Eugene, Ore. -- The entire 2019 Oregon Ducks football season has seemingly been a quiet referendum on where the program was just four years ago. After a 4-8 campaign, the program simply looked different than what Oregon fans had come to experience as the norm. In the second year of the Mario Cristobal era it only seemed right that players like quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Troy Dye, who were freshman that season, to usher in what many feel could be a new renaissance of Duck football.
"A lot of us seniors, we've been talking about the 4-8 year, the 7-5 and things were different back then," says Herbert. "The locker room isn't what it is now and we've done a good job of changing that. It's a great opportunity for us and a sign of all the hard work we've put in over the past couple years and we're looking forward to playing."
Even though Oregon's playoff hopes fizzled in a fateful late season trip to Tempe against Arizona State, the Ducks still head to the Pac-12 Conference Championship for the first time since 2014. That they clinched that berth with a couple weeks to play in the regular season was an added bonus, and sent the message to Duck nation about the general direction the program is headed in.
"It means a lot," Troy Dye continues. "It just shows the growth of the team and the growth of myself and the growth of the organization since I've been here. It's been five years since we went to one. We hosted the first ever Pac-12 championship so it means a lot not only to me, but to be able to give it back to the community and the school and to the state itself and to show that Oregon is on the right track."
The last time Oregon and Utah played was in Salt Lake City during the 2018-2019 season, in bitter cold and crisp November air. The Utes jumped out to a 10-0 lead and held on to win 32-25 despite the Ducks best efforts. That was without Utah's star running back and quarterback tandem, Zach Moss and Tyler Huntley, who have lit up the rest of the conference to the tune of 1,246 rushing yards and 2,773 passing yards. In a lot of ways, the Utes and Ducks are two sides of the same coin: both head coaches preach a philosophy of dominating the line of scrimmage and physically imposing their will on opponents.
"They've been doing it for a really long time," Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo mentions. "This goes back a long time at Utah, they've been doing that and we're having a chance to get there in the early stages and be a physical program that we believe in. We believe in that for sure, and hope to take the next step forward with it."
Oregon will enter the Pac-12 Championship Game ranked no. 13 in the penultimate College Football Playoff poll of the year, while Utah checked in at no. 5. The game will be broadcast on KEZI (ABC) and will kick off at 5:00 p.m. on Friday.
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