Both Justin Herbert and Mario Cristobal uttered a similar sentiment after Oregon ran out the clock in its 28-27 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin on Wednesday. Amid a rush of teammates and coaches, Herbert and Cristobal noted the Ducks’ rise from 4–8 in 2016 to 12–2 in 2019 following their victory in Pasadena. Herbert experienced the program’s full rise back to the top of the Pac-12, going 2–5 in seven starts as a freshman in 2016. Now with his third head coach in four seasons, Herbert ends his college career with the second-most passing touchdowns in program history.
Herbert wasn’t perfect in Oregon’s first Rose Bowl victory since 2014. He finished Wednesday night with 138 passing yards on 20 attempts, limited downfield against a stout Badgers’ defense. But the Eugene native made critical plays late to seal Oregon’s victory. Herbert burst through Wisconsin’s defense for a 30-yard touchdown with 7:41 to play, giving Oregon a 28-27 lead it would never relinquish. Herbert also completed a pair of passes for first downs to run out the clock in the final two minutes. Armed with the NCAA’s No. 7 scoring defense, Herbert played complimentary football, completing key third-down passes while grinding out critical yards on the ground.
Oregon’s win on Wednesday (and its Pac-12 Championship victory over Utah) should serve as some validation for Herbert after eschewing the 2019 NFL Draft for a senior season with the Ducks. Herbert could have been the second quarterback off the board last year behind Heisman winner Kyler Murray, potentially jockeying for consideration in the top-10 with Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins. Skipping out on top-10 money is never an easy choice, regardless of affinity for a program.
It remains a question whether Herbert made a smart economic decision. Joe Burrow is all-but-assured to go No.1 to Cincinnati, while Tua Tagovailoa could leapfrog Herbert if he leaves Tuscaloosa. Herbert may settle closer to the 20th pick than No. 10, though QB-needy teams could jump at the chance to nab a quarterback who threw 61 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in four seasons.
Unless Herbert leads his future NFL team to the playoffs as a rookie, his season will likely be done by New Year’s Day in 2021. However, the Ducks could still return to Pasadena a year from now. Oregon sported the nation's No. 7 recruiting class in 2019, led by five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. The electric edge rusher tallied nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss as a freshman, and he wreaked havoc on Wisconsin's offensive line in spurts on Wednesday. Oregon should be an impressive defensive unit next season, keeping the program in the conference title chase even without Herbert. Mario Cristobal has stabilized the program after a shaky two-year stretch. The future is bright for both Herbert and his former program.