DALLAS -- If there’s one thing Oregon has to go with that rocket-powered offense, it’s confidence.

Less than 24 hours after the news broke of the suspension of wide receiver Darren Carrington for Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, the second-ranked Ducks were chipper, laughing, jovial. They were also adamant that nothing will change when it comes to their offensive approach against No. 4 Ohio State.

"It doesn’t matter who’s in on our offense during the game," All-American center Hroniss Grasu said. "... It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re not going to change our play-calling or anything; we’re just going to keep doing what we do. Nothing’s going to change for us."

That’s good, because you never want your entire offense to implode because of the absence of one player in a scheme that has the ability to beat you in so many different ways.

You have to dig that confidence, but the Ducks do have to be careful. With Carrington gone and fellow receiver Devon Allen (knee) expected to miss Monday’s game, the Ducks can’t afford to put any more pressure on a depleted receiving corps.

That means not getting behind on down and distance early in drives. That means making third downs more manageable, and maybe dialing it back a little on those pesky fourth downs that Oregon’s coaching staff sometimes treats as just another opportunity to gain yards.

Oregon will enter the title game ranking fourth nationally in third-down offense, converting 96 of 186 attempts (.516). In the Ducks’ lone loss to Arizona way back on Oct. 2, Oregon went a disappointing 4-for-14 (.286) on third downs. In road/neutral-site games, the Ducks have converted just 46 percent of their third downs, and against teams ranked in the AP poll, that number drops to 41 percent.

On the other side, the Buckeyes have allowed opponents to convert about 36 percent of the time (71 of 200).

But those are just numbers, calculations from the past that have no bearing on what will transpire Monday. For an offense that has a tendency to move at supersonic speeds, the thought of playing it safe is almost -- and sometimes literally -- laughable.

"It’s full steam ahead," standout freshman running back Royce Freeman said. "The moment you start being hesitant is the moment you start making mistakes. We lost some guys, yes, but we’re still going ahead full force."

It helps that the Ducks have been down this path before, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is still revving the engine of this Ferrari offense. As long as Marcus Mariota doesn’t miss the bus Monday, the winged warriors feel pretty confident in whatever situation they’re in.

"With Marcus on the field, anything’s possible," receiver Charles Nelson said. "Third down isn’t anything too bad."

The Ducks don’t want Carrington’s loss to derail their high-powered plans, but Grasu does understand that cutting out a couple of essential offensive pieces can add unnecessary pressure for the guys pegged to plug holes. There is just no sense in making it harder by putting unwanted distance between the first-down marker, especially against an Ohio State team that isn’t afraid to dial up the pressure on long third downs and led the Big Ten with 43 sacks this season.

"We want to stay out of third-and-longs as much as possible, because that’s when Ohio State likes to bring some type of pressure,” Grasu said. "... They are such a talented defense that it’s going to be hard to [stay out of third-and-long], but I know we have a very talented offense as well."

That last statement isn’t anything new, and maybe that’s why the Ducks aren’t publicly worried about the loss of Carrington affecting their game.

They have dealt with personnel losses before this season, and it seems silly to take the foot off the gas at this point.

"Like we’ve done all year when we’ve had one person go down we don’t skip a beat, we just throw someone else in there and they’re gonna make plays," Nelson said.

Video: Oregon's Secret Weapon

January, 10, 2015
Jan 10
4:42
PM ET

Oregon offensive lineman Matthew McFadden reveals the Ducks have a secret weapon on their side heading into the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

Video: Ducks Expecting A Win, And A Baby

January, 10, 2015
Jan 10
4:10
PM ET

Oregon offensive lineman Stetzon Bair might miss the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. But its only because his wife is expecting their first child any minute now.

DALLAS -- Oregon lost junior Bralon Addison, its top returning receiver, and tackle Tyler Johnstone, its best offensive lineman, before it even played a game this season.

After going 12-1 in the regular season, the No. 2 Ducks routed No. 3 Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day, despite playing without All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, starting tight end Pharaoh Brown and starting receiver Devon Allen, who injured his knee on the game's opening kickoff.
So don't expect the Ducks to panic after freshman receiver Darren Carrington was ruled ineligible to play against No. 4 Ohio State in Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T.

