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Monday, November 14, 2011
Oregon just won't go away

By Ted Miller

When Oregon trudged off the Cowboys Stadium field after a 40-27 loss to LSU on Sept. 3, just about everyone counted them out. That was made real when they were poleaxed by pollsters, dropping from No. 3 to No. 13 and No. 14 in the AP and coaches' polls, respectively.

That will teach Oregon -- and anyone else -- to agree to a marquee nonconference matchup against an elite team that everyone wants to see!

Most turned away from the team with loud uniforms. Andrew Luck and Stanford were now the interesting team in the Pac-12, and Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Florida State, Texas A&M and those LSU Tigers were the real contenders.

LaMichael James
Coach Chip Kelly, RB LaMichael James and the Ducks are aiming for the national title game.
But teams, as they are wont to do in college football, started falling by the wayside, and the Ducks kept coming. It was quiet at first. Nevada bludgeoned a week after LSU; a pounding of Arizona on the road; California and Arizona State dispatched with prejudice.

And when Oregon gamboled off the field after a 53-30 victory over Stanford, just about everyone started counting them back in.

It made me recall that cool sequence at the beginning of Rocky III when Clubber Lang is, one by one, clubbering a sequence of foes on a bigger and bigger stage, and his dominance is attracting the worried attention of Rocky's manager Mickey.

And just as Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" ends, Clubber barks at Mickey, "I want Balboa! I want Balboa! You hear that, Old Man?" 

Said Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas after the game, "I feel like if we get another shot at [LSU] again, I feel like it will be a better game."

Not exactly the same sort of bravado, but LSU is more Ivan Drago than Rocky.

Oregon would like to play LSU again with an offensive line and defensive front seven that have jelled. It would like to play LSU again with a healthy LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. It would like to play LSU without four turnovers, including two fumbles from Thomas.

It is a longshot to happen. And to be absolutely fair to how things went down in game one -- it sure as heck was as much about LSU's size and speed as turnovers -- and how good LSU has looked since then, my guess is few, including our friends who look at things without emotion in Las Vegas, would pick the Ducks to win a rematch.

It would, however, be interesting. Let's recall that the last offensive-minded evil genius to get a rematch in a national championship game against a defensive power -- Florida and Steve Spurrier in 1996 with Florida State -- won and won big.

If Oregon wins out impressively, and some dominoes fall here and there, maybe it will happen. It just won't happen today, this week or next. So let's bracket off the national title stuff.

And, as we look big picture, let's bracket off the potential endgame with L'Affair de Willie Lyles. I've talked to smart people who think Oregon may get hammered, and I've talked to smart people that think they won't. You never know with the NCAA, an institution where logic and fairness aren't always part of the process.

The big picture is this: Oregon is on the cusp of a third consecutive conference title. It's won 19 consecutive conference game, all but three by double-digits. If I were projecting coach Chip Kelly's record after his third season ends this January, I'd guess 34-5 (.875). Yes, I'm projecting a BCS bowl victory.

And Oregon will be a preseason top-five team in 2012 and will be the overwhelming favorites to win a fourth consecutive conference title, even if running back LaMichael James doesn't come back.

2013 looks like it will set up nicely, too.

Get the point? Oregon, barring a bomb from the NCAA, is set up for the long haul. It's on the cusp of becoming one of "those" programs. You know, where nine wins is viewed as a rebuilding year.

Of course, all the Ducks haters are barking about the lack of a Rose Bowl victory much less a national title. True. Snarky, but fair. That's why some of this hangs on the Ducks taking care of business in whatever January bowl they end up playing in.

Said Thomas, "I wouldn't want to play us."

Oh, there are lots of fans of lots of teams across the country that would have smart alec replies to that. That's the trash talking, message board, comments section face of college football.

But also know that plenty of measured, football-smart fans -- even LSU and Alabama fans -- watched the tour de force display against Stanford and thought to themselves, "I don't want to play them."