Royce Freeman

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CFT Previews: Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
THE SKINNY: To say that Oregon and Boise State share a history on the field would be understating things just a bit despite the fact that they’ve played each other just twice. After all, bring up the Ducks to a Broncos fan or vice versa and you’re bound to hear about events from nearly a decade ago when the two played a memorable pair of games for anything but the outcome.

Boise State kicked off a perfect regular season during the first meeting back in 2008, a game best remembered for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked out then-Ducks starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. College football fans far and wide know all about the rematch a year later, which resulted in a 19-8 victory on the blue turf for the Broncos but is etched into everybody’s minds for LaGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout after the game to ruin Chip Kelly’s debut even further.

Those kinds of games seem like distant memories for both fan bases considering what each side have gone through to get to this point on Saturday.

Boise State enters with their first Mountain West in three years but are not quite the fun, high-scoring team many expected with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien at the controls. The signal-caller has rotated with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart as the offense has resorted to grinding out yards and using second half comebacks instead of scoring at will like in the past. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t explosive however, as wideout Cedrick Wilson is one of the best pass catchers in the region and should find plenty of open space during the game. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the normally stout defense, which has allowed only two 100 yard rushers all season.

On the opposite sideline, Oregon enters on a slightly different note with Mario Cristobal officially coaching his first game as the team’s new head coach. He takes over for Willie Taggart, who left Eugene for the job at Florida State after just a single season at the school. What kind of impact that will have on the Ducks for the game remains to be seen but most of the staff has remained in place to help with bowl preparations so it’s one of the swifter transitions as far as these things go in the postseason.

No matter how fans feel about the new head coach though, chances are good that they’re just happy to have another chance to see what Justin Herbert can do behind center. The quarterback only threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but suffered a broken collarbone early in the year to derail the team’s hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. The team went 5-1 in games he started, 2-4 in those he didn’t with a huge drop in points, yards and efficiency. That in turn hurt the productivity of the defense, which is led by linebacker Troy Dye and has still made huge strides from where they were a year ago. Also notable is the team’s best player — running back Royce Freeman — is opting to skip the bowl in order to prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

A lot of those factors would have you lean in the direction of the Broncos given the fact that they won the conference title just a few weeks ago and have the kind of defense that could give the Pac-12 power problems running the ball. Cristobal will have the Ducks fired up and ready for this kind of challenge however, and the return of Herbert has made this a completely different — and dangerous — team in their final two games of 2017. Something says the quarterback will be able to use a big performance against the Broncos on Saturday to parlay himself into being a Heisman favorite next season and end the year on a good note for Oregon with a bowl victory.

THE PICK: Oregon 38, Boise State 27

Royce Freeman will not play in Las Vegas Bowl

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Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman will not play in this weekend’s Las Vegas Bowl, thus bringing his collegiate career to a close before he moves on to the NFL next year. Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal announced Freeman’s lack of availability to reporters today ahead of the bowl game against Boise State.

Freeman played in all 12 games for the Ducks this season, rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns. Freeman’s career at Oregon has been a highly productive one under two different coaches. As a freshman in 2014, Freeman rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns to quickly begin gaining some national attention as the Ducks advanced to the national championship game in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff (but some guy named Marcus Mariota was doing some good things too at the time to grab the majority of the national attention).

Freeman rushed for 5,621 yards and 60 touchdowns for Oregon, and he was also responsible for four touchdown receptions.

Freeman will join a growing list following a growing trend of sitting out of a bowl game before moving to the NFL.

Oregon hands Oregon State its worst Civil War beating ever

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In a lost season, it’s appropriate Oregon State’s year ends this way.

Oregon jumped out to a 52-7 halftime (!) lead and never looked back, cruising to a 69-10 win over OSU in Eugene in the 121st playing of the Civil War rivalry Saturday night.  And that 121st edition was historic, ignominious even for the Beavers.

The 59-point margin of victory is the largest for either team since the series was first played in 1894.  The previous high?  A pair of 44-0 Ducks wins, the first back in 1895, the second year of the rivalry, and the second coming in 1987.

The Ducks (7-5) more than doubled up the Beavers on offense, holding a 577-211 advantage in yards that are more reminiscent of a matchup with an FCS opponent.  UO ran for 311 yards as part of that, averaging 6.3 yards on its 49 carries.

