A paycheck game ain't easy, but it's necessary.
We can sit around and complain all we want about Saturday's game against Nicholls State. They aren't just an FCS opponent; they were one of the worst teams in all of the FCS in 2012, and it doesn't look to be getting better in 2013. The outcome of the game will not be in doubt, and Oregon will roll to a decisive win. But let's think about it for a second.
Does any of this sound like fun for Nicholls State?
Sure, Oregon is paying Nicholls State $450,000 for their troubles, practically cheap when you compare it to the $600,000 they paid Nevada in 2011, or $950,000 to get Arkansas State to make the trip last season on short notice. And for the FCS schools that book these kinds of games, that money goes a long way to fielding a competitive team when your yearly operating budget pales in comparison to the big-money FBS schools. And I'll bet it's cool for many of these players to get the chance to travel across the country and take the field with some of the best football players in the country, especially in this case, as Oregon has come to be known as Your Favorite Team's Favorite Team. Heck, Nicholls State will get to see the new Hatfield-Dowlin complex before I will, and I'll admit that it makes me a bit jealous.
But for this Nicholls State team, their road trip will turn sour as soon as Saturday afternoon rolls around. As much fun as it might be to go toe-to-toe with the defending Fiesta Bowl champs, getting beat up and run over is never something you look forward to. But for Oregon, getting the chance to bludgeon Nicholls State could lead to a very good season.
NFL preseason games may be pretty boring to watch, but if they didn't exist, NFL fans would be forced to sit through a very sloppy Week 1, played by teams who haven't played a game against an unfamiliar foe in nine months. But preseason lets NFL teams get into a groove of full-speed gameplay, so by the time the regular season rolls around, they're running smoothly. College football, on the other hand, jumps right into regular season play after a few weeks of practices and a few intra-squad scrimmages. And what that leads to is something of a crapshoot in Week 1, where teams are still finding a rhythm. The playing field evens out, and games like App State/Michigan, Sac State/Oregon State, and Ole Miss/Jacksonville State can happen. It's a place where teams that can get geared up for Week 1 can steal a game against a superior opponent: Boise State has built an empire by scheduling a marquee game for the first week, outpreparing the other guys, and setting the tone for the season with a statement win. The Broncos did it to Oregon in 2009, and the Ducks didn't hit their stride until Week 4 against Cal. Does Oregon struggle with Purdue or Utah if they had opened the season against Idaho or Montana instead of the Aggravating Devil Horses? In 2010, Oregon opened with a 72-0 win over New Mexico. They'd win eleven more in a row on the way to a national title appearance.
In the 21st century, Oregon has only lost three season opening games. In addition to the aforementioned Boise debacle, there was 2004 vs. Indiana, a dismal start to the most recent season in which Oregon did not reach bowl eligibility, and the 2011 loss to LSU at Cowboys Stadium. In both 2009 and 2011, Oregon failed to really establish the offensive rhythm and tempo the separates the Ducks from the rest of college football. With that aspect of the offense so crucial, having the cushion of an inferior opponent can do wonders for that entire season's offensive output. Keep in mind, the first drive of 2010 ended in an interception. Fortunately, Darron Thomas and crew were facing New Mexico, and not LSU.
So, from all of us at Addicted to Quack, we thank you Nicholls State, for agreeing to be led to the slaughter. Because of you, Oregon gets to start its 2013 season as stress-free as they possibly could, with an opponent who will be overmatched and simply happy to be mentioned in the conversation. Instead of having to try and win a big game, the Ducks get to try and duplicate 2010: start fast, keep the momentum, and ride it all the way to an undefeated regular season.
Thanks Nicholls State. Don't spend all that money in one place.