is not the most effective and the most reliable student athlete that coach Kelly has, briefly makes your opinion insignificant.
He has proven himself time and time again as not only the workhorse in the football program, but the kind of running back that everyone goes after and can rarely get onto the turf. Not because of how powerful he is, as he does not have that Trent Richardson physique. But the ability to find those gaps in the defensive lines and get into the open field allows his speed to bring him to that elite level.
There was another story coming to fruition as QB Thomas became Oregon’s career leader with 63 touchdowns.
Former UCLA head football coach Rick Neuheisel was coaching his last game after he was fired this week from his alma mater. He spoke some true and seemingly emotional words about his players and the heart they played with. Coach Neuheisel closed his comments with a statement to the tune of UCLA could take his job away from him, but they could not take away the bond he has formed with his players.
It was a move that had to be made in order for the school to restore UCLA’s once natural feel of dominance and contention.
The Oregon Ducks are on their way to the Rose Bowl, as was announced shortly after the trophies had been passed out. There they will face the winner of the Big Ten Championship that will be played between Michigan State and Wisconsin.
You may remember the most recent epic meeting between the two teams earlier in the season, when the game was won by a Kirk Cousins’ Hail Mary toss that eventually landed in the hands of Keith Nichol, who broke the plain and won the game. It was a hard loss that the Badgers have not forgotten, and there will be a sense of war in Indianapolis.
Oregon will face another high-impact offense if matched with Wisconsin. If they are set up against Michigan State, they will be forced to battle MSU’s defensive line.
Either way the cookie crumbles, Oregon is sitting comfortably, waiting for their opponent to be announced. Regardless of the outcome of the Rose Bowl, one thing is for certain. The Ducks were a major part of history. History that began with a victory on hometown turf.
Looking back, what could be sweeter?