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Long-time Duck grinch Stewart Mandel predicts a dented can of Who Hash for Webfoots at the Alamo

He’s the same guy who reported a three-year bowl ban for Oregon the night before the NCAA decision was announced, based on his “sources,” but Stewart Mandel forecasts doom for the Ducks at the Alamodome in his annual bowl forecast:

“On paper, there’s no reason to pick against the heavily favored Ducks, especially with quarterback Marcus Mariota expected to be fully recovered from his knee injury. But it feels as if Mack Brown is meant to win his farewell game. Texas tailback Malcolm Brown could exploit a shaky Oregon rushing defense, while Hendricks Award winner Jackson Jeffcoat will look to pressure Mariota.”

The long good-bye: while it’s true the Texas players are playing to send Mack Brown out with a win, they’ve been playing for his job for four years, and that didn’t help them much. The Ducks have motivations that are just as solid, and maybe even more sustainable over four quarters of football.

 The cbs.com columnist is 5-1 in his bowl picks so far, but his reasoning on the Valero Alamo Bowl rings pretty flimsy. Farewell game! Ted Hendricks award! Big running back!

Yeah, well, maybe. The impetus of playing for Mack Brown will last half a quarter, and the Oregon players have solid motivations of their own. This is a group with a lot of loyalty to each other. They could have folded in the Civil War, but didn’t, gutting out a clutch, come-from-behind win with inspired performances by Taylor Hart, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Josh Huff, Marcus Mariota and Thomas Tyner. It was the kind of win that reinforces the sense of playing for each other.

The team got a tremendous additional lift when Mariota and all-league center Hroniss Grasu announced they were returning next year. Both are two-time all-conference players who could have made big money in the NFL draft. Suddenly this game means a lot more. It’s a down payment on the team they want to become, and two exceptional players have stepped forward and identified themselves as the leaders on  that team.

Another corps of great players provides additional motivation for the players around them in that this is a homecoming for them. Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, Chance Allen, Torrodney Prevot, Eric and Stephen Amoako and Damion Hobbs all hail from the Lone Star State, and their excitement to play before family and friends will be infectious. They’ve no doubt talked up this trip among their teammates, bringing extra intensity to practice.

Huff in particular, coming off an inspired, career-defining performance in the Civil War, will be amped to end his college career in his home state. On Twitter last night he saluted Brandin Cooks for his effort in the Hawaii Bowl, and Oregon fans can expect that the senior, who’s had a brilliant and memorable season and a terrific Oregon career, will be dialed in to finish both emphatically.

The 4-year starter was passed over for all-conference honors despite 1,036 yards, 11 touchdowns and 18.2 yards a catch, and he’s a guy who looks for ways to motivate himself in big games. He’ll use that, even though wins are more important to him. Huff brings a lot a confidence to his matchup with a suspect Texas secondary after a 3-touchdown night against the Beavs, including a clutch grab to win the game with 29 seconds to play.

Mandel seriously underestimates the impact of a healthy Mariota, and a healthy Byron Marshall beside him. While Malcom Brown certainly is a big, capable running back, the Ducks have a decided edge in the ground game when you factor in Marshall, Mariota, and freshman Tyner, who’s emerged in a big way over the last two months of the season.

Though Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat absolutely is a formidable challenge as a disruptive outside rusher, Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone has done a capable job all season in similar circumstances, facing Anthony Barr, Scott Crichton, and Trevor Reilly of Utah in the last several weeks. Jeffcoat’s a great player, but with quick backs, an elusive quarterback and a smart, resourceful offensive line, Oregon has a lot of ways to attack a middling Texas defense that earned lumps of coal in its stocking against similar offenses in the Big-12, notably Baylor and Oklahoma State, and BYU before that.

It will take more than a hunch and a halftime speech to beat Oregon in San Antonio. The Ducks bring plenty of motivation of their own. Knowing that they were passed over for a BCS bowl, Monday will be their night to show they belong in the  Top Ten and don’t plan on being passed over next year when the four-team playoff begins.

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