The Oregon Ducks lost in the first ever College Football Playoff national title game, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota declared for the NFL draft and fans are rightfully alarmed.
Things are rapidly changing for the Ducks, and their response to an unfortunate week will redefine the program.
In the most-watched cable broadcast of all time, Oregon's weaknesses were exposed by Ohio State and Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes knew exactly what to expect from the Ducks, and while Oregon cut the deficit to just one point in the second half, Ohio State soon ran away with the game.
But if you ask senior linebacker Derrick Malone what it meant to lose a national championship, he’ll tell you the team isn't worried.
"You have to be a man when you win," Malone said after the game, per 247Sports. "And you have to be a man when you are defeated."
According to 247Sports, Malone found numerous younger players and made sure they congratulated Ohio State on its victory. It was perhaps one of the tougher tasks of the night for many players, but one that embodied an Oregon season defined by resilience and brotherhood—specifically after losing so many stars (e.g. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Pharaoh Brown, Devon Allen and Tyler Johnstone) to injury.
With similar emotional intensity, senior Hroniss Grasu reportedly found every player on the Ducks roster and gave him a hug after the game.
"It's been a crazy year, a historic year,” Grasu said, via GoDucks.com's Rob Moseley. “We're Pac-12 champs, Rose Bowl champs; we just fell one short.”
The one where Oregon fell short this season, however, kept the team from making history—Oregon remains without its first national title. And on Tuesday morning, I found the University of Oregon campus deserted.
Indeed, it seemed there was a shadow cast over the city of Eugene, a much darker place than the day prior.
Meanwhile, Yahoo Sports reported nearly 90 fires in Columbus, and a group of Buckeyes fans even tore town a goalpost at Ohio Stadium. The local police chief is now investigating the use of pepper spray to settle the crowds, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
When I walked to campus in Eugene the morning after the game, it felt more like I was marching toward a funeral than to work at the radio station. I was wearing all black, including a Nike replica of the black (and pink) jersey Oregon wore against Arizona in October 2014, the only other loss of the season.
It was a crushing defeat in the national championship, and we all knew it.
“We didn't play like ourselves,” junior defensive lineman Arik Armstead said, per the Daily Emerald.
Armstead isn't wrong.
The Buckeyes offensive line seemed to absolutely handle the Ducks defense all game long. And with the exception of a stellar performance totaling over 170 yards from Byron Marshall, Oregon seemed unable to get anything started on offense—specifically converting on third down or turning defensive turnovers into offensive scores.
Times were changing for Oregon football, and the loss didn’t help.
The day after the game, Armstead announced he would forego his senior season and his final year of NCAA eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
Mariota, too, unsurprisingly declared for the NFL draft on Tuesday and is now a projected top-five selection; some B/R writers even project him as the first overall pick.
His final play as an Oregon Duck was a meaningless interception, down 42-20, as confetti fell on the field to celebrate a victory that belonged to his opponent.
It wasn’t the pretty, storybook ending Eugene had expected for Mariota's career. But his accomplishments—including a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl trophy and a Heisman Trophy from this season alone—will last forever.
"The support I received from the University, the city of Eugene and Duck fans has been tremendous,” Mariota said in his official statement. “I will always remember the great times and support I received. Once a Duck always a Duck.”
While it didn’t work out on the main stage, Oregon supporters have been lucky during the last few football seasons. Fans had the privilege to watch some incredible football while also witnessing the evolution of a developing program working to solidify an identity.
“It’s unfortunate and a little bit insulting in a lot of ways that whoever loses this game, the word failure comes up as a description for the season,” UO head coach Mark Helfrich said, per OregonLive.com. “That word never exists in these guys vocabularies.”
As always, of course, there were also undeniable positives to take away from a season like the one the Oregon Ducks just completed. As a writer, these silver linings are important to find, as well.
“I'm thinking about what I've been through these last five years—and especially this year," redshirt senior Keanon Lowe said, via GoDucks.com. “We came up short, but we're not ever going to forget this moment or what our season brought us this year."
Lowe, who was a true freshman and redshirting at the time, was on the team that lost in the national championship when I was a senior in high school. During my senior year of college, Lowe scored a huge touchdown in the national championship game.
Once more, however, the Ducks fell short.
Despite crushing losses in the last few years to USC, Stanford (twice) and Arizona (twice) that spoiled championship hopes along the way, it felt like everything was pointed toward my senior year at the University of Oregon culminating with a national championship. I’m not the only one that felt this way.
The dynasty that fans watched develop over the last few years will not look the same next season, and the future of the Oregon Ducks football program is uncertain. But the ride this team has taken, both for themselves and their fans, has been beyond remarkable.
"I love you guys. I love this team,” Helfrich said after the game, according to GoDucks.com. “There's not one man in this room who should feel anything but good about what you guys were able to accomplish.”
Bryan Kalbrosky is the media director for the student section at the University of Oregon and is the editor of uopitcrew.com. His work has also been published by The Huffington Post, ESPN Denver, Yahoo! Sports and various other publications.