1. Who was the best offensive player?
Erik Skopil: The easy answer is Marcus Mariota, but delving deeper it's hard not to credit senior wideout Josh Huff. Huff broke a 43 year standing single-season receiving yard record with his 105 yard Alamo Bowl effort. Three moments stand if in particular: his 65 yard touchdown reception against Washington, which came after he appeared to suffer a serious leg injury, his emotion at Stanford, and his game winning reception to beat Oregon State with 29 seconds to go. It was a truly a remarkable season for a great Duck.
Marty Martindale: Quarterback Marcus Mariota and there isn't anyone else that comes close. Marcus passed for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns with only four interceptions in 2013. Despite his knee injury, Mariota also rushed for 723 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. His 133 rushing yards against a stout Texas defense broke the all-time Alamo Bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Mariota is also the first Duck to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark in total offense in a season. If that wasn't enough, the “Flying Hawaiian” is now Oregon’s all-time career rushing leader for a quarterback with 1,467 yards with another year to play.
Robby Boydstun: Marcus Mariota - There’s no question that this was the year Oregon realized that Marcus Mariota makes the system special, not the other way around. With a healthy Mariota, the Ducks went 8-0 and cruised to easy victories. Once word broke that his knee was not 100 percent and his running ability was severely limited, Oregon struggled on offense and stumbled to a 2-2 regular season finish.
His Alamo Bowl performance single-highhandedly kept the Ducks afloat in the first half before the defense took care of the rest. With all due respect to Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall – all of whom deserve credit for their impact – this year showed what “Super Mariota” means to the program at the moment.
Steve Summers: Marcus Mariota. This is Marcus’ team as demonstrated by the Alamo Bowl where he took the team on his shoulders in the first half and rushed for over 130 yards, then picked apart Texas to the tune of 253 yards and touchdown. If those who decided such things like Heisman Trophies forgot about Marcus Mariota, they remember him now.
2. Who was the best defensive player?
ES: Once again, I'm straying away from the most talented player and selecting the most integral one. Oregon's rush defense was abysmal down the stretch of the regular season, but how much worse would it have been without senior tackle Taylor Hart? It's rare for a defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles, but no one had more than his 28 in the Ducks final three games; another Duck that will be sorely missed in 2014.
MM: Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The strength of Oregon’s defense is their stellar secondary and the leader of the pack is Ifo. The Duck secondary wrapped up 2013 by allowing only 56 passing yards and no touchdowns to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Ekpre-Olomu earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors for the second year in a row and finished the regular season with 78 tackles (51 solo) which ranked second on the team. He also never missed a start in 2013. Ifo is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick if he doesn't return for his senior season.
RB: Tony Washington Jr. – Washington seemed to be everywhere this season. He led the team in tackles for loss (12), sacks (7.5) and forced fumbles (4) while playing in the hybrid linebacker-defensive end spot left open after the departure of first-round NFL draft pick Dion Jordan. Washington had big shoes to fill this year and came up with strong numbers.
Linebackers were a big question mark entering the year. Washington, Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who led the team in tackles, turned some skeptics around with their high-energy play. There are still holes in the front seven (run defense), but it’ll be interesting to see how these guys build on their 2013 campaigns with a new defensive coordinator in the booth next season.
SS: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu likely will be a first round NFL draft pick but in 2013 junior linebacker Derrick Malone was the top tackler for the Ducks with 105 tackles (45 solos) including two sacks, three break ups, two interceptions (one for a return and score), five deflections, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Ekpre-Olomu was second on the defensive list with 84 total tackles (53 solos) five tackles for loss, three interceptions, six break ups, nine pass deflections and one quarterback hurry. Take your pick on which one is the top defensive player.
3. Best memory of 2013?
ES: I haven't seen the other entries, but I suspect this might be unanimous. I already said he was the best offensive player, but Huff's grab with less than 30 seconds to go against the Beavers was special. If you define the most memorable play as the one that will be played prior to each home game on the Jumbotron, than this definitely qualifies. I expect to see this play dozens of times over the next decade.