Forget "Win the Day." The Ducks' rallying cry should be "Next Man Up."

Read the full story here.


DALLAS -- Oregon Ducks receiver Darren Carrington did not make the trip to Dallas for Monday night's College Football Playoff Championship Presented by AT&T against Ohio State, the school confirmed Friday.

Comcast Sportsnet reported Friday night that Carrington, a freshman from San Diego, failed an NCAA-administered drug test, testing positive for marijuana.

Oregon spokesman Dave Williford confirmed Carrington did not make the trip, but the team wouldn't address the situation until coach Mark Helfrich appears at Saturday morning's media day.

If Carrington doesn't play against the Buckeyes on Monday night, it would be a big blow for Oregon's high-powered offense.

Carrington had more than 100 receiving yards in each of the Ducks' past two games. He had seven catches for 126 yards with one touchdown in a 51-13 victory over then-No. 8 Arizona in the Pac 12 championship game on Dec. 5, and then had seven catches for 165 yards with two touchdowns in a 59-20 win over No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day.

The Ducks are already expected to be without freshman receiver Devon Allen, who injured his knee on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl. Allen is Oregon's No. 2 receiver with 41 catches for 684 yards seven touchdowns. Tight end Pharaoh Brown has also been sidelined for several games with a leg injury.

The Ducks still have three players who have caught more than 20 passes this season: converted running back Byron Marshall, sophomore Dwayne Stanford and freshman Charles Nelson.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

Oregon fans... is it time to pull out the ole Billy Baroo? As Judge Smails said, "Wooooo.... Billy, Billy, Billy... This is a biggie!"

To the notes!

Dan from Los Angeles writes: What are your thoughts on the Jim Mora handshake after the game? I thought it was tacky and lacked class.

Ted Miller: I thought Mora had every right to be angry with how Kansas State conducted itself while UCLA was in victory formation at the end of the Alamo Bowl. Hurdling the pile and leading with the helmet in that situation, as a K-State player unquestionably did, is not only dangerous it's -- oh, by the way -- illegal.

It's also bush league, false tough-guy football. My hope is Wildcats coach Bill Snyder in some way punished Dante Barnett after the game. It's also too bad Snyder hasn't stepped up and explained that Mora had a right to be angry and that his player was unquestionably in the wrong.

Because there is no question -- despite all the faux, 100 percent agenda-driven defenses speciously spouting "playing hard until the clock strikes zero" -- of Barnett's actions being wrong. You do not do what he did. Period. Hush.

That said, Mora -- and he has acknowledged this -- didn't handle the handshake as well as he could or should have. Further, this was Bill Snyder on the receiving hand of a rude dismissal, so Mora was pretty doomed from a purely reactive social media standpoint to get buried on Twitter. Snyder is not only a Hall of Fame coach -- one of the greatest of all time, in fact -- he also is a classy, ethical leader of young men.

That, too, is without question.

I know those who see the world through "My Team Wrong or Right" glasses, or those who simply hate Mora/UCLA on reflex -- thinking of a wide-eyed segment of USC fans here -- are going to counter with a bunch of nonsense and call me biased. Might be more accurate to say I'm biased toward K-State, where I enjoyed one of my favorite college football weekends of all-time last year, but I simply call them like I see them. And, making this easy, is the situation being an objective, black-white, right-wrong call.

Mora is a very emotional guy. I like that about him. I've irritated him several times and received his notorious grumpy treatment. Doesn't bother me in the least. Part of my job. He also is thoughtful and cares about his players.

That -- the emotions and caring about his players -- got the best of him in this instance.


Angelo from Ripon, Calif., writes: With the combined loses of week 14 and the bowl season in the SEC, is it safe to say that we won't have to weather another year of SEC hype and inflated preseason rankings?

Ted Miller: Nope. Most will view the SEC's decline this season as temporary -- even a blip -- and not without justification.

No question the Pac-12 and Big Ten are the winners this bowl season, that is almost as much about an SEC slide as their own success. The Pac-12, as well-argued here by Barry Tramel of the The Oklahoman, distinguished itself as the No. 1 conference, and the Big Ten is the biggest gainer in terms of improving its previously waning image.

