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Monday, July 16, 2012
Ducks hang out, have fun, get good

By Ted Miller

Oregon is good. Has been for three years. Probably will be again this fall. The popular explanations for why Oregon is good typically include team speed, Chip Kelly and Nike money.

I think this Rob Moseley article here presents a fuller picture. It's about culture.
In three weeks, the Ducks will open preseason camp, and spend a month preparing themselves to contend with the best the Pac-12 Conference has to offer. Over the previous several weeks, on the other hand, the competition has been in-house, with the UO football team split up into small squads for the summer and pitted against one another in everything from class attendance and weight-room improvements to a three-point shooting contest and hamburger cook-off.

Read the entire article. While many teams have similar set-ups during, cough-cough, "voluntary" summer workouts, Moseley's story paints a picture of a team that probably does prefer to be together.

Much was made of USC's "culture of competition" when Pete Carroll led the Trojans' dynastic run of nearly three consecutive national titles. The media fawning, which included plenty of treacle from yours truly, seemed to go a bit to Carroll's head. He, for example, included a trite poem in the media guide about "Winning forever." Of course, shortly thereafter -- following a couple of whippings from conference foes, including Jim Harbaugh -- he bolted to the NFL just ahead of major NCAA sanctions.

Still, culture matters. Not as much as good players. Not nearly as much. But it matters significantly.

When I was a columnist in Seattle, folks who covered the Seattle Mariners would often gather in the clubhouse and note how the players were a bunch of drips -- whiny, selfish, mentally weak. There was an obvious leadership void. You could say those guys stopped having fun because they were losing, but, really, they were whiny, selfish and mentally weak on opening day.

In recent years, with the rise of independent sports blogs and statistical research, the true value of immeasurable concepts such as chemistry and leadership have been questioned. Everything is now numbers and formulas. And some of the numbers produced to explain Oregon's rise with Kelly's offense are interesting and revealing, probably more so than paeans to "Win the Day."

And you can overstate chemistry and leadership. It's certainly much easier to get along during Rose Bowl preparations than, say, during a five-game losing streak. But when I talked this spring to a number of Arizona State players -- and a few ex-coaches -- about what went wrong after a shocking Nov. 5 loss to UCLA, I received a wide variety of descriptions of awful chemistry. Some fairly specific descriptions, by the way. The Sun Devils were talented enough to win 10 games in 2011 (which Pac-12 team, other than Oregon and USC, had a better of troika of quality wins than Missouri, USC and Utah?). They went 6-7 for reasons other than a lack of talent.

Perhaps Moseley's story stood out to me only because Pac-12 media day is coming up next week, and that means every team will have stories touting its extra-super-special offseason.

I'm pretty jaded. I like to think I'm not a sucker for propaganda. But after reading Moseley's story, I'm more inclined to believe the Ducks of 2012 will look much like they did the previous three seasons than I was before reading it, even without LaMichael James and with a new QB.

Does that mean they win at USC on Nov. 3? Heck if I know. But it certainly falls into the Ducks' positive ledger when considering possible outcomes.