Where Ducks’ victory over North Carolina ranks among best Oregon bowl wins this century

The Oregon Ducks ended the season with an exclamation point on Wednesday night, pulling out a thrilling 28-27 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Holiday Bowl.

The outcome was in doubt for much of the contest, with Bo Nix and the Oregon offense capitalizing on an opportunistic defense and managing to mount a comeback from 10 points down, taking the lead on a touchdown with 19 seconds left in the game.

It was a classic game, and will be remembered for a long time in Duck lore, not as much for the significance of the victory, but what it represents as a whole.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that a win in the Holiday Bowl against an unranked team is cause for a parade through Eugene. But with a first-year head coach and a roster that was fraught with holes thanks to bowl opt-outs and the transfer portal, the Ducks got the job done and showed some fight until the very end. It marked the first bowl win of Lanning’s head coaching career, and gave him 10 wins in his first year at Oregon.

The Ducks have won 11 bowl games in the 21st century, some more important than others. So where does the 28-27 win over North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl rank among those? Let’s take a look.

Red Box Bowl vs. Michigan State Spartans (2018)

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Final Score: 7-6

Offensive MVP: WR Dillon Mitchell

Defensive MVP: MSU CB Josiah Scott

Head Coach: Mario Cristobal

What Made it Special: Not a whole lot, to be completely honest. This was Cristobal’s first full season as a head coach for Oregon, and the 7-6 final score feels pretty indicative of his time in Eugene; a hard-fought game that was won with grit and minimal offense.

Sun Bowl vs. South Florida Bulls (2007)

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Final Score: 56-21

Offensive MVP: RB Jonathan Stewart

Head Coach: Mike Bellotti

What Made it Special: This game was unfortunately played without QB Dennis Dixon, who saw his Heisman campaign end late in the year with an ACL tear. Justin Roper stepped up in his absence and threw for four touchdowns in a blowout win for the Ducks.

Alamo Bowl vs. Texas Longhorns (2013)

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Final Score: 30-7

Offensive MVP: QB Marcus Mariota

Defensive MVP: SS Avery Patterson

Head Coach: Mark Helfrich

What Made it Special: This was less of a thrilling bowl game, and more of a display of complete Oregon dominance. In Helfrich’s first year as head coach after the departure of Chip Kelly, he showed quickly that he could keep the offensive train rolling with the Ducks. A somewhat disappointing 10-2 season landed them in the Alamo Bowl, but like the 2022 Ducks, they finished with an exclamation point over a Mack Brown-coached team.

Holiday Bowl vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (2008)

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Final Score: 42-31

MVP: QB Jeremiah Masoli

Head Coach: Mike Bellotti

What Made it Special: This was the last game of Mike Bellotti’s coaching career at Oregon, so it’s special for that reason if nothing else. The Ducks trailed for the majority of the game but were able to hang tough and pull past Oklahoma State in the end with the help of Jeremiah Masoli, who had 3 TD runs.

Holiday Bowl vs. North Carolina (2022)

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Final Score: 28-27

Offensive MVP: RB Bucky Irving

Defensive MVP: LB Mase Funa

Head Coach: Dan Lanning

What Made it Special: This won’t go down as one of the best bow game wins in Oregon history, but it was a major feather in the cap for Lanning, who won his first postseason game with the Ducks and notched 10 wins in his first season as a head coach. The Ducks came back from down 10 points in the fourth quarter and got a go-ahead touchdown from WR Chase Cota on the final play of his collegiate career.

Holiday Bowl vs. Texas Longhorns (2000)

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Final Score: 35-30

Offensive MVP: QB Joey Harrington

Defensive MVP: CB Rashad Bauman

Head Coach: Mike Bellotti

What Made it Special: It feels like this game started to usher in the major success for the Ducks. Before this game, Oregon had won just 2 of their last 7 bowl games, but they were able to withstand an impressive comeback attempt from the Longhorns in this Holiday Bowl and come out with a 35-30 win. Harrington would be a Heisman front-runner the next season and end his Oregon career on a high note.

Fiesta Bowl vs. Kansas State Wildcats (2012)

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Final Score: 35-17

Offensive MVP: QB Marcus Mariota

Defensive MVP: LB Michael Clay

Head Coach: Chip Kelly

What Made it Special: This game started out with a kick-off return for a touchdown from De’Anthony Thomas, and ended with the Ducks making a statement as one of the most explosive and dangerous teams in the nation, and they had a quarterback who was among the best in the nation. After the hot start, the Ducks were never threatened in this game, holding a double-digit lead throughout. You could argue that the actual game belongs lower on this list, but what it meant in the rise of the Ducks is significant.

Fiesta Bowl vs. Colorado Buffaloes (2001)

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Final Score: 38-16

Offensive MVP: QB Joey Harrington

Defensive MVP: CB Steve Smith

Head Coach: Mike Bellotti

What Made it Special: There have been a lot of big wins in Oregon history, but you could argue that this was among the most impactful for what it meant in the rise of the Ducks. Oregon had struggled for decades leading up to the turn of the century, but with Joey Harrington at the helm, they had a case as one of the best teams in the nation. Many thought that Oregon should have played in the BCS National Championship in 2002, ranked as the No. 2 team in the AP and Coaches Poll, but they were confined to the Fiesta Bowl, where they handled the No. 3 Colorado Buffaloes with ease. It still stands today as one of the greatest wins in school history.

Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin Badgers (2019)

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Final Score: 28-27

Offensive MVP: QB Justin Herbert

Defensive MVP: S Brady Breeze

Head Coach: Mario Cristobal

What Made it Special: There’s just something about Oregon and Wisconsin in Rose Bowl games, huh? This was a relatively ugly game for the Ducks, with not a ton of offense working, but they managed to stick close to the Badgers throughout the game, giving them a chance for a 4th-quarter TD run from Herbert, his third rushing TD of the game. A late stop from the Ducks’ defense allowed Oregon to get the ball back and run out the clock, giving the Ducks their fourth Rose Bowl victory in school history.

Rose Bowl vs. Florida State Seminoles (2014)

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Final Score: 59-20

Offensive MVP: QB Marcus Mariota

Defensive MVP: LB Tony Washington

Head Coach: Mark Helfrich

What Made it Special: There’s a really good argument out there that this should be the No. 1 bowl game win in Oregon history. It was the first year of the college football playoff, and Marcus Mariota, the Heisman winner, dismantled the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, giving QB Jameis Winston one of the worst games of his career. The Ducks held just an 18-13 lead going into the half, but they outscored FSU 41-7 in the final two quarters to give fans a New Year’s Day blowout that sent them to the national championship game.

Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin Badgers (2011)

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Final Score: 45-38

Offensive MVP: WR Lavasier Tuinei

Defensive MVP: MLB Kiko Alonso

Head Coach: Chip Kelly

What Made it Special: I think this game belongs at No. 1 because it signified that Oregon was officially back, and in a big way. They had won Holiday Bowls and Sun Bowls, but a loss in the 2010 Rose Bowl and the 2011 BCS National Championship game still lingered. 2012 gave the Ducks their first Rose Bowl victory since 1916, though, and ushered in the newest era of Oregon dominance. You had De’Anthony Thomas rushing for TDs of 91 and 64 yards, respectively, and the famous Chip Kelly jumping video after Kiko Alonso recovered a critical fumble late in the game. In the end, it resulted in one of the most thrilling endings to a game in Oregon history, and one of the most important bowl wins we will ever see in Eugene.

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Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire