Bad to great: Ducks have work left to complete transformation

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

This team talked trash, appeared on magazine covers and then got humbled on Sept. 3.

And then it got good. Real good.

Trying to recall a team that looked as bad as Oregon did to open a season, and then transformed into one that looked as good as anyone in the nation, wasn't easy.

But one squad seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

Florida State in 1988.

The Seminoles were loaded with talent (you may remember one of their cornerbacks). They were the preseason No. 1. They cut a video, "The Seminole Rap," in which they rapped (very, very poorly) about knowing how good they were. They talked about getting revenge on Miami, their opening opponent, for a nailbiting loss the previous season.

Then the Hurricanes slapped them silly 31-0.

Think Oregon got hit hard for its performance at Boise State (whoops, poor choice of words)? Then read Rick Telander story on the FSU-Miami 1988 in Sports Illustrated. Telander pulls no, er, kicks.

Oh, boy, though, did the Seminoles bounce back. They outscored their remaining 11 opponents 455-141 and beat SEC champion Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. They finished ranked third behind unbeaten Notre Dame, which beat Miami in the famous "Catholics vs. Convicts" game, and the No. 2 Hurricanes.

So it's not unprecedented for a team to look so bad and then so good in one season.

Of course, Oregon is not there yet. It's still got plenty of work ahead to complete the FSU reversal.

Start with Saturday's visit to Stanford. The Cardinal rank 20th in the nation in total offense and 16th in rushing. Just like last season, they feature a physical running game with Toby Gerhart and a smart, tough offensive line. Only this season they also have a quarterback who can make plays downfield in Andrew Luck.

Stanford ranks 13th in the nation in time of possession (32:16). Oregon coach Chip Kelly notoriously scoffs at time of possession -- his no-huddle attack ranks 109th in the nation in the stat -- but the Cardinal is capable of playing keep-away if the Ducks offense isn't clicking like it was against USC.

Stanford's defense doesn't have the speed to keep up with the Ducks. But a few turnovers here, a few penalties there, could give Stanford the stops it needs to win a potential shootout.

Oh, by the way, the Cardinal have won eight of their last nine home games, the only loss coming to USC last year.

After Stanford, Arizona State comes to Eugene. The Sun Devils are struggling, but they have a defense that might challenge the Ducks.

Then the Ducks head to Arizona. Hmm. What happened the last time a highly rated, one-loss Oregon team headed to Tucson? Not a good memory for Ducks fans.

Arizona, in fact, has won two of three vs. Oregon and gave the Ducks a heck of a game in Eugene last year before falling 55-45. In that one, the Wildcats roared back from a 48-17 halftime deficit to trail just 48-45 before a 40-yard TD run from LeGarrette Blount with 3:38 left iced things.

Considering the Wildcats presently have only one conference loss, that game could be for the Pac-10 title.

Finally, Oregon finishes its season with the Civil War against a rising Oregon State team.

You might recall the Ducks put a big webbed footprint on the Beavers Rose Bowl hopes last year, so payback could be the name of the game in Corvallis.

In other words, the Pac-10 is too deep this season for Oregon to think it can flick on the cruise control and take a Sunday drive to the Rose Bowl.

The advantage it does have is that it has at least a two-game cushion on every team other than Arizona, which still has to play USC.

But to complete the FSU turnaround and post a truly special season, the Ducks need to run the table.

And, just maybe, unlike those rapping Seminoles, the Ducks might slide into an opportunity to play for the national title.

That's a longshot, of course.

But no longer than that team that trudged out of Boise to hand USC the worst defeat of the Pete Carroll Era.