Oregon Ducks Looking Like One Of Nation's Best
by Trevor Whenham - 11/5/2009
I sat through every painful minute of Oregon's opening debacle at Boise State. I'm not an Oregon fan, and I am only marginally a Boise State fan, but by the end I just couldn't change the channel - it was like an impossibly ugly car wreck. My eyes were glued to it. If you had told me then that at the Ducks may very well be the best team in the country by the beginning of November I would have, without hesitation, had you committed. Yet, here we are at the beginning of November, and after an incredible thrashing of USC it may just be true.
A couple of months after the debacle at Boise State, Oregon beat USC as convincingly as one team can beat another. USC hadn't lost by more than 11 points since 2001, and they rarely lose at all, so you would never expect them to lose by 27 - even in the hostile environs of Autzen Stadium. It wasn't just the margin of victory that was ridiculous either. Oregon ran for almost 400 yards, and piled up more than 600 yards of total offense. That's just not supposed to happen - USC is supposed to have a ferocious defense.
Oregon was brilliant last Saturday, but it wasn't the first time. Since that first week the Ducks have just gotten better and better. So where do they stack up on the national scene, and what does the future have in store? You need to come to your own conclusion on that, but here's a look at some factors that will shape the answer to that question:
The USC game - I'm not going to take anything away from this performance, but I do think that it is important to consider the results, and to take it with a grain of salt. The USC defense is just not the same unit that we have come used to. They lost so much after last year, and they clearly haven't restocked the cupboard as much as they needed to. They started the season strong, but as things have progressed the lack of depth has caused problems. Oregon State gained almost 500 yards. A lead used to be virtually a guarantee of a win for this team, but Notre Dame almost dug out of a big hole when they scored three second-half touchdowns. Oregon had to exploit the defense, and they did brilliantly, but it wasn't nearly as hard to do that as it has been in the past.
The rest of conference - To truly measure a team we have to get a sense of how good the rest of their conference is. I'm not sold on the Pac-10. The top two teams coming into the season were USC and Cal. The Trojans have problems we have already discussed, and Cal showed early in their conference season that they are deeply flawed. Other than Oregon, the rest of the teams have lost at least once in the conference, and each one has holes big enough to drive a truck through. The conference is just 19-9 in non-conference play, a .678 winning rate. By comparison, the SEC is 30-6, or .833. Oregon's true emergence as a national power happened to correspond precisely with when they started their conference schedule.
Schedule - The remaining schedule for the Ducks could certainly be worse - as long as they can stay focused and don't let the USC game make them feel like they are invincible. Next up is a trip to Stanford - a team that they match up very well with. After that they play Arizona State at home - another game that they should easily be able to win. Their final game of the season is the annual Civil War contest against Oregon State. That's always a, well, war, but Oregon should be able to come out ahead in that one at home.
That leaves just one game - their 11th game of the season is at Arizona, the team that is currently ranked 18th. The Wildcats are unbeaten in Tucson, and they play solid defense, so this is a dangerous spot for Oregon. They definitely can win it - Iowa and Washington both beat Arizona, and Oregon has beaten Washington and I'd take them over Iowa in a blink. It's a crucial game because Oregon will be hurt badly in the national scene if they lose again.
The schedule makes it very likely that they will win the conference, and they control their own destiny on that front. It also has a chance to beat another ranked team - their fourth - and that would definitely help in the eyes of the voters that make up the polls. The golden rule is that if you are going to lose you should lose early. Oregon couldn't have done better on that front.
The impact of Boise State - This is where things get interesting. Boise State is ranked ahead of Oregon right now. There is no hard-and-fast rule that a team can't be ranked ahead of a team that it lost to, but many voters hold that opinion. That means that it could be hard for Oregon to climb as high up the rankings as they would like to, or as they would need to to climb beyond the Rose Bowl. Some people will obviously still vote Oregon higher, but there will be enough people who won't that the team won't get as may votes as they may deserve. It's further complicated by the fact that Boise State is stuck behind TCU in the polls and is likely to stay there.
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