Marcus Mariota remains the last Oregon quarterback to win a bowl game.
The Heisman Trophy winner led the Ducks past Florida State 59-20 in the 2015 Rose Bowl before losing 42-20 against Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff title game.
The following year, Vernon Adams departed the Alamo Bowl early with a concussion before the Ducks blew a 31-0 halftime lead to lose 47-41 against TCU in triple overtime. Dakota Prukop and Justin Herbert were behind center for Oregon in 2016 when it missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
Herbert got the Ducks back into the postseason last year before losing 38-28 against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The junior from Sheldon High School will look to add a bowl victory to his resume when the Ducks (8-4) face Michigan State (7-5) in the Redbox Bowl at noon Monday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“It's huge, it is our championship for sure,” Herbert said. “You play the entire year and now we get an opportunity to go play in California, a special opportunity for everyone. We are all excited to be there.”
More than a dozen players around the country have decided to skip their school’s bowl game after making an early entry into the NFL draft, but Herbert announced he would return to Oregon next season.
“He's such an incredible competitor in everything he does,” UO junior offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said. “It is awesome to see him out there continuing to get better and practice. He's really getting ready for this big game we have to play.”
Throckmorton also debated leaving early for the NFL after getting a draft evaluation, but announced he will return next year.
“He’s one of the best players in college football at his position,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “He’s played four positions this year and grades out as high as you can grade out. He is off-the-charts smart, off-the-charts physical and talented. It is hard too find guys like that.”
Oregon junior guard Shane Lemieux also received an NFL draft evaluation, but will wait until after the bowl game to finalize his decision. The Ducks will be back at full strength against the Spartans on the offensive line with the return of freshman tackle Penei Sewell, who missed the final six games of the regular season because of a high ankle sprain.
“Having Penei back is a big component of what we have done this year,” Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “It is real nice having him back. You saw what production he had early in the year before he got hurt so it is nice to have him back.”
Oregon will have more than five weeks between a 55-15 win over Oregon State on Nov. 23 to wrap up the regular season and the bowl game. That’s two additional weeks of preparation compared to last season’s appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“That is the beauty of bowl prep, you get 13 or 15 practices to build them any way you want,” Arroyo said. “Early on we built it ... like camp practices. Then we transitioned into an opponents’ practice. We did a good job mixing the last couple weeks a little of what they do in conjunction with what our defense does."
The players had a couple of weeks off before beginning bowl practices while the coaches finished up the early recruiting period.
“It has been a long season so getting a couple days off was huge,” Herbert said. “Some guys up front have put their body through so much, so to get some time off was huge. They came back fired up.”
Oregon’s three-game losing streak in bowl games is its longest since dropping four in a row from 2002 to 2006.
“We look at it as we are playing an opponent that has such a strong and rich history of winning championships and being physical,” Cristobal said. “Couple that with getting a win and it is the same for both teams, that is always the ultimate goal. The importance of coming out and playing the right kind of football and playing Oregon football is extremely important.”