For the second time in five years, Oregon finds itself sixty minutes from the football program's first national championship. In 2011, the Ducks lost a heartbreaker to Heisman winner Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers, and we wondered when, if ever, Oregon would get another shot at college football's biggest prize. The 2010-11 team was a huge step forward for the program, even with the loss. That team had star power in Heisman finalist LaMichael James, but they ran undefeated through the Pac-10 and came within a shinbone of overtime in the BCS title game with an active roster featuring zero current NFL starters. Kiko Alonso, the only NFL starter on the team, missed the whole season with a knee injury. It was a very good group of players, and one of the best Oregon has ever seen. But it was not a roster that was supposed to be in Glendale for that game. Yet there they were, going toe-to-toe with a Heisman-winning quarterback and his team of war machines, and they almost pulled it off. That fact left many Ducks fans hopeful for the future, hopeful that Oregon was trending up, rather than cresting their apex with a three point loss. If I recall correctly, the collective opinion of Duck fans was, "It's okay, once Chip Kelly leaves for the NFL, that three-star Hawaiian takes over the offense, we lose to Arizona by thirty points, the BCS ends and we switch to a four-team playoff, and we take the O off our helmets and then put them back on again, we'll be back in the title game. No problem."
I mean, at least that's what I was thinking in January, 2011. Why, what were you guys thinking?
In 2015, Oregon must play a role they've never played before. This time, it's the Ducks with the Heisman winner at quarterback. It's the Ducks that enter the game favored by a touchdown, facing a team on their third quarterback of the year, talented as Cardale Jones may be. The Ducks had a hard time playing the "nobody believes in us" card against Florida State, drawing it from the Noles' place as undefeated defending champs, and - on this blog at least - from their outspoken and brash fan base. There's no chance of Oregon garnering any underdog sympathy next Monday night, because it's the historical juggernaut of Ohio State that isn't supposed to be here. They lost Braxton Miller in August, lost to Virginia Tech in September, and lost JT Barrett in late November, and lost their friend Kosta Karageorge to a tragedy that transcends this game. Many still believe it should have been TCU getting the shot against Alabama last Thursday in the Sugar Bowl, with the Buckeyes relegated to one of the Good Try Almost bowls. They were underdogs against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, again against Alabama, and will be when they take the field in Dallas on January 12th. For one night, and one night only, it will be Oregon playing the role of the oligarch. They won't stay there, even with a win and a championship; it takes decades of sustained success, the benefit of the doubt, and probably a relocation to a Confederate state to join that club. But for one night, Oregon will sit in the position of power and expectation. It'll be weird, really weird.
This may be my final column for this iteration of Addicted to Quack. When you hear from me again, the Oregon football program may have captured college football's ultimate prize, their place in the college football landscape permanently altered. Trolling comments from rival fans can be swiftly met with cries of LULZ LOOK AT THIS CRYSTAL FOOTBALL OUR TEAM WON. We'll have lost some of our inferiority complex, with tangible proof of our worthiness to sit at college football's head table for a little while. We can stop wondering, once and for all, whether Mark Helfrich, Scott Frost, and Don Pellum are the right choices to lead the program. We can, for the first time ever, puff out our chests and proclaim unequivocally that the Oregon Ducks are the best college football team in the country.
Then again, Oregon may lose a game media squawks say they should win, adding to the narrative that the old guard rules college football and our west coast gimmicky bullshit does not equal titles. Let's not worry about that for right now though. Let's cross that bridge like we always do: piss-drunk, crying, and missing pants.
We wondered after 2011 if that would be Oregon's last shot at a national title. I didn't think it would be then, and I certainly don't think this year will be Oregon's final look at the crystal football. However, I have a hard time envisioning Oregon having a better chance to take the championship. Since the UCLA game in early October, this team has been reliably brilliant, and more impressive than any other team in college football. They will be led onto the field on Monday by the school's first Heisman winner, who will have the two most athletic running backs in Oregon history to hand off to, and a defense that has looked equal parts fast and strong in holding Arizona to its second-lowest point total of the season, and Florida State to its lowest. Ohio State might have a stronger defense than any Oregon has seen this year, and a Cardale-led offense that, with only two games of film to look at, will be largely a mystery to Pellum and staff. This will be a battle, no question about it. But from Michigan State, to an offensive line injury bug, through that pesky foe adversity, to the many narratives staring them in the face and daring them to fold, this Oregon team has battled. And they stand on the precipice of history. This is Oregon's time, and they have the mettle and the moxie to seize the opportunity.