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The Observer Paper 12/22/14

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Itís Civil War time in the state of Oregon

Sean Mannion (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Sean Mannion (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
  

OSU seniors have last shot at dreaded Ducks

CORVALLIS — Ten days ago, a fiery Brandin Cooks told ascrum of reporters inside Sun Devil Stadium that Oregon State refused to accepta “half-and-half season.”A 6-6 record didn’t look right, the junior explained. TheBeavers needed to nab a Senior Night win against an equally desperateWashington team. They needed to give a core group of veterans a memory befittingthe Reser Stadium finale.

Execution didn’t align with intent Saturday. After honoring17 seniors in pregame ceremonies, OSU trudged through its most haplessperformance in recent memory. Even as the final whistle sounded on the 69-27shellacking, though, optimists clung onto one comforting thought: Perhaps the Beavers can help salvage adisappointing campaign with a Civil War win.

An upset Friday in Eugene would serve a multitude of OSUaims. It would clinch a winning season, improve the Beavers’ bowl positioningand secure that ever-elusive statement victory. But it would also give a seniorclass some much-desired redemption.

“You always want to go out with a win on Senior Night andstuff because it’s at home,” senior defensive tackle Mana Rosa said afterpractice Tuesday. “But I’d be really happy just coming out and winning that(Oregon) game for sure. It’d definitely make my season.”

The senior class, which includes 11 players who’ve startedthis year, has yet to experience the full potential of the state’s most heatedrivalry. At this point, after all, the back-and-forth battles of the 1990s andearly 2000s seem a distant memory.

While the No. 12 Ducks have leaned on Nike influence andblistering speed to emerge as a perennial BCS contender, the Beavers have struggledto maintain national relevance. Since seniors’ rookie season in 2010,OSU has attended one bowl game — last December’s Alamo Bowl loss to Texas. AChip Kelly-led Oregon squad has made three straight BCS bowl appearances inthat span, including a trip to the 2010 national championship game.

The Civil War has highlighted the two teams’ differingtrajectories. Ducks seniors have outscored their Beavers counterparts134-65 over three career wins. With LaMichael James leading the way in 2011, Oregongouged a three-win OSU team in Autzen Stadium for 670 total yards. The Ducksousted Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl five weeks later.

In the days preceding the Civil War last year, OSU seemedpoised to test the Ducks for the first time in three seasons. The No. 16Beavers were in the midst of the biggest turnaround in school history. Theyboasted elite weapons in Cooks and Markus Wheaton. They were playing before araucous Reser Stadium crowd.

Expectations didn’t meet reality. The Ducks pieced togetherfour straight second-half touchdowns to run away with the 48-24 win. It wastheir fifth consecutive Civil War victory.

So Friday’s matchup represents far more than a rivalry gamefor Beavers seniors. It’s an opportunity to solidify a second straight bowl appearance.It’s a last chance to cross a key item off their OSU bucket list. It’s afeel-good ending.

“It’d mean a lot just because I haven’t beaten Oregon sinceI’ve been here,” said cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, one of five Beavers seniorsexpected to start Friday. “In a heated rivalry like that, you always at leastwant to go out and say, ‘I beat them.’ And what better way to do that than yourlast regular-season game?”

While their neighbors down Interstate 5 spend much of theweek preaching about “faceless opponents,” the Beavers prefer to take a whollydifferent approach. They regularly call the Civil War the “biggest game of theyear.” The team relishes the challenge, players say. It wants to prove OSU cancompete with elite athletes, even if few Beavers come with four-star pedigrees.

“They beat us five years in a row and right now we aren’thaving the greatest season,” Reynolds said. “So, of course, you feel like theylook at you like a little brother. But me? I don’t really worry about nothinglike that.”

He’s focused on the same goals that consumed Cooks after theArizona State loss. He wants to clinch a winning record.He wants a memorable farewell moment for his class, Senior Night or not.

Note: Safety RyanMurphy, who wore a boot on his left foot Monday,

 

Is the Marcus Mariota era drawing to a close?

EUGENE — Aloha can be used to say hello or goodbye.

Marcus Mariota said he doesn’t know if the latter will apply on Friday night when Oregon’s dynamic starting quarterback walks off the field at Autzen Stadium following the regular-season finale against Oregon State.

The redshirt sophomore from Honolulu will still have two years of eligibility remaining after the Ducks’ bowl game. Of course Mariota, a rare talent with a 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame, a strong, accurate arm and sprinter speed (when healthy), is also eligible to enter the NFL draft.

“Not at all,” Mariota said Monday when asked if he had thought about the possibility of the Civil War being his final home game at Oregon. “I’m being truthfully honest, I’m not sure. After the bowl season I’ll go home and just kind of talk through this with my family and see where is the best fit for my family.”

The left knee injury Mariota has been playing through could may have prevented Mariota from winning the Heisman Trophy, the Pac-12 championship and an opportunity to play for a national championship. The risk of returning for another college season is worth the chance to make another run at those individual and team goals with the Ducks.

“I’d like to see him go back to Oregon,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said of the 20-year-old Mariota during a recent media teleconference. “These third-year sophomore quarterbacks, even though they have played a couple seasons, the more you can play, the better you will be in the NFL. That has been proven, and it is something NFL teams believe in. The more experience, the better you will be.

“Obviously, a lot hinges on what some of these other kids’ decisions may be, that could affect Marcus’ decision. I think he’s still in the early first-round discussion. If you need a quarterback, you look at him.”

Kiper has Mariota ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect on his “big board” behind South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Neither Mariota or Bridgewater will win the Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) or Maxwell Award (best overall player) this season. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Florida State’s Jameis Winston were named the three finalists on Monday.

Meanwhile, Mariota was doing his best to make sure the Ducks regroup from the stunning 42-16 loss at Arizona. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich’s policy is not to discuss injuries, but his quarterback self-reported that he did not suffer a concussion.

“I’m good. I just got my bell rung a little bit,” said Mariota, who sustained a blow to the back of the helmet while attempting to make a tackle following a fourth-quarter interception. “I went after the guy. I was kind of more mad that I threw the interception than anything. It’s a learning process. …

“Just the typical protocol, I passed everything and my symptoms are good.”

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