by Rob Moseley
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota was named Oregon's offensive MVP for the second straight season on Saturday afternoon at the Ducks' postseason banquet.
Mariota shared the Skeie's Award as team MVP with senior defensive end Taylor Hart. Mariota was also named the UO football team's most inspirational player, with both awards decided by a vote of teammates.
The Ducks held their banquet in The Club at Autzen Stadium mere hours after finishing off the regular season with a Civil War win over Oregon State. Oregon improved to 10-2, posting double-digit wins for the sixth straight season, and now awaits word of its bowl destination pending results around the nation this weekend and next.
Oregon remains in the hunt for its fifth straight Bowl Championship Series berth. Barring that, the Ducks seem a strong candidate to play in the Alamo Bowl.
"Continue to ascend," first-year coach Mark Helfrich told the team at the banquet's conclusion. "There's only two ways to be happy, and that's to get better or lower your expectations. And we will never lower our expectations in any way, shape or form."
In other awards Saturday, freshman tight end Johnny Mundt was named the top first-year player, and leading tackler Derrick Malone was named most improved player. Mana Greig, a former walk-on who eventually earned a starting job, was named top offensive lineman in a vote of teammates, and Hart was named the top defensive lineman.
Sophomore running back Byron Marshall was honored as an impact player on offense, and linebacker Rodney Hardrick won the Bob Officer Award for playing through physical adversity. Hroniss Grasu and Dustin Haines received awards honoring character as teammates, and the scout-team players of the year were Brian Teague on offense, T.J. Daniel on defense and Austin Daich on special teams.
"The key to all this is the people, and the people in this program are off the charts," Helfrich told the team. "You guys are the most successful group of Oregon football players of all time, on and off the field. You have really defined what being a 'Man of Oregon' is."
The coaching staff will hit the road for recruiting this week, while players look ahead to finals at the university, and have weight workouts. The Ducks will hold their first postseason practices next Saturday and Sunday.
Following the bowl game, awards for playing time and special teams contributions will be handed out. The five players leading the competition for playing the most snaps this season are cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone, safety Avery Patterson, linebacker Tony Washington and Grasu.
The 14 players in the running for "Elite 11" status on special teams are Erick Dargan, Troy Hill, Tyson Coleman, DeForest Buckner, Ben Butterfield, Keanon Lowe, Ayele Forde, Joe Walker, Matt Wogan, Brian Jackson, Drew Howell, Ekpre-Olomu, Hardrick and Washington.
The banquet also featured short video tributes to each member of the senior class. Players talked about their favorite memories, and thanked coaches, teammates and staff members.
"Having the chance to play and represent my state, it's been amazing, an amazing experience," said Hart, a Tualatin native whose 64 tackles were 29 more than any other defensive lineman this season.
Jackson, an Alabama native, discussed his decision to come all the way to Eugene for college.
"People ask why I came so far, and part of it was a sense of adventure," Jackson said. "But sometimes when you know where you're supposed to be, you know."
Several players said their best memory — in careers for the fifth-year seniors that included four BCS appearances already — was winning the Rose Bowl following the 2011 season. Hart and nose guard Wade Keliikipi were among those who did, after battling a Wisconsin offensive line in that game that was stacked with future NFL players.
"Going to a Rose Bowl and playing in it was fun," Hart said. "But winning — winning is a really important thing."