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  • NBA

    Ducks eager to finish off year on high note

  • EUGENE — The Alamo Bowl will not be remembered as Marcus Mariota's final game at Oregon.
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  • EUGENE — The Alamo Bowl will not be remembered as Marcus Mariota's final game at Oregon.
    Last week the Ducks' third-year sophomore quarterback announced his intentions to return to school instead of leaving early for the NFL draft.
    Now Mariota will try to make sure No. 10 Oregon is motivated to end the 2013 season with a victory over unranked Texas on Dec. 30 at the Alamodome in San Antonio (3:45 p.m., ESPN).
    "To finish the year off right and on a high note will do a lot for our program and coach (Mark) Helfrich," Mariota said Sunday night after the bowl pairings were announced. "And it will build a lot of confidence around this community."
    Duck fans — after the program appeared in two Rose Bowls, a national title game and the Fiesta Bowl the previous four seasons — are not thrilled with Oregon's November swoon spoiling their plans to ring in the New Year in Pasadena, Calif.
    The 26-20 loss at Stanford knocked the Ducks out of the BCS title hunt and damaged Mariota's Heisman Trophy campaign. The 42-16 drubbing at Arizona prevented Oregon from hosting a snowy Pac-12 championship game and allowed the Cardinal to win the conference again and play Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl.
    "We had a tough four-game stretch at the end of the season, stubbed our toe a little bit," Helfrich said. "But we're hungry to get back out there."
    Oregon will be without sophomore tight end Pharaoh Brown, who has been suspended by Helfrich following a snowball-throwing incident involving motorists on campus Friday.
    Brown has started five of the nine games he's played in this season and has 10 receptions for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
    The Ducks (10-2) will be the highest-ranked team to play in the Alamo since No. 8 Nebraska in 2000.
    Oregon was passed over for an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl (Clemson vs. Ohio State) and Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs. Oklahoma) during the selection process on Sunday. No. 8 South Carolina and No. 9 Missouri were the only other teams ranked in the Associated Press top 10 not selected for a BCS bowl.
    "We kind of put ourselves in that position," Mariota said.
    This will be the first meeting between Oregon and Texas since the Ducks' 35-30 victory in the 2000 Holiday Bowl. Joey Harrington threw for two touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass against the Longhorns in San Diego.
    The victory gave Oregon its first 10-win season and made Harrington a preseason Heisman candidate in 2001.
    That season Oregon was snubbed for the BCS title game and finished second in the polls after a blowout victory over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.
    "Those guys kind of set the foundation for what we've kind of built around here. They set the tone, they set the culture," Mariota said of Mike Bellotti's team. "It says a lot when a team goes 10-2 and it's kind of disappointing."
    Bellotti, now an analyst for ESPN, said Mariota made the right decision in coming back to lead Oregon for one more season. If everything goes according to the script, Mariota could be headed for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and preparing for the College Football Playoff a year from now.
    "He's the glue that holds that offense together, maybe holds the program together," Bellotti said of Mariota.
    "He's a winner and an extraordinary athlete."
    Bellotti said there are some fundamental things Mariota can improve on before starting an NFL career. That process already began with two practices over the weekend.
    "I think for the most part we kind of went back to the fundamentals and worked on the minor details," Mariota said. "Guys were really focused. Coach Helfrich talked about it today in our team meeting that it was one of our most physical practices as an offense (Sunday)."
    Mariota, whose left knee injury was the key component in the Ducks' late-season swan dive, said there is a chance he will be completely healthy for the Alamo Bowl.
    "I'm not sure how my body will be a few weeks from now, but I'm going to continue on getting healthy," Mariota said.
    If Mariota is able to run the read-option, the Longhorns might have some Texas-sized trouble. Mack Brown has been on the hot seat since embarrassing September losses to BYU and Mississippi and is coming off a 30-10 loss at Baylor with the Big 12 championship on the line.
    "We didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we're going back to work," Brown said. "These guys are like Baylor, they can score fast and do a tremendous job."
    Texas averaged 197.6 yards rushing per game. Oregon allowed Stanford to run for 274 yards and Arizona to run for 304 yards in the two defeats.
    "We've been a little banged up on the defensive side of the ball," Helfrich said. "Hopefully we'll get all those guys healed up and ready for a huge challenge in Texas."
    Oregon will be allotted 9,500 tickets to sell. The Alamo Bowl is not worried about attendance with the Longhorns essentially hosting a top-10 team.
    "It's a bowl game, that's how we look at it. We can't control how many Texas fans are going to be there, how many Oregon fans are going to be there," said center Hroniss Grasu, who will return for his senior year to play help Mariota take care of unfinished business in 2014. "When we're on the field we've just got to focus on our game plan."
    After Oregon's 36-35 victory over Oregon State in the Civil War, Mariota sat down with his family to map out his future. The humble star from Honolulu wants to finish his degree and play at least one more season for the Ducks.
    "The decision for my family and for myself, it was a little tough," Mariota said. "Obviously the financial side of it, I could really help my family out. "¦ Being part of the community and the university means a lot to me, and I'm glad I made that decision."
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