DALLAS – The last and only time that Oregon previously played for a national championship was to cap the 2010 season, when the Ducks faced Auburn.
Safety Erick Dargan redshirted that year, one of about a dozen current Oregon players who made the trip to Glendale, Arizona, for that game. He watched from the sideline as the Ducks fell to the Tigers and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, 22-19.
Today, Dargan marvels at the evolution of the Ducks from their debut on the national stage against Auburn to this season’s college football playoff, which culminates on Monday night when Oregon (13-1) faces Ohio State (13-1) for the title.
“Definitely full circle,” Dargan said earlier this week in Eugene as the Ducks prepared for the title game. “A few of us on this team were redshirting that year and saw what it took to get there. This year we’ve been able to repeat it. So it definitely feels crazy to go out on top and play in the national championship game.”
But, to be frank, he didn’t think it would take the Ducks this long to get back.
“No. We fell short a couple of times. But we’re back now. That’s all that matters,” he said.
The fifth-year senior leads the Ducks in tackles (90) and interceptions (seven) this season. He had a notable game in Oregon’s 59-20 Rose Bowl victory over Florida State on New Year’s Day, with a forced fumble and a third-quarter interception of Heisman winner Jameis Winston.
The Ducks’ performance that day helped dispel the perception that Oregon’s defense was soft. They forced five turnovers, and the Ducks scored off three of them in a statement-making third quarter, including Tony Washington’s 58-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“Those guys have been doing it all year,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “They always kind of find ways to get to the ball.”
Don Pellum took over as defensive coordinator for the Ducks this season, replacing Nick Aliotti, who retired after 17 years in the position.
Pellum’s goal at the start was to give the Ducks ‘D’ some “swagger.” Dargan feels like the unit has achieved that.
“I think everyone’s on the same page. We all care,” Dargan said. “Being a part of this team is special. We understand that we’ve got something special, and we want to keep it going. That’s just what it is. I don’t think there’s any magic to it or secret to it, we just have fun playing together.”
Fellow defensive back Troy Hill also redshirted the year that Oregon played at Auburn and notes how in that game, Oregon was more of the upstart newcomer. Now, national title bids are something the Ducks expect.
And the first playoffs gave even the freshman a taste of what it means to play in a big game.
“That’s what it really prepared us for, was playing in big games and understanding the atmosphere and things like that,” Hill said. “I’m sure this Rose Bowl prepared everybody for that, so we should be used to it and just come out and play now.”
Ducks’ Carrington suspended
Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington is suspended for the national championship game because of a failed NCAA drug test, according to a person with direct knowledge of test results.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of student privacy rules. The person said Carrington tested positive for marijuana. Team spokesman Andy McNamara confirmed that Carrington is not with the team but would not indicate why.
The 6-foot-2, 191-pound redshirt freshman made his first career start in the victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game, finishing with seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
He also had seven catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s Rose Bowl victory over Florida State.
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