Yet if you asked most folks -- as in those who aspire toward covering college football as objective observers -- the SEC will still be the No. 1 conference over the long haul. As in: If you had to bet $1 on which conference will win the most College Football Playoff national titles over the next 10 years, most would pick the SEC. That is based on a combination of money, fan passion and geography that is favorable to recruiting.

The general hope, again among those who aspire to objectivity, is that we are now entering a cycle with more apparent parity, in which the other Power 5 conferences at least seem to be on more equal footing. It's not good for the game for one conference to win seven consecutive national titles, as the SEC did.

For example, if the SEC wins three or four of the next 10 national titles and the other four conferences split up the other six or seven, that would be a much better trend.

More than a few of us saw this coming, in large part because of the SEC's recent NFL attrition.

All this said, I still fully support your joyous trolling of SEC folks, who have dished it out with zeal for, oh, the past decade.


Mush Huskies from Portland writes: 8-6. A few plays against Stanford and a different "chart" against Arizona, and the Huskies are sitting at 10-4. But that didn't happen, so we're still 8-6. A new coach, lots of transfers, blah blah blah... there's still a lot of supposed talent on this team -- just look at the recruiting classes -- not great, but respectable. But I repeat: 8-6. Can someone please explain how the Huskies have been "rebuilding" since Owen 12 in 2008?

Ted Miller: In 2000, Washington won the Rose Bowl and finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3. Since then, it has yielded the Northwest to Oregon and been mostly irrelevant nationally.

Why? Poor management at the administrative level, poor coaching decisions, getting eclipsed in the facilities arms race, middling recruiting, and the rise of other Pac-10/12 teams -- such as those pesky Ducks.

Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the team into respectability, but he only got the Huskies to nine wins and a final top-25 ranking in his final season before bolting to USC. Chris Petersen inherited a good if flawed team, one that probably underachieved this season. It was not the debut Huskies fans had hoped for, but it's justifiable to excuse much of what went wrong to an adjustment period between team and coaching staff.

The Huskies now might have the best stadium in the Pac-12, so facilities are no longer an issue, and savvy administrator Scott Woodward is about as football-friendly an AD as there is. Petersen's reputation suggests he will build a power in Seattle. Yet what Washington has coming back in 2015 doesn't look like a top-25 team, or one that can win the North.

Though Washington fans probably don't want to hear it, it doesn't appear likely that Petersen will deliver a quick fix. So, after 14 years of waiting, Huskies fans might just have to wait a little longer.


JT from Boston writes: Dealing in hypotheticals -- if Oregon blows out Ohio State, what is the reservation with putting Oregon up there as one of the all time great teams in College Football? Don't get me wrong, I (as a Duck fan) have my reservations -- but to blow out teams consistently is impressive (and unprecedented in recent years on such a consistent basis). Is it due to Oregon not being a traditional power house? Or that they don't have a roster filled with first day draft picks? Or has the general public (the Press included) just come to expect that when the Ducks win, they win big? To consistently perform and win by double digits, seems worthy of being put into the category of one of the all time great teams

Ted Miller: All-time great teams, for one, go unbeaten. That's pretty much the criterion for teams like 2001 Miami, 1972, USC and 1995 Nebraska, which make up my personal top three (I don't even look at teams that weren't fully integrated, as, for example, 1972 USC would have brutalized, say, 1961 Alabama).

But this Ducks team can distinguish itself as the first team to win the CFP, which would mean winning consecutive games against top-four teams. It certainly could view itself as the "truest" national champion in recent memory.


Torsten from Orlando writes: Alright. I think I speak for a lot of Duck fans when I say that I'm tired of pundits (save Fowler and Herbstreit who actually watched the Rose Bowl and have seen other Oregon games in the past few years) from ESPN and other sports outlets saying that Oregon's victory over FSU was a fluke. That FSU is still the better team. That the only reason FSU lost was because they quit. That it wasn't the Oregon defense that stopped FSU but that it was FSU itself. Apparently FSU's lack of defense on every single Oregon possession (save for the very first one) is something to just ignore. Honestly from certain news articles, potentially biased due to them coming from Central Florida, I feel like Oregon fans should be apologizing for the win. All I'm hearing myself is commentators buying into Winston's press conference and his eternal stubbornness about what really happened on New Years Day. Oregon played their hearts out that day, they are going to play their hearts out on the 12th either way that game goes, and its time people started taking notice. Why aren't these same statements being said about an Ohio State team starting a 3rd string QB who beat Bama? A great win for that team but Cardale Jones apparently won the Heisman based on how that game has been viewed. I'm afraid that even if Oregon does get its desired result Monday, the nation will consider that a fluke as well. So what gives?

