This is the second of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Picking your favorite Oregon team is not an easy task. Each team, and their players, will grab each person in different ways, and is endearing or intriguing for different reasons.
The '94 team was a group of hard-working overachievers that not only won the Pac-10 for the first time in 37 years, but did so in unforgettable fashion. The 2001 team had more pressure than any Oregon team in school history, yet (almost) never wavered under that pressure, coming through again and again in the final moments of games. The 2009 team, with a new coach leading the way, overcame the most embarrassing moment in school history to win the Pac-10 championship by two games (I'll always get goosebumps during Chip Kelly's post-Civil War speech in this video).
All those teams will always have a special place in my heart. But there is one that edges them out: The 2007 Oregon Ducks.
The 2007 Oregon team had it all. It had stars, it had overachievers, and that team took us all on a ride I don't think we'll ever forget.
Going into the 2007 season, I think that Duck fans were prepared for just about anything. After the total collapse of 2006, we could see the Ducks struggling through a number of games, but we also knew that the whole team, specifically, the offense was capable of great things. And this all revolved around the QB position. I like reading Dave's old preview of Dixon before the 2007 season. We all wanted to believe that great things were possible for the offense, but we didn't want to get our hopes up.
Defensively, the team could not have been any different from the offense. While the Oregon offense was led by talented stars like Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, the defense was led by Nick Reed and Patrick Chung. These are the types of players that Oregon used to become what it is today. Under the radar players that get to where they are through hard work and relentless pursuit of excellence. With a solid supporting cast, this defense did not exude talent or domination, but they got the job done. While this team was not the most talented at the linebacker position, they had an exceptional secondary (with 3 draft picks starting) and a strong defensive line, and were an easy group to cheer for on a weekly basis.
The season started with an iffy win over Houston. The offense clunked along for the first half and the game was tied at 20 in the 3rd quarter before Dennis Dixon started to show us some flashes of what we'd see for the rest of the season, throwing for 2 TDs and running for an 80 yard touchdown to put the game away.
Heading to Michigan the next week, this didn't exactly inspire confidence, even though Michigan had lost to 1-AA Appalachian State to open the season. I attended the game with my family, and on the way, my Dad and I just hoped that we were able to keep the game competitive. How little we knew. Dixon broke out that day, hitting long pass after long pass, and dazzling Duck fans all day long. Oregon destroyed Michigan, putting up 624 yards of total offense in spectacular manner. On that day, Dixon showed what a spread offense can be with a real deep threat, and Oregon fans started to get really excited.
This continued for the next few weeks. Oregon stomped all over Fresno State and (despite trailing at the half due to turnovers) beat Stanford by 24 the next two weeks, leading up to a top-10 matchup against the California Golden Bears.
While the game ended in heartbreaking fashion, oddly enough, this game gave me more confidence moving forward. For the first few games, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. We'd seen a successful Dixon in 2006. Oregon had been a juggernaut offensively until the Cal game of 2006, when the offense started to unravel. Up to that point in the season, the offense had faced little adversity. They had essentially done what they wanted. Despite the turnovers at Stanford, they were not a serious competitive threat.
Against Cal, Oregon finally faced adversity. They turned to ball over 4 times on the day, including two interceptions thrown by Dixon. In 2006, this would have spelled disaster, but Dixon was a year older and under Kelly's tutelage, he did not implode. He grew stronger.
The following weeks were the most exciting in Duck football history. Oregon beat on a hapless WSU team, and set a school record for rushing yards in a game against Washington, leading up to two massive games against USC and Arizona State. With the Ducks in the top 5 and it quickly becoming apparent that a national title shot may be on the line, the Ducks stepped up when it mattered. Despite losing most of their receivers and backup RB Jeremiah Johnson, Dixon and Stewart threw the offense on their backs and made play after play to the get the points, while the defense became one of the top red zone defenses in the country (the first ASU drive, where they had 1st and goal from the 3, and could not get a touchdown, typified the defense)
Stewart in particular had a play against USC that was simply spectacular, and continued one of the most important drives of Oregon's season. Later in that game, Matthew Harper would create bedlam in Autzen with his pick that sealed the game.
While the last few games ended in devastating fashion, the team never gave up. They battled against Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State. Unfortunately, injuries proved to be too much for the Oregon offense. Luckily, we had one final game to take in this team, and we watched the most talented running back in school history run all over South Florida to give the Ducks a bowl victory in emphatic fashion.
2007 was a season that easily gave us the biggest emotional swings as fans, and that is part of what makes them so endearing to me. They took us to heights we never thought imaginable, which were just as quickly dashed. But, the lows simply make the highs that much more special. It's what makes me glad I'm cheering for a team like Oregon rather than a Florida, Ohio State, or Texas. Success is so much sweeter when it's unexpected.
On top of that, this was a team that you could get behind, a bit of a motley group of potential stars and overachievers. It was easy to cheer for Nick Reed, Dennis Dixon, Matthew Harper, Patrick Chung, and Jonathan Stewart, who have helped to start a new era in Duck football.
Is 2007 your favorite Oregon team? Leave your memories of this or any other Oregon team below. GO DUCKS!