Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Considering the Oregon dynasty
By Ted Miller
If reading a series of factoids about how great Oregon is annoys you, might we suggest you skip over the bullet points that follow?
If Oregon beats UCLA on Friday, it will win its third consecutive Pac-10/12 championship. USC (2004-06) is the only Pac-12 school to accomplish that feat since the conference expanded to 10 teams in 1978.
The Ducks have recorded four consecutive seasons with double-digit victories. Before this run, they had three in program history -- and they all happened over the past 12 years.
The Ducks have 42 wins since the start of 2008, which is the most in a four-year period in school history. Last year, Oregon set a school record for wins at 12.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly has led the Ducks to more wins (32) in his first three seasons than any coach in conference history.
Kelly is 32-6 overall and 25-2 in Pac-12 play. His .926 percentage in conference play is the best in conference history.
And we'd like to announce that Oregon is very likely to win 10 games again in 2012 and will be the overwhelming favorite to win a fourth consecutive conference title, unless a couple of guys at USC decided to wait another year before entering the NFL draft.
Coach Chip Kelly has amassed an impressive 32-6 record in his first three seasons at Oregon, but a BCS bowl win has eluded him.
Hold your thumb and forefinger an inch apart. That represents the distance Oregon has to travel to become a legitimate Pac-12 dynasty.
Of course, the NCAA looms over the program due to L'Affaire de Willie Lyles. Oregon has yet to receive its notice of allegations that contains specific alleged rules infractions, but it received official notification of an investigation in September, so it's only a matter of time. That could lead to a slap on the wrist. Or a haymaker that knocks the program out, at least for a bit.
But that's off-the-field stuff. Let's cast our gaze on the field. There is, after all, a space between your thumb and forefinger that needs explaining.
The only element that eludes Oregon under Kelly is a BCS bowl victory -- a signature win to complete a season. It lost the Rose Bowl to Ohio State after the 2010 season. It lost the national title game to Auburn after the 2011 season.
While those were both highly competitive games, they are most remembered by fans not wearing green -- or whatever color Oregon is wearing at the moment -- for the Ducks' high-powered offense getting stymied. You know, that whole "you give a good defense more than a week to prepare and it can stop Kelly's tricky spread-option."
We're about to make an assertion that some Ducks fans will disagree with (now there's something that never happens): It's a good thing Oregon isn't getting a rematch with LSU in the national title game.
I would not pick any team in the nation to beat LSU. Not Oregon, not anyone. To be honest, I wouldn't pick Oregon to beat Alabama, either.
At this point, I would pick the Ducks to beat either Wisconsin or Michigan State in the Rose Bowl (I suspect they'd pound the Spartans; Wisconsin would be a much tougher test). And Oregon needs a victory in a BCS bowl game to earn national validation.
There is no question Oregon has owned the conference for three years. And, by owning the conference, the Ducks get ownership of all the nice nonconference wins Pac-12 teams have posted during that span. But Oregon doesn't have a marquee nonconference win under Kelly, bowl game or otherwise. Of his six losses, two came in conference play (Stanford, 2009; USC, 2011) and the other four were against highly ranked nonconference foes (Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU).
That's where the Rose Bowl comes in. Beating Wisconsin or Michigan State would give the Ducks a nice season-ending victory that would give them a national uptick heading into 2012.
Losing to LSU, no matter that every other team would do the same, would provide another negative example for those who don't perceive the Ducks as being truly elite. Remember: This is college football. Without a playoff, perception is only slightly less important than win-loss record (see how it at present is benefiting Alabama).
Of course, losing the Rose Bowl would have an even worse effect, one that could trickle down within the Pac-12. It could be the difference between a 2012 preseason No. 5 ranking and a No. 10 one. And, yes, that matters if your goal is to play for a national title.
Ergo: Oregon needs a BCS bowl win. That is a critical next step for the program.
Would that prove dynastic arrival? At the Pac-12 level, it's already there. As a perennial top-10 team, it would, too.
But there is one more step, though. Winning a BCS bowl would set a course, but the ultimate destination is to be standing amid confetti with a big smile in a loud uniform holding that gaudy crystal football after the final BCS bowl game is complete.