Ted Miller: Fluke?

A 39-point domination a fluke? Who wrote or said that? I've not heard a single person even hint at that. Can you produce a link? Are you just projecting from FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's universally panned remarks after the game, that were wildly rated as pure doofus on the doofus meter?

Torsten, I suspect that you tend to view your obsessive Ducks fandom through a lens of grievance.

Dude, just enjoy the moment. Your team, which in 1983 played in a game notoriously dubbed "The Toilet Bowl," is playing for the national title for the second time in five years. If someone wishes to call Oregon a fluke, it will do more discredit to the speaker/writer than to the Ducks.


Derrick from Omaha writes: I am a long time fanatic Oregon fan, but always waiting to be disappointed! For the last nine weeks I have waited for the Ducks to "choke" (although with all of the injuries to great players it really would not be choking per se.). For nine weeks I have not only been wrong, but Oregon has demolished teams and covered the spread!! Please, PLEASE! Can I be wrong one more time?? Or should I get set for disappointment?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

You see? That's the sort of crap people are always trying to lay on me. It's not my fault you wouldn't play catch with your father.

You Ducks fans are seeing a whole team of psychiatrists, aren't you?

Sorry. Just thought I'd pull out a couple of "Terence Mann" quotes from "Field of Dreams" to entertain myself.

I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I picked Florida State to win the Rose Bowl. I've got Oregon fans mad at me because I've picked Oregon to beat Ohio State on Monday, because I've convinced them -- along with Cal fans -- of my magical "reverse karma" picking ability. I've got Oregon fans who think I'm a Washington fan because I worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. I've got Oregon fans whose fandom seems to be entirely based on being oppositional to a long list of perceived enemies, me included. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the national media calling them a fluke. I've got Oregon fans who are worried about the Ducks choking.

I know Oregon has arrived because its fans are no less crazy than those of Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State.

So congrats on that. And enjoy your national championship as something to celebrate, not something to throw in everyone else's face.
video
DALLAS, Texas -- The buzz at the media headquarters for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T began Friday morning with the announcement of the newest class of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Archie Manning was there to represent the National Football Foundation, but as a member of the playoff’s selection committee, he also answered a few questions about watching this year’s playoff unfold from the outside, as his health prevented him from participating this season.

Manning, along with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, spoke on a variety of topics. Here are the highlights:

There could be fewer weekly rankings in 2015: With a shorter season, there could be a natural window for the selection committee to meet fewer times next fall, meaning fewer rankings would be released. The season will only be 14 weeks instead of 15 because of the way the calendar falls. The selection committee met seven times during the 2014 season.

“With a shorter season, that almost makes it -- I don’t want to say a done deal -- but with a shorter season, I think it will be pretty easy to lop off one week and we might knock another one off,” Hancock said, adding that the committee hasn’t talked about any changes yet.

Manning wants to participate in 2015: Manning hasn’t determined whether or not he will be on the committee next fall, but said, “I want to do it.”

“I’m going to talk to Bill, we’re going to figure it out,” Manning said. “I’m still doing some rehab, gotta just see how things go.”

Cost of reimbursement: Hancock said it will cost the playoff an estimated $500k to reimburse parents and guardians of Ohio State and Oregon players for their airfare, meals and lodging to the national championship game.

“We can absolutely afford to do this,” Hancock said. “I was delighted to get that call from the NCAA telling us it could happen.”

The news happened so quickly that the playoff announced its reimbursement amount of $1,250 before the NCAA released an even larger approved amount of $3,000.

“I learned about it that morning,” Hancock said. “We had to hustle a call together to get approval to proceed. As you know I worked for the NCAA for many years before I came here, and I’ve never seen anything turn around as quickly as that one.”