MM: Is there anything better than winning your tenth in a row against arguably Oregon’s biggest rival? On October 12th the No. 2 Ducks traveled to Seattle to face the No. 16 Dawgs for one of the most anticipated Pac-12 games of the season. Most of the pundits seemed to be predicting a Washington victory that would be fueled by star quarterback Keith Price and his explosive running back Bishop Sankey. In the end, Oregon proved that they were playing at a different level while rolling up 633 yards of total offense in route to a dominant 45-24 victory.
Runner-up best memory: Marcus Mariota’s December 3rd announcement that he will return to Oregon for his junior season. Mark Helfrich owes Marcus a big fruit basket!
RB: I wanted to give this to Bralon Addison’s ridiculous punt return (watch here ) against Utah that was called back, but then I thought about Josh Huff’s last night at Autzen Stadium in an Oregon uniform.
Given that the Ducks had lost two of their last three games heading into the Civil War and were trailing to an Oregon State team that had lost four straight, things were looking bleak in the second half.
Huff stepped up and shouldered the load to the tune of nine receptions, 186 yards and three second half touchdown receptions, including the game winning catch with 29 seconds left to lift the Ducks over the Beavers for their 10th win. Huff’s career night prevented a nightmarish end to the season for first year head coach Mark Helfrich, and sent the senior wide receiver off on a high note.
SS: My best memories were the road trips to Virginia and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Both trips were a joy and the games played weren't bad either. It was a real treat to make the drive to Charlottesville along the Old Lee Road (Highway 29) and then see the University established by Thomas Jefferson. As for the game itself, Mariota’s blast up the middle for 71 yards stands out as the play of the day and one that captured the attention of the country on the Ducks.
The days in San Antonio leading up to the Alamo Bowl were fun with strolls along the River Walk and taking advantage of Texas hospitality. Getting a chance to see Mack Brown in his last game was also a milestone but it was watching Mariota run freely that was the thing that stuck out in my mind, plus what a great way for Nick Aliotti to end his coaching career by shutting out Texas in the second half as the Ducks came away with a 30-7 win in the Alamo Bowl.
4. The worst memory?
ES: I remember sitting in east end zone of Stanford Stadium with Steve, both of us shocked at what we were watching. Mariota was clearly hobbled and the Ducks were clearly going down. But having followed the Ducks for over 20 years now, some of those years as a toddler, I've never been more stumped by a Duck performance than the one that took place in Tucson. Some may say player comments during game prep week were a sure-fire sign of a letdown, but I didn't think so, and what took place was truly a disaster.
MM: Everything about the Arizona game. It started on Oregon’s first play on offense when Bralon Addison dropped a Marcus Mariota sideline pass that was headed out of bounds but defensive back Shaq Richardson tipped the ball to teammate Scooby Wright for the interception. It was Mariota’s first interception of the year and the result was an Oregon team that seemed to lose their mojo. Things only got worse and the Wildcats finished with a convincing 42-16 victory.
RB: The first three quarters at Stanford – Say what you will about the Arizona game. Sometimes, even the best teams don’t come in prepared and pay for it against an inferior opponent. For me, seeing the Ducks fall behind 26-0 to Stanford on the road will stand out as the low point because of how inferior they looked against the Cardinal.
For a full year, Oregon had this game circled on the calendar after falling in overtime to Stanford at home in 2012, costing them a shot at a Pac-12 and BCS Championship Game appearance. When the two finally met this season, in a nationally televised game, the Ducks looked like they didn't belong on the same field as the Cardinal.
Despite the six point final margin, Stanford manhandled both Oregon lines and controlled every aspect of the game until pulling off the gas in the fourth quarter. With a banged-up Mariota behind center the Ducks couldn't get any offensive rhythm going. Add in the turnovers and a lack of discipline and it all snowballed into one giant disappointment of a performance. Not only did the Ducks fail to deliver, they added to the perception that their speed can’t compete with pure power on the big stage.
