Walking in to the game Saturday against Utah was a unique experience in Autzen Stadium. It had the feeling of a hangover for the fans. It wasn't as loud as it normally was, the sections next to me just barely broke double digits when the second half started, and the student section had lost a lot of students. By the way, the Ducks were only up 3 at the half. This wasn't one of the games all of us had become used to where Oregon is up 28 or more after 30 minutes of play.
As much as anyone who's been around the Ducks for a long time would like to say that they remember a time when the Ducks making a bowl game was a big deal they can't deny that there is still a lot of hopes dashed when Oregon was knocked out of the national title hunt and didn't have control of their own destiny of making it to the Rose Bowl. It is very hard to win a championship whether it be a conference or a national championship. A lot of things have to go right and get a little lucky. However, the last few years it didn't seem like Oregon could catch a break. That all changed just a few hours later when USC took the field against Stanford.
USC took the field and scored first but missed the extra point. After Javorious Allen scored a touchdown and Marqise Lee caught the 2-point conversion to go up 14-7 with 2:34 left in the first quarter the Trojans wouldn't trail for the rest of the game. While the USC allowed 6 yards per carry they also forced 5 three and outs. Most importantly, they held Stanford to 17 points. The kicker, who has struggled maybe even more than Oregon's kickers, hit the game-winning field goal from 47 yards out.
The most impressive part of USC's performance was that they played only 13 players on defense all night. That's right, the Trojans had only 2 substitute players. One of those substitutes only played a single down.
A lot had to go right for Oregon to catch this break. First, Lane Kiffin had to be fired. Second, Ed Orgeron had to be named the interim head coach. Third, Orgeron had to learn from his mistakes as the head coach at Ole Miss and to know how Pete Carroll ran the ship while at USC. Next, the players at USC had to buy in to Orgeron and more importantly believe in themselves.
The turnaround started because Lane Kiffin was relieved of his duties. The USC team coached by Lane Kiffin would not have beaten Stanford. USC under Kiffin and USC under Orgeron look like two totally different teams. It's like the butterfly effect except for Lane Kiffin being replaced is a little bigger than a butterfly flapping its wings.
The story of Oregon getting back in the driver's seat to make it to the Rose Bowl is as much about Oregon as it is about USC. If you only looked at how Oregon got to this point you would be missing out on a lot. It is like watching Mickey Ward fight Arturo Gatti in their three fights after only having seen The Fighter and not knowing a thing about Arturo Gatti. Sure, you could get away with enjoying the story by only knowing one side, but you are really robbing yourself of the full weight of actions and personalities.
At this point Oregon still has a ways to go. It has to beat Arizona in the desert, which is never easy. Then it has to beat Oregon State in a rivalry game where nothing is truly guaranteed. Then the Ducks take on the PAC-12 South's best. After a month of waiting and with recent bowl history I don't think fans and the team are going to be happy with a Rose Bowl loss and have a "just happy to be here" attitude like in 2009. There's still a long ways to go. When Kenny Wheaton ran for the pick-six in 1994 Oregon still had to win a fair amount of games and get a bit of luck to make the Rose Bowl. Eventually, a lot of big things came from that one play and that one win.
The program, the players, the coaches, and even us fans have a second chance for something truly great to happen. I want just as much as anyone else to be able to read "Good morning Rose Bowl Champs!" every morning on the quack fix again.
History is full of patterns. The idea of "history repeating itself" is a blanket statement for patterns in human behavior and cyclical nature. Manifest Destiny is never happening again but colonialization still occurs although it may be commercialized now. John F. Kennedy won't be assassinated again but political figures are still assassinated all across the globe. If we were to popularize this idea or "dumb it down" then we might say that The Pick is never happening again, but plays that change the course of a program's destiny will still happen.
Just a couple days ago this season was looking like it would be a disappointment relative to others. Now all the potential is back. I can read the football news and listen to football podcasts without feeling like we missed out on something big. Stanford losing to USC wasn't that big in the scheme of things but it birthed opportunity. It could be argued that it was small. But as anyone who's seen the movie Prometheus can attest, big things have small beginnings.