Playoff not discussing eight-team format (anymore): In spring 2012, playoff officials considered “a whole spectrum of options” for its format, including an eight-team playoff and a 16-team playoff. Hancock said fan travel and conference championships influenced their decision to stay at four.

“There’s a lot of reasons our group isn’t talking about expanding this,” Hancock said, “a lot of reasons they put in four for 12 years. The conference championship games are important to those conferences. That’s one of the things that was an issue with eight when we looked at it.

“We know there is a tipping point beyond which the size of a postseason bracket will begin to erode the regular season,” he said. “The fact is, nobody knows where that tipping point is. We know it’s not four.”

Hancock said the playoff’s management committee also worried about what a larger bracket would do to the regular season and the bowl games, and he said the quarterfinals would have to be played on campus.

Hancock said the discussions about having the semifinals on campus “stayed alive for a long time” because of guaranteed crowds and one fewer week of fan travel. After meeting with the athletic directors, though, the playoff officials were convinced they’d be better off having the semifinals in bowl games.

[+] EnlargeTCU Horned Frogs
Brandon Wade/Associated PressThe College Football Playoff committee didn't take an official position on the Big 12 awarding co-championships.
The athletic directors told playoff officials they couldn’t duplicate the pageantry of the bowls or match that experience, and that their stadiums are usually winterized, their staffs are home and the offices closed for the holidays.

“That turned it from semifinals on campus to having it like we do now in the bowls,” Hancock said, “which was a good decision on our part.”

Future title game homes: Hancock said eight to 12 cities have expressed interest in hosting the national championship game for the years 2018-2020, and the winning cities will be announced in September.

“There will be tremendous competition amongst cities for this. I think the first time around, we had lots of interest from cities, but I don’t think it quite dawned on people what a significant event this is, and it’s going to grow into. So there will be a robust competition among the cities.”

One true champion: Hancock said he hasn’t spoken with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby about the league’s method of determining a conference champion, and that it’s not his place to do so.

“That’s not our call, that’s the conference’s call,” Hancock said. “As it turned out, not having a championship game cost them only in the fact that Ohio State got another game against a quality opponent. What’s been lost in some of this championship debate is, the risk-reward nature of championship games.

“If two games had come out differently, the Big 12 would be looking like geniuses for not having a championship game,” he said. “It’s all about risk and reward.”
We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Touchdown Thompson

Who and against whom: Linebacker Shaq Thompson turned in several performances worthy of individual distinction, but what he did in a 44-19 win against Illinois was truly unique.

The numbers: Thompson scored two defensive touchdowns in the first half. First, a 36-yard interception return to make it 21-3, then a 52-yard fumble return to make it 35-5 and effectively end the game before halftime. And, oh yeah, he also rushed three times for 16 yards.

A closer look: Two games into coach Chris Petersen's first season, Washington had an obvious lack of identity. Its low-scoring debut at Hawaii (a 17-16 win) preceded a 59-52 win at home against FCS Eastern Washington. It would have been fair to question what was the strength of the team. Thompson's performance against Illinois straightened things up. He finished the season with four defensive touchdowns (which would rank tied for 12th as a team), 456 yards rushing and won the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation's most versatile player. On Monday, Thompson, a junior, declared for the NFL draft, where he is expected to be a first-round pick.

Championship Game Media Day Wrap

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
4:05
PM ET
Ohio State and Oregon met the press Saturday morning, and the ESPN.com team was out in full force to cover it all.

Brace yourselves, Oregon fans. The Marcus Mariota era ... is ... (gulp) going to end.

We’re sorry to be the ones to tell you. Better you hear it from the Pac-12 blog -- which has cradled and nurtured you through this historic season. But after Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T against Ohio State, barring a supernatural act, the Oregon Ducks will have to start looking for a new quarterback to replace their only Heisman Trophy winner.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lockie
AP Photo/Eric GayOregon backup QB Jeff Lockie on replacing Marcus Mariota next season: "People will learn to see a different game and get used to it."
"I’ll be the first to tell you, I’m not Marcus Mariota," said Mariota’s backup, Jeff Lockie. "We have different strengths and weaknesses. Obviously he has a lot of strengths. When I say weaknesses, you have to take that with a grain of salt. People will learn to see a different game and get used to it."