SS: Two road games, one to Stanford and one to Arizona were the worst memories for different reasons. While it was a pleasant trip to the Bay Area, watching an inept Duck defense that had played so well all year long was really tough. Nothing worked very well for the Ducks though a late surge by the Oregon offense made me feel a little better about the team, still Oregon had lost a very good chance at going back the BCS Championship game that day at Stanford.
I knew it was going to be a long weekend in Tucson when my delayed flight didn't get me into Tucson until 4 a.m. on Saturday morning of the game. The day was snake-bit for the Ducks too as Mariota’s opening pass was picked off by a circus act, but again, an inept defense did nothing to slow down the Wildcats that day. Good teams generally don’t get blown out but after the Ducks performance in the desert, I started having second thoughts on just how good this team might really be. Even though the win in the Alamo Bowl restored a lot of confidence, the Stanford and Arizona games were the lowest points in Duck football in several years.
5. Where do the Ducks go from here?
ES: A number of key decisions must still be made, who's the new defensive coordinator, do De'Anthony Thomas or Ifo Ekpre-Olomu return for their senior seasons? Once those have been shored up, it's a matter of building off of an Alamo Bowl victory, for what could be a very special 2014 season. I'd like to see the new DC mix things up a little, especially up front, but all and all, I think its status quo for Oregon.
MM: With quarterback Mariota returning in 2014, all things are possible for Oregon; Mariota will begin the season as the top quarterback in the country and a leading Heisman trophy candidate. Only Josh Huff departs the offense so the Ducks should be a juggernaut, returning ten offensive starters.
The defense needs to replace most of the defensive line with seniors Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli all moving on after solid careers in Eugene. John Neal will also need to rebuild his impressive defensive backfield with two seniors, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson, moving on and underclassmen Terrance Mitchell opting for the NFL draft. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu may also move on to the NFL this spring. However, Oregon has been stockpiling talent and they should be able to field quality answers. It also should be noted that electric De’Anthony Thomas is another who may declare for the draft.
Oregon doesn't play USC or ASU next season and they play Washington, Stanford and Arizona at home, so they have a favorable schedule for another title run. In summary, if Mark Helfrich can hire the right defensive coordinator to replace a retiring Nick Aliotti, the Ducks should have the horses to contend for a BCS bowl in 2014.
RB: Unfortunately for Mark Helfrich, the expectations won’t be any lower next year. There will no longer be a BCS game measuring stick next season, so really it comes down to finishing in the top four and making the first ever college football playoff.
Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu have announced that they will forego the NFL Draft for another year to return. It remains to be seen if cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and running back De’Anthony Thomas will come back, but right now the Ducks don’t have a ton of losses on either side of the ball and they have plenty of talent waiting in the wings to fill up gaps next season.
I don’t think the Ducks will go 13-0. The Pac-12 is deep, there’s a date with Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State (who beat Stanford) on the schedule and it is just generally difficult to finish with a perfect record no matter how good you are (hello, Alabama!).
The benefit of the new playoff system is that it’s likely one or more one-loss teams will make it, so the Ducks may not have to be perfect. But, anything short of a playoff appearance will be viewed as a disappointment to the fan base given what they now expect after the Chip Kelly era.
SS: My questions about the Ducks and soon-to-be-second-year-coach Mark Helfrich are much different now after the Alamo Bowl win than had the Oregon lost to Texas. The Ducks appear to be finishing strongly in recruiting and picking a top-notch defensive coordinator would be very positive strokes headed into the spring. I wouldn't mind at all if the selection were say someone like John Neal, but if the Ducks do go another direction, let’s hope that the decision will be based on quality and not because of some sort of financial restraint. Oregon has the talent, the facilities so hopefully a strong pick for defensive coordinator will make it possible for a run at the conference championship and ultimately landing in the four-team playoff for the national championship.