Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Consistency separates Oregon from Pac-12
By Ted Miller
Alabama was up 38-7 over Mississippi State, but coach Nick Saban -- veins bulging, spittle flying and words pummeling -- was giving a backup player his own personal Crimson Tide.
I had three thoughts: 1. That is beautiful; 2. Chip Kelly would approve; 3. The Pac-12 needs more of that.
Saban never stops expecting his players to produce the best football they possibly can. It's about treating every moment as valuable. As boring as it sounds, it's about consistency.
Consistency is what Saban is all about. Same with Kelly. You could also add Kansas State coach Bill Snyder in there, too.
During his run at Oregon, coach Chip Kelly has dodged major upsets.
And that is what, at present, separates Oregon from all the other teams in the Pac-12, as it does Alabama in the SEC.
Saban was blowing a gasket not long after USC had imploded at Arizona, losing 39-36 to a less talented team. How many Arizona players would you pick before his USC counterpart if you were about to play a pickup game? Not many. At least not many before the season began.
But one of Kelly's many, oft-repeated phrases is that the team with the best players doesn't always win. It helps, sure. A lot. But Kelly counters with the three things he, his team and his coaches can control: Attitude, effort and preparation.
You've heard all of the Chipisms: "We have a standard vision of how we should play," "Fast, Hard, Finish," "Win The Day," "Faceless opponent," "Every week is a Super Bowl," etc.
He sometimes uses them opportunistically to stiff arm a question. Now he even anticipates some of the media smirks his redundant answers sometimes inspire.
"You can shrug your shoulders but, I'll tell you what, our formula for success has worked every single time," Kelly said after the Ducks bombed Washington 52-21. "Every single game is the most important game we play."
One of the tweaks against the Ducks under Kelly before the Rose Bowl win last January over Wisconsin was they hadn't won the big game. They'd lost the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. They'd lost the national title game after the 2010 season. They'd lost to LSU to open the 2011 season.
Fine. But what you don't see is this: A face plant. A major upset. You don't see Oregon going down to a clearly less talented team, just as USC did at Arizona.
Kelly is 42-6 overall and 30-2 in Pac-12 play. In 2011, he lost to LSU, which finished 13-1 and ranked No. 2, and USC, which finished 10-2 and ranked No. 6. In 2010, he lost to Auburn, which finished 14-0 and ranked No. 1. In 2009, he lost to Boise State, which finished 14-0 and ranked No. 4, and Ohio State, which finished 11-2 and ranked No. 5. He also lost to 8-5 Stanford, his only loss to a team that didn't finish ranked.
Major upsets are a part of college football. But Kelly has practically eliminated them for his team. How many other Pac-12 teams even approach that?
Think of your team. How many times over the past four seasons has it lost to a team it should have beaten?
California has become an NFL pipeline under coach Jeff Tedford, but that now is one of the reasons he's on the hotseat. Why the mediocrity with so many NFL-quality players?
Arizona State lost its final four regular-season games last year. It was more talented than every one of those teams. Other than, perhaps, California.
How often has Utah ranked ahead of UCLA in the recruiting rankings? Never? Well, guess who beat UCLA 31-6 in 2011. A year later under demanding new coach Jim Mora, the Bruins beat the Utes 21-14.
As great as Pete Carroll was at USC, it's notable that most of his losses were major upsets. From 2003 to 2008, Carroll lost six Pac-12 games. None of those teams had fewer than four losses. None ended up ranked in the top 15. Only three ended up ranked at all. Three lost six or more games.
A story I heard from a USC insider: When the Trojans bus pulled up to Reser Stadium at Oregon State in 2008, just about everyone was asleep. That's not how you win the day.
Carroll's USC teams were almost unbeatable in big games, particularly against marquee nonconference foes. But it's clear that they didn't own the vision that every week is a Super Bowl against a nameless, faceless opponent.
Alabama and Oregon share a negative this season: They have yet to play an A-list foe. Both will this weekend, with the Crimson Tide visiting LSU and the Ducks going to USC. But the reason pollsters -- the evaluators with eyeballs -- rank them Nos. 1 & 2 is the way they take care of business: Consistent and efficient domination.
How do you get a team to do that? You take offense at any moment that falls short of a vision of the best possible football.
If a Pac-12 team intends to eclipse Oregon in the near future, it needs to suffuse its program with that same vision.