Quarterbacks are competitive guys. They want the ball. And with that position comes a certain degree of ego. When Lockie got to campus, he had to stash his. Not only because the guy in front of him was flat-out better, but because the quarterback he was backing up would go on to have the greatest career in school history and one of the best in college football history.

"I learned pretty quick when I got here that this is an extremely high level of football and there are some talented guys around here," Lockie said. "Marcus started for three years, and he’s the first guy to win the Heisman from the university. You do put your ego aside and you learn pretty quickly that he’s a pretty special player. I’d say I’m pretty lucky backing that guy up for three years, and be able to learn how he goes about practice and prepares for games, and how he handles success. A lot of people handle that differently. The way he’s handled everything this year has been pretty awesome."

Lockie is about to be entrenched in a quarterback competition. And at Oregon, that’s a pretty big deal. He who holds the keys to the Ducks’ attack instantly becomes a national name.

Lockie has already appeared in nine games this season. He tossed a touchdown in the season opener, and has completed 21 of 27 passes. More importantly, he has had the chance to operate Oregon’s offense in a live-game setting -- even a Rose Bowl. And if the Ducks stick to the script that got them to the title game, maybe there’s an outside shot he’s taking snaps in Arlington. But that’s a stretch.

"Maybe you don’t expect that," Lockie said with a chuckle. "We’ve got a pretty good team and we’ve been in that situation a few times [with a big lead] and I’ve benefited from that, and it’s been a lot of fun."

Lockie is by no means a -- forgive the unintentional pun -- lock to take over the offense. There are other options. The staff is believed to have high hopes for Morgan Mahalak, and Ty Griffin should be in the mix. We also need to see if there is any offseason addition or attrition. Plus, remember that Bryan Bennett was thought to be the successor to Darron Thomas because he had playing experience. But it was Mariota who beat him out before the 2012 season.

That was Lockie’s first year on campus. And he got a unique view of how a quarterback competition plays out. He knows what the coaches are looking for. He also knows the outside crush that will swarm Eugene, seeking any tidbit of information for who might have the edge.

"I saw all of the interview requests and the media attention those guys got," Lockie said. "Now, getting ready to go through it myself, I got the chance to see how Marcus handled it all, and it’s going to help knowing I’ve got him as a resource.

"It was interesting also seeing the outside perspective of what people thought was going on versus what I saw inside practices. The media had their own ideas. I just have to keep working and doing my own thing regardless of what other people are saying."

It’s a balancing act. On one side, Lockie is elated to be part of a team playing for the national championship. By his own admission, "this is the biggest game of my career." But barring an Oregon blowout, it’s unlikely his number gets called.

The man who replaces Mariota no doubt will be under fierce scrutiny. We saw it when USC was replacing Matt Barkley and when Stanford was replacing Andrew Luck. It’s something Lockie is prepared for -- but refusing to acknowledge until after Monday night.

"It’s been a theme for me all season," he said. "I’ve gotten accustomed to simply not thinking about it. I just prepare myself to go in at a moment’s notice. What’s going to happen will happen. Right now, I’ve got a game to get ready for."
video
After taking just one official visit before the dead period began, it looked as though it would be difficult for No. 7 overall prospect Iman Marshall to take all five of his official visits before signing day. But the 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback revealed his plan Friday morning to fit four official visits into a three-week span.


Matt Dyste laughs at what it was like in 1992, when he began his job overseeing the University of Oregon's licensing program.

"I would tell people in the business that I was from the University of Oregon and retailers would look at you strange and say, 'Why would we want Oregon product?' " Dyste recalled. "Today, everyone wants to talk about what we're selling."

The rise of Oregon as a national power, not coincidentally, has fueled the growth of the Ducks' brand. Once a sleepy West Coast outpost, Oregon now is known for its innovative marketing and appeal to a younger audience.

In the past two years, Oregon has jumped into the top 10 most popular college teams by licensing royalties. Last year, the program brought in $4.8 million in royalties -- four times what it brought in only five years before. Today, nearly 400 licensees make Oregon gear, and the competition outside of the state to make green and yellow merchandise is at unprecedented levels.

