As Oregon and Utah prepare to face off at Autzen Stadium this Saturday, it’s safe to say both teams (and their fans) would love to pretend the match-up is just another must-win game against another “faceless opponent.”
Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done.
Although the rest of the country may be disinterested in this game, given both teams lackluster records, dedicated fans know there is more than a couple of reasons to watch this one.
First of all, both teams need two more wins this season to become bowl-eligible and each of them faces an uphill battle to get there. Oregon still has Washington and Arizona on the schedule, while Utah must play Washington State and Washington. If the Ducks or the Utes want to make their climb a bit less treacherous, they need to snag the win.
The second (and perhaps most nerve-wracking) reason to watch the game will certainly be to see WR Darren Carrington’s return to Autzen Stadium, this time wearing Red and White. Try as we might, there’s no ignoring this big elephant in the room.
After a successful four years as a Duck, Carrington was dismissed from the team in July of this year after a series of behavioral issues, culminating in a DUII Charge. Shortly after being dismissed from the program, Carrington joined the Utes where he has become the conference’s leader in receiving yards. His current success comes as no surprise to Oregon fans who watched him make incredible plays time and time again. Without a doubt, he was one of Oregon’s most dependable and clutch receivers. Though most fans agreed his dismissal was warranted, they also knew the loss would prove costly for Oregon’s passing game.
It’s safe to say that no one in Eugene is thrilled to see Carrington playing for the other side. To say it will be weird is an understatement and even he knows that.
When asked about his return to Eugene this week, Carrington told reporters, “. . .There’s no hostility or nothing. I played there for years; I still love those fans.” Carrington also said he expected fans to boo him.
I hope they don’t.
Despite the irresponsible (and dangerous) decisions Carrington made during his time at Oregon, he also gave a lot to the program and was a vital part of their success, especially the run to the 2015 National Championship.
At the end of the day, he was a young man who made some bad choices, but remains a Duck at heart and has a number of close friends on the Oregon roster, including Safety Tyree Robinson, who will be at least one player charged with defending Carrington.
What if Autzen decided to resist the temptation to boo and instead took the high road? Of course, Oregon fans hope Carrington is contained; but what if he was welcomed (and even forgiven) rather than shamed?
A tall order? Not really.
It could just be a gesture a once beloved Duck needs as he works to right his ship. After all, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl