Please indulge my fanboy ravings. Four days to Ducks football, and I'm losing my mind.
If we lose two games this season, I'm going to be disappointed.
The season begins this Saturday with an Arkansas St. team that won ten games in 2011, and return the conference player of the year at QB. Unfortunately for them, that conference is the Sun Belt, and that's just not going to cut it at Autzen. The Red Wolves have a suspect offensive line, inexperienced skill players, and a defense that is gobs and gobs of both aforementioned adjectives. While last year's opener was a high-stakes crapshoot between two immensely talented teams, this should aptly test this team's mettle in a low-stress situation; frankly, this is how Oregon should open the season from now on. The Pac-12 is too talented, and Oregon is too highly regarded based on reputation, to waste time with a high-pressure game against a big-time opponent.
Oregon's non-conference schedule doesn't get a whole lot tougher; Fresno State will be Fresno State, forever flailing in a giant hottub filled with meh, and Tennessee Tech is the fifth-best college football team in a state that includes Vanderbilt.
November 3rd has already been hyped by the media enough; Oregon v. USC, Part I. So much attention has been paid to that game, that at times it can seem like the rest of the schedule has been overlooked. But has it?
The Pac-12 is in a dead heat with the Big XII for the title of "Second-best conference in college football", and every game on a Pac-12 schedule is against a team that must be taken seriously. But Oregon fans should expect this team to win every game; the system is a leg up on all other competition, and Chip Kelly has now had enough recruiting classes to build a group of his high-caliber athletes that match his high-caliber program vision. Add that to Oregon's track record under Kelly of winning games they "should" win, i.e not losing to an inferior opponent. Following a 2009 season filled with close calls (Purdue, Utah, Stanford, and OSU), Oregon has only really had one near-slip; @Cal in 2010. The first five conference games of 2012 do not come without challenge, the home tilt against washington in particular, but they are all games Oregon should be expected to win. And after USC, the Ducks have Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State; all three games pose different challenges, but Oregon will enter all three as the favorites. And the team that Oregon is capable of being should win all three. That just leaves the matter of the Trojans.
We've seen a number of games where Oregon is outplayed in the first half, whether the score reflects it or not. Whether the game ends in a loss (USC '11), or a win (Arizona, Tennessee, or Stanford '10), Oregon has shown its mettle in responding to adversity and dominating in the second half. Coach Kelly and the rest of the staff has shown an uncanny ability to recognize and exploit flaws in an opposing gameplan, when given only twenty minutes or less of observation. It's very possible to beat Oregon for sixty minutes, but beyond that? I'm not so sure. And that's why I just don't see USC beating the Ducks twice. Once? Absolutely. But not twice. That leaves three scenarios:
- USC beats Oregon, then Oregon beats USC - Oregon wins the Pac-12, and is guaranteed the Rose Bowl. I'm not sure if the Ducks have a national championship resume with only one win over the Trojans though.
- Oregon beats USC, then USC beats Oregon - In what I would consider the least likely of the three, the Trojans would take the Pac-12 crown, leaving a one-loss Oregon team as an almost-certain BCS at-large team.
- Oregon wins twice - This spells National Championship game, against another undefeated team (or a one-loss SEC champ).