Individually, UO running back Royce Freeman set the Pac-12 record for career rushing touchdowns (60) and, with 122 yards on the ground, moved into sixth place in NCAA history for 100-yard rushing games with 31.

Percentage-wise, OSU’s 1-11 record is the worst year in the football program’s history, trumping the 1-10 1975/1979/1981/1990/1992/1995 campaigns.

QB Justin Herbert returns to lineup for Oregon as Ducks bottle up Khalil Tate and Arizona

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Oregon has been listless offensively the past few weeks without starting quarterback Justin Herbert but his return to the lineup injected plenty of life into Willie Taggart’s team in a 48-28 win over Arizona that also made the Ducks bowl eligible at the same time.

Herbert’s numbers were not flashy or spectacular given the offense he plays in but they were a huge boost given how poorly backups played in his absence after breaking his collarbone early in the year. He finished the night with just 235 yards through the air (along with an interception) and a touchdown pass while also making an impact with his wheels, surprising nearly everybody in Autzen Stadium with a 40 yard scramble for a touchdown in the first quarter.

As nice as it was to have the signal-caller back, his teammate Royce Freeman did most of the heavy lifting as he no longer faced a loaded box full of defenders. The senior made his first trip to the end zone since September (coinciding with Herbert’s injury) to move past LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. He also passed TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the FBS career rushing yards list early in the game and managed to end the night with 134 on the ground and a total of four scores. Backup Tony Brooks-James added another 124 yards as the Ducks’ rushing attack was humming like days of old.

Perhaps the more eye-opening aspect of the victory was the UO defense though. The bottled up dynamic Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate better than just about any Pac-12 defense has this year and held him to only 32 yards rushing. Forcing the dual-threat star to become a passer was the game plan and the Ducks executed it at a high level, limiting him to 159 yards passing with a score and a pair of interceptions.

Running back Nick Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, whose most notable play was probably a pick-six by Dane Cruikshank that was negated by a taunting penalty in the first half as he finger-waged his way to the end zone. The offense later punched it in but it was emblematic of a frustrating night for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff.

Both teams have gone through their up’s and down’s this season and while it looked as though Arizona was on the upswing entering Saturday night, perhaps it’s Oregon who can claim the same thanks to their starting quarterback looking healthy and as back in business.

No. 23 Stanford too much for Oregon as Cardinal wins fourth straight in a blowout

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Oregon and Stanford have combined to produce some of the most memorable and nationally relevant Pac-12 games over the past few years. On a weekend filled with upsets and improbable results, could the two get together for one more?

Not quite.

No. 23 Stanford did just about whatever they wanted on offense and powered to a 49-7 victory over their Pac-12 North rivals to win a fourth straight and look a lot like the team many thought could win the division in the preseason.

Running back Bryce Love was once again the star of the show, breaking off a 67-yarder that adds to his highlight reel and finishing a rather ho-hum night with 147 yards and two scores. More pressing for the Heisman candidate is how he’s feeling, as he didn’t play much in the second half after limping off with what looked to be an ankle injury. Though it could just be precautionary, the issue is something to monitor for one of the most explosive runners in the country.

Surprisingly though, the running game wasn’t the only threat for the Cardinal offense. Quarterback Keller Chryst was an efficient 15-of-21 for 181 yards, three touchdowns and one interception before giving way to backup K.J. Costello. Most of those yards and scores were thrown toward massive wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who was an uncoverable threat in the red zone and finished with 112 yards and two touchdown catches.

The nearly 500 yard effort also overshadowed another quality defensive job by Stanford as well. Oregon running back Royce Freeman did manage to rush for 143 yards but the Ducks scored only once and were little to no threat with their backup quarterbacks in action once again. Braxton Burmeister started behind center but completed just four passes for 25 yards and threw two interceptions. Taylor Alie replaced him in the second half but didn’t fare much better.

It marked a rough return to the Farm for new Oregon coach Willie Taggart, who was a former assistant with David Shaw under Jim Harbaugh at the school several years ago. Shaw probably won’t apologize however, as the impressive outing by the Cardinal may — combined with other upsets — make them the team to beat in the Pac-12 given how well they’re playing at the moment.