While the road was supposed to travel all the way down to Miami for the title, Oregon still did work this year. The most likely destination is Glendale, Ariz., the site of the Fiesta Bowl, where the Ducks will look to put to rest haunting memories from the last time they played in Glendale: the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
Here’s how the Ducks got where they are now:
Week One: Arkansas State
Sept. 1, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
In Marcus Mariota’s collegiate debut, the redshirt freshman outperformed all lofty expectations. No. 5 Oregon cruised to a 57-34 win over the Red Wolves, and the Hawaiian quarterback passed for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns. In the end, it was a cameo appearance — head coach Chip Kelly pulled Mariota and running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas by halftime.
Week Two: Fresno State
Sept. 8, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
It was Barner’s turn to impress the next week. The senior ground out 201 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 42-25 win against an overmatched Bulldogs defense. Fresno State actually led early in this game after kicking a field goal, but Thomas took a pitch into the end zone on his first touch of the game to start the rout.
Week Three: Tennessee Tech
Sept. 15, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
Another FCS patsy. The Golden Eagles took a 63-14 pounding, as Mariota there for 308 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Byron Marshall also got into the action as Kelly rested his starters. The true freshman raced for 125 yards and a TD. Earlier in the week, Oregon learned it would lose safety John Boyett and offensive lineman Carson York for the year, but the losses of the two senior leaders only served as opportunities for their backups.
Week Four: No. 22 Arizona
Sept. 22, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
Despite giving up an average of 24 points per game to that point, No. 3 Oregon’s defense made a statement in the last match of its four-game, season-opening home stand. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had two of Oregon’s four interceptions, returning one 54 yards for a touchdown, and the Ducks rolled over the Wildcats 49-0 in their conference opener. Nine different Ducks caught receptions as Mariota continued to show poise beyond his years.
Week Five: Washington State
Sept. 29, 2012 @ CenturyLink Field
For the first time all year, No. 2 Oregon took to the road. Playing on a neutral field in Seattle, the Ducks manhandled Washington State 51-26, using a 21-point third quarter and another 200-yard performance from Barner to gain traction in the conference standings. Mariota played just okay in his first road action, going 21 for 32 for 169 and two interceptions with his one touchdown. Oregon’s defense continued its strong play, adding seven sacks and holding the Cougars to -8 rushing yards.
Week Six: Washington
Oct. 6, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
Back under the lights at Autzen, No. 2 Oregon continued its streak of dominance against No. 23 Washington. Safety Avery Patterson had his second pick-six in as many games, and Mariota tied his then-season-high with four passing touchdowns in Oregon’s 52-21 win. It was Kelly’s 40th win as the Ducks’ head coach. Washington was coming off an upset win over then-No. 8 Stanford, who (spoiler alert) would later beat Oregon.
Week Seven: Arizona State
Oct. 18, 2012 @ Sun Devil Stadium
For a split second, it looked like the No. 2 Oregon Ducks were in trouble. Mariota fumbled early, and one play later, then-Pac-12 passing efficiency leader Taylor Kelly tossed a touchdown to give the Sun Devils an early lead. But the Ducks quarterback made up for his miscue with touchdowns passing, rushing and receiving in the Ducks’ 43-21 win in Tempe, Ariz. The Ducks’ defense also intercepted four passes — including another one by Patterson.
Week Eight: Colorado
Oct. 27, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
With USC looming on the schedule, some thought this would serve as a trap game for No. 2 Oregon. Guess again. Thomas rushed for a score to add to his 73-yard punt return touchdown, and the Ducks destroyed the Buffaloes 70-14 behind 617 yards of total offense. Due to a special-teams fumble, Oregon scored two rushing touchdowns before Colorado took even one offensive snap.
Week Nine: USC
Nov. 3, 2012 @ The Coliseum
In the most-hyped game on the Ducks schedule, No. 2 Oregon outgunned No. 18 USC 62-51 in an offensive masterpiece for both teams: 1,345 combined yards of total offense, 68 combined first downs, sixteen combined touchdowns. Barner stole the show with a school-record 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but Mariota also had the best game of his career. The Hawaiian went 20 for 23, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. His counterpart, All-American Matt Barkley, threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns but had two crucial interceptions. The Ducks’ march to Miami continued.
Week Ten: California
Nov. 10, 2012 @ Memorial Stadium
How did Mariota improve on the best game of his career? By having a new one. The freshman threw for a record-tying six touchdowns and 377 yards as No. 2 shredded California 59-17 on the Golden Bears’ Senior Night. Despite a season-ending knee injury to Patterson, the Ducks extended their nation-leading 13-game win streak and made a case for being the nation’s best team as No. 1 Alabama fell earlier in the day to Texas A&M.
Week Eleven: Stanford
Nov. 17, 2012 @ Autzen Stadium
We all know how this one ends. Sluggish offensive play and a pair of missed field goals cost No. 1 Oregon its shot at the title, as No. 14 Stanford holds Oregon to less than 200 yards rushing. Mariota looks human — finally — and Barner fails to get on track all game. What’s worse, in the eyes of fans, is a phantom touchdown by Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone that ties the game in the last two minutes. Jordan Williamson’s field goal in overtime is enough to give Stanford the shocking 17-14 win.
Week Twelve: Oregon State
Nov. 24, 2012 @ Reser Stadium
After the letdown, No. 5 Oregon returns to form against its in-state rivals. The Beavers keep the game close in the first half, but Thomas’s three rushing touchdowns are too much as Oregon wins 48-24. No. 16 Oregon State dropped its fifth-straight in the Civil War, while the Ducks finished their regular season 11-1, their second-best finish in school history. Because Stanford beat UCLA later in the day, however, the Ducks are frozen out of the conference championship and are likely sent to the Fiesta Bowl to play the winner of the Big-12 Championship: Kansas State or Oklahoma.