Arizona lost to Oregon 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship game, and even though it could be expressed as a disappointing ending for the Wildcats before the bowl season, it's hard to make this game about them. Their magical season ran out of luck, because as it is in college football, lightening doesn't strike twice, not to good football teams with something to prove.
This is a story about the Oregon Ducks, who used the past matchups against Arizona as easy motivation. That threat of mortality was enough reason to avoid a letdown. That part was easy.
But making a statement with Rich Rodriguez's team at their mercy? That looked that easy, too.
The Ducks didn't screw around by giving the College Football Playoff committee any apprehension moving forward. They did them a favor, keeping the Wildcats from leaping into the fray. Oregon also did itself a major favor, and now it's a question of whether such a pronounced victory will propel the Pac-12 champs into a more favorable position when the playoff starts.
For Arizona, the loss was ultimately over the first time the Wildcats touched the ball.
Tyrell Johnson fumbled UA's first kickoff return, and while the Ducks struggled initially by settling for two field goals too many miscues made it inevitable the game would get out of hand. Oregon pitched a 23-0 shutout by halftime, and things didn't get better for the Wildcats in the second half.
Now it's on to wondering if the Wildcats will drop out of the conversation for the Fiesta Bowl, where many projected them to land even if they lost.
As the Ducks proved they were riding a Heisman favorite at quarterback, they also flexed a defensive muscle that had everything to do with recent wins against the physical teams that, before Arizona, were called Oregon's kryptonite. The Ducks overpower Stanford and Michigan State this season, using speed and physicality to stop balanced attacks. On Friday night in Levi's Stadium, they did the same.
Arizona running back Nick Wilson took 13 carries for just 26 yards, and UA's offense mustered 199 yards -- 86 on the ground and just 113 through the air. Quarterback Anu Solomon, forced into three-and-outs as the Wildcats went pass-happy once they were behind, completed just 6-of-12 passes for 36 yards. He had six runs for negative-23 yards, and he was pulled for the second half, when Jesse Scroggins passed for 79 yards; 69 came on a touchdown off a broken play as Oregon lost Cayleb Jones going deep.
Third-string quarterback Jerrard Randall would run the ball into the end zone as the clock ticked down with Oregon throwing for 326 yards and rushing for another 301 in total.
Yes, Arizona got more than tripled-up in yardage.
It's hard to imagine the Wildcats would have had any chance on Friday night, even if the offense was clicking and the defense didn't lose all of its tread on its tires by the end of the first half.
Mariota frustrated Arizona, dragging out plays. Instead of burning the Wildcats with his legs, he was keeping his passing options open. Only when he was close to the end zone was he aggressive with the zone reads. Arizona's secondary just couldn't run track meets with the Ducks.
That leaves RichRod and Co. wondering what went wrong. It's unfortunate the Wildcats were roasted on national television, but it's hard to imagine the game going differently. The Ducks had their marching orders all season long. They had to stay the course, even after a loss to Arizona. They had no choice but to prove they could wear on a rugged Spartans squad in the nonconference schedule. Then they had to prove Arizona didn't have their number.
Oregon used the Wildcats. That's just how it is.
The Wildcats probably got lucky with Mariota's injury last season and a broken offensive line earlier in 2014. It was lucky, just as lucky as when UCLA got drubbed by Stanford in the final week of the regular season, making the Duel in the Desert the play-in game for the championship match.
But hey, Arizona will take that luck. They might need to use whatever luck is left to get a favorable bowl bid.