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Don't Fear Being Burned

4-0.  Our unblemished record right now is the exact same as it was last year.  And just as it was last year, the Cal game stands as the fulcrum of our season.  As fans began to dream of great things for our season, our football team went into Berkeley and promptly got blown out of the building.  It was the first blowout in what would eventually turn into a season full of them.  And, while after that Oklahoma game, everybody was talking Pac-10 title in '06, National Title in '07, seemingly everybody jumped off the Ducks bandwagon.  Most national publications picked them as the sixth or even seventh best team in the Pac-10 this year.

And, yet, here we stand at 4-0.  And in spite of our disastrous finish last season, it seems looks like the dreams of greatness that everybody had for this year are much more realistic than a sixth place finish.  I did pick Oregon to fight with ASU for second place in the Pac-10 this season back in my preseason previews.  But I am also well aware that I made those picks looking through green and yellow glasses.  

I think that deep down, the memory of last year still haunts all of us.  I know that I have been telling myself "wait until after the Cal game" to get really excited for this team.  But I am going to tell you something right now.  While the outcome of the Cal game will determine whether this team is a legitimate threat for the Pac-10 title, there is no way that what happened last year will happen again.

Most of the issues that plagued this team last year are no longer a factor.  The biggest issue was turnovers.  Even though the Ducks were 4-0 last year, you could already see this being a problem.  Oklahoma, for example, was +4 in turnovers.  This year, turnovers have only an issue in one quarter, and we all know that quarter was one big clusterfuck where the team lost focus.  Second half response to the Stanford game shows that they learned their lesson about losing focus.  Of course, the biggest issues regarding turnovers is that Dennis Dixon isn't throwing mass amounts of interceptions, and the defense is forcing far more turnovers than last year.  And every indication is that those trends will continue.

What we forget about Dennis Dixon last year is that he was a first year starter who spent the season having to look over his shoulder at Brady Leaf.  That's the perfect situation for losing confidence, which is exactly what happened.  This season, he's a senior.  He's not looking over his shoulder.  And he has taken control of this football team.  Everybody looks to him as the leader.  He has learned from what happened last year.  And those just aren't mistakes that somebody makes twice.

Last year, the punting was bad.  That issue has been solved.  The kicking was bad.  That situation is much better.  We had inexperienced freshman corners.  They are now experienced and solid.  And, most importantly, the majority of our impact players were underclassmen that didn't have the leadership ability to pull the team out of its funk.  Now Stewart, Johnson, Chung, Williams, etc. are all juniors, and they will not let what happened last year happen again.  The only issue from last year that lingers on this team is the suspect run defense.  But we score so many points that its going to be awfully hard for teams to beat us running the ball if we're not turning it over.

Last year wasn't an issue of talent.  It was an issue of confidence that spiraled out of control due to a lack of leadership on the team.  We saw what happened on our basketball team last year when all of our talented players finally grew up.  And while you wish that every freshman could come in with the confidence and leadership ability of a Tajuan Porter, the truth of the matter is that those guys don't come around too often.

Don't be afraid of being burned.  Regardless of what happens on Saturday, this is, at the very worst, a 9-3 team.  And you know that even that finish would disappoint them.  These guys are simply too good. And, quite frankly, every reason that we had last year to believe that this year would be the big breakthrough is still in place.