Monday, August 29, 2011
Stakes big for Oregon, Pac-12 versus LSU
By Ted Miller
Nobody likes sounding relentlessly redundant, but if the story doesn't change the story doesn't change.
For all that Oregon has accomplished in two years under Chip Kelly, it has flopped against highly rated nonconference foes who have had extra time to prepare for the Ducks high-tempo, spread-option attack.
In 2009, the Ducks opened at Boise State. While that game is most remembered for LaGarrette Blount's post-game meltdown in Kelly's debut, Boise State fans will be glad to remind you the Broncos held the Ducks to 31 yards rushing in a 19-8 victory.
The Ducks righted themselves dramatically in 2009 and earned a berth opposite Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. But the Buckeyes held the Ducks to 260 yards in a 26-17 victory
And, finally, in the national title game against Auburn, the Ducks only scored 19 points. They gained 449 yards but only 75 on the ground.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks would score a big win for the Pac-12 with a defeat of LSU on Saturday.
Those three games, against which there is little counter argument, other than the Ducks Pac-10 success, have inspired this sort of analysis: Oregon needs to get more physical.
If you have ever played football, you surely understand that when a football player has his physicality doubted, well, that's pretty galling.
Before all you Ducks get bent over this, keep in mind that Kelly has been a stand-up guy about this very point. In all three instances, he admitted the Ducks got beat at the point of attack. Further, during preseason camp, I asked running back LaMichael James about what went wrong against Auburn.
"Their defensive line was overpowering our offensive line," he said. "That was just the way it was."
How do you think this goes over with a Ducks offensive lineman? Department of "Truth Hurts."
Here's the good news: Oregon can end such talk on Saturday. All it has to do is take it to No. 4 LSU, a program as physically talented in terms of future NFL potential as any in the nation.
That's the micro-economic level of the super-cool-awesomeness of this marquee season-0pener in Cowboys Stadium.
Any one else curious to see what Kelly's got up his sleeve to counter LSU's extra prep time to school itself on the Ducks misdirection?
The macro-economic level is this: Pac-12 versus SEC. One game for a regular-season's worth of trash talking.
You might have heard the SEC has experienced some football success of late. On occasion, SEC fans will take a moment to remind you of it. There is a rumor, in fact, that five consecutive seasons have ended with a happy ending in some SEC outpost, the latest against the Pac-12's newest top-dog.
That would be Oregon.
To be honest, last January, I though Oregon was going to pound Auburn. I didn't think a two-player team -- no matter how good those two players were -- could beat the Kelly and the Ducks. The last time I had such a strong hunch about a game and was so completely wrong was when Washington pushed Miami around in 2000. (This is not to say I've had a long run of correct strong hunches about games before January. They just don't come by very often before marquee matchups).
Even if you throw out the stakes specific to Oregon and the Pac-12, this game has huge meaning nationally. The winner could -- should, in my mind -- rise to No. 1 in both major polls. Voters should reward the winner for showing the courage to play this game, which is great for college football at a time college football needs something great to distract fans from a stunning onslaught of scandals. A couple of which, rumor has it, might involve these two teams, territory we're choosing not to explore at this moment.
So if Oregon wins, it could rise to No. 1. If LSU has a successful season in the rugged SEC West, that win will grow in value. But even if LSU falters, the Ducks will be in position to play again for the national title if they keep winning.
Further, the odds aren't terrible that Oregon could arrive at Stanford on Nov. 12 and we find ourselves eyeballing two unbeaten teams. It could be a One-Two matchup even. At the worst, if the Ducks and Cardinal face each other without a blemish on either slate, it will be the biggest Pac-12 game in years (last year's game also matched unbeaten teams but was much earlier -- Oct. 2 -- in the season). If Stanford prevailed, it also could crow about beating the team that beat LSU and likely would play for the national title if it finished 12-0.
If Oregon loses to LSU, the Ducks could still have a great season. They could rally and perhaps get back into the national title hunt. And there's always the Rose Bowl, hardly a terrible destination. One nonconference game can't completely make or break a season.
But an Oregon victory would give the program a level of early-season gravitas it has never had. It would silence any remaining doubters, both of the Ducks and the Pac-12.
So, yes, you have heard correctly: This game is very, very big.