It’s a rematch.
Although Oregon always preaches looking ahead to the next “nameless, faceless opponent,” even Ducks coach Mark Helfrich says playing the in the Pac-12 championship on Friday against Arizona has more significance.
That’s because Oregon’s lone loss this season came against the Wildcats back on Oct. 2 at Autzen Stadium.
The No. 3 Ducks were already buzzing about No. 8 Arizona just minutes after their Civil War victory over rival Oregon State on Saturday night.
“We talked a little bit about preparing to give somebody our best shot. I would have said it about whoever was next,” Helfrich said about his postgame message to the Ducks. “But certainly our guys know the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ of some of that night.”
Arizona (10-2, 7-2) clinched a spot in the league championship game this past Friday, when UCLA fell to Stanford and the Wildcats defeated Arizona State 42-35.
The Ducks (11-1, 8-1), who had earlier claimed the Pac-12 North, capped their regular season with the 47-19 victory over the Beavers in the 118th Civil War game.
The win held Oregon at No. 3 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday. The Ducks are ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings behind Alabama, meaning that if they can beat Arizona they’re all but assured to be one of the four teams to make the cut for the first playoffs.
Arizona jumped four spots to No. 8 in the latest AP poll for the team’s highest ranking since 1999. The Wildcats are at No. 11 in the CFP rankings, which will be updated on Tuesday.
“The preparation is the same and that will be my message to the team today,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Sunday. “We talk about keeping the main thing the same, which is just getting ready to work every day, practice the way we practice, focus on your opponent and don’t worry about things you can’t control.”
That approach has worked just fine for the Wildcats in preparation for the Ducks for the past two seasons.
Back in October, freshman Nick Wilson ran for two touchdowns and caught a scoring pass from quarterback Anu Solomon in a 31-24 victory over the then-No. 2 Ducks.
Terris Jones-Grigsby plowed into the end zone from a yard out for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:54 left, and Arizona held on after sacking Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota and recovering his fumble.
In 2013, the Wildcats intercepted Mariota’s pass on his first play from scrimmage, ending his Pac-12 record streak of 353 passes without a pick, and went on to rout then No. 5 Oregon 42-16 in Tucson. It was the Ducks’ first loss to an unranked team since 2009.
Mariota wore a brace on his knee in that game and later it was revealed that he had partially torn his medial collateral ligament in a game four weeks before.
Mariota, who had six touchdowns — four via pass and two keepers — in the Civil War victory over the Beavers, was staying on script for the Pac-12 championship. He said the Ducks would “continue to approach it like any other game.”
“We’re just going to play our game. Arizona did a great job setting and dictating tempo in the last meeting,” he added. “If we go out and execute to the best of our abilities and execute the game plans that are put in front of us, we should hopefully be successful.”
But Oregon wide receiver Byron Marshall wasn’t shy about addressing what the rematch really means to the Ducks.
“Just to know that you lost to somebody, it just sits there and sits there,” Marshall said. “You move on, but you never forget. Now we have a time to right our wrong.”
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