"We're fast becoming people's second-favorite team," said Arlyn Schaufler, the general manager of The Duck Store, the university-owned, not-for-profit bookstore that has seven retail shops and is the largest retailer of the school's gear. Schaufler notes that after Oregon, California and Washington, the next two most popular states for sales are Texas and New York. Data from Fanatics, the largest online-only sports retailer in the country, shows that this will be the fifth straight year that the Ducks have been among the top-five best-selling college football teams on its site.

[+] EnlargeOregon uniform
NikeOregon's cutting-edge uniform combos, along with its on-field success, have made the Ducks one of the most popular brands of college merchandise.
Making Oregon cool didn't happen organically. In 1996, one year after Oregon played in its first Rose Bowl in 37 years, Nike co-founder and former Oregon runner Phil Knight gathered his top executives to talk about how they could make Oregon more top-of-mind -- especially in the eyes of recruits. In the meeting was Nike's top designer, Tinker Hatfield, who also was on the track and field team during his days at Oregon.

Hatfield's team dreamed up more futuristic jerseys -- a range of combinations that no other program had ever flaunted -- and redesigned the logo. Gone was was "U" from the "UO" mark, leaving just the "O." The letter was redesigned with the inside rim in the shape of the old track at Hayward Field, the University of Oregon's legendary venue. The outside rim was the shape of what Autzen Stadium looked like as you flew over it.

Nike's cooperation with Oregon didn't come without strings attached. The world's largest shoe and apparel company would get exclusive rights to use the "O" on apparel and hats, and more recently the same exclusive rights to the phrase "Win The Day," for which Oregon holds a federal trademark.

The impact wasn't immediate. Oregon was still very much seen as a regional brand in 2001 when Joey Harrington's image was plastered on a billboard in Times Square to promote his Heisman campaign. That's not the case today, where hat stores in New York City frequently have Oregon products for sale alongside usual suspects such as Michigan and Alabama.

Part of it was the Nike push -- some of it backed by Knight's own money -- but the other was simply winning. In the past five years, Oregon is in its second national championship game with a remarkable 60-7 record over that span.

What's amazing about Oregon's rise is the tremendous upside that is ahead. Last season, Oregon's royalties bested that of national champion Florida State by more than $200,000.

Nike products make up the largest share of royalties to the university (about 33 percent), but with the tremendous demand, local retailers have been chipping in more.

Sew On Mackenzie, a screen printing company in nearby Springfield, Oregon, has seen its Oregon-licensed business nearly triple. The number of its employees has doubled to 50 since 2009. Fifteen years ago, when the company started making Oregon product mostly for the Ducks stores, it seemed far-fetched that the company would one day have a six-figure purchase order ready to go if Oregon won the title. That is indeed the reality.

"Everyone wants to do Oregon product now," said company president Tyler Norman said. "It is pushed us on the creative and marketing side to work harder than ever before."

If there's one limit to what Oregon can do, it's using the classic Donald Duck character through the "O" logo. Oregon received permission to use it in the 1940s thanks to a handshake agreement with Walt Disney himself. A more formalized agreement came decades later, but the school has made it clear that licensees don't have access to the mark because Disney owns it.

On Oct. 18, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of "The Pick," Kenny Wheaton's 97-yard interception return in a victory over Washington which led Oregon to the Rose Bowl -- what many Oregon fans consider the turning point in their program -- the Ducks wore classic jerseys that featured the duck through the O on the sleeves. Though a partnership with Disney, the jerseys hit retail.

"We sold 800 of them in a day and a half," The Duck Store's Schaufler said.

The tremendous success of Ducks gear actually is passed back to the students. In 1917, the University of Oregon sold its bookstore to students and faculty to pay for the team's trip to the Rose Bowl, essentially making it a non-profit where revenue would be pumped back in the form of discounts.

Today, the Duck Store has seven locations and broke a three-day sales record by setting up a pop-up shop in Los Angeles before this year's Rose Bowl.

Oregon has done all its licensing in-house, but last month, the size of the business led the school's athletic department to share its licensing responsibility with Fermata Partners, an agency that counts Kentucky, Miami and Georgia as clients.

Chris Prindiville, who founded the company, previously worked for Nike and graduated from Oregon in 1996. He said that those who buy Oregon gear skew younger, something that's unique to the traditional college business, which favors older alumni.

"Oregon was attractive to us because of the progressive nature of the business," Prindiville said. "It's a brand first and a licensing program second, and that was attractive to us."

Back in August, I asked 20 coaches who they liked in the initial playoff.

Here’s how they fared: FSU, the eventual 3-seed, was on 19 of 20 ballots. Top-seeded Alabama was on 16 of 20. But those preseason favorites are now on the sideline.

[+] EnlargeMeyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer's colleagues point to his résumé as a reason to pick the Buckeyes over the Ducks.
Oregon, a touchdown favorite to win Monday’s title game against Ohio State, received 10 votes.

Most interesting: After Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury the previous week, only three of the 20 coaches stuck with Ohio State as a playoff choice.

One coach, I recall, was adamant that the Buckeyes would be fine, with or without their playmaking quarterback.

So I asked him this week why he was so sure. His answer was pretty succinct.

“They’re loaded,” he said. “They’ve got great players at every position.”

For that reason, a lot of coaches now reject the idea that Ohio State is “a year ahead of schedule.” Other than the quarterback mystery, there was always enough talent for this to be a playoff-type team. It’s not surprising that OSU is here, with the way Urban Meyer has recruited since arriving.

“Oregon is the faster team,” one coach said. “Ohio State is the more talented team.”

In fact, most coaches I talked with hinted they were leaning toward the underdog Buckeyes.

Here are some other thoughts on Oregon-Ohio State that I’ve heard this week

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Pac-12 morning links

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

A couple of bowl stories from the AP to kick us off this Friday.

First up is their All-Bowl team. Despite the Pac-12 going 6-2 in the bowl season, only a couple of Oregon players made the AP's team. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Troy Hill were the lone Pac-12 players for their performances against Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

However, their list is pretty strong in comparison to various Pac-12 performers. Travis Wilson had a strong bowl game against Colorado State, but Mariota against Florida State was more impressive. I thought Javorius Allen had a great game against Nebraska, but the trio of backs picked by the AP team are all deserving. I wouldn't drop one of them for Allen.

Maybe a case can be made for Adoree' Jackson, who caught a touchdown, returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score, and pitched in on defense. But LSU's Leonard Fournette had some pretty good numbers too.

Next up is a story about bowl attendance being down while viewership is up. It's not Pac-12 specific, just thought it was interesting.

From the AP's story:
The 38 bowl games this season have drawn an average announced attendance of 43,285, down 9.2 percent from the average of 47,659 for the 34 bowls last season that led up to the BCS National Championship.

Those figures are skewed by the fact that all four new bowls that had their inaugural games this season drew fewer than 30,000 fans. But even if you throw those four games out of the mix, the average attendance for the remaining 34 bowls is 45,904, down 3.7 percent from last season.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Ever wonder how the term "Natty" got coined? Hint: It has nothing to do bargain-priced beer.

And if you haven't watched this by now, you really should.

We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff had a career day against Colorado.
Up next: Going gOFF

Who and against whom: The California Bears needed every bit of Jared Goff’s quarterback prowess to top Colorado 59-56 in double overtime in one of the most thrilling games of the 2014 season.

The numbers: Stout, very, very stout. Goff completed 24 of 42 passes for seven touchdowns and 458 yards. He had one interception, but averaged nearly 11 yards per completion.

A closer look: If we’re going to celebrate Goff’s performance in this game, then it’s only fair that we also tip our cap to his Colorado counterpart, Sefo Liufau, who also threw seven touchdown passes (yeah, it was that kind of game). The Buffs held a 28-14 at halftime after a trio of touchdown passes from Liufau. But already with a pair of first-half touchdowns, Goff added four more in the second half, including throws of 75 and 40 yards to Stephen Anderson and Chris Harper, respectively. He also connected on a 25-yard touchdown to Bryce Treggs to open scoring in the first overtime session. Ultimately, it was a goal-line stand on fourth-and-1 in double overtime that allowed the Bears to kick the game-winning field goal. But Goff and Liufau provided great theatre and dramatics early in the season in Berkeley.

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