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Oregon football is in some kind of mess right now. What will it take to salvage this season?

NCAA Football: California at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Welp. We’re still here. We read an article about Washington beating Oregon in football for the first time in ATQ history. We made a half dozen wanking motions at Washington fans who tried to trash talk us at work, because both fanbases know a Husky win would have been much more painful in a season where Oregon was nationally relevant. And, much like Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, we’re still here.

Now what?

It’s been 31 days since Oregon last won a football game, and we’ll have to wait at least 10 more for another one. But at this point, with Oregon having committed fully to a future led by the likes of Justin Herbert, Troy Dye, and Tony Brooks-James, winning seems almost secondary to just simply improving. Great as it would be, somehow managing to rattle off a 6-game winning streak to end the season seems less than likely.

So, again I ask: now what?

Let’s look at the six games Oregon has left the schedule, and define what “success” looks like for each game.


October 21st - @ California

What we know: Cal’s last two games couldn’t be more different - a home win over Utah, and a loss @ Oregon State - and the Golden Bears appear to be the Pac-12’s Team Chaos, where nothing is certain except silliness and a close game.

Cal allowed 474 rushing yards to OSU, and are dead last in FBS in yards per carry at almost 6 ypc. This bodes well for Oregon, who would love to lean on the running game to take the pressure off Justin Herbert. Cal has the three-headed rushing attack of Khalfani Muhammad, Tre Watson, and Vic Enwere to pair with its always-vicious passing attack, led by Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. This does not bode well for Oregon.

What we can assume: This game is on a Friday night featuring two good offenses and two bad defenses, and will therefore be #Pac12AfterDark on amphetamines. Oregon might score 80 points and lose.

What is “success”? A win. It’s a weeknight game that will end at 2:45 AM eastern; style points are meaningless. Just get the W. If you can get Cal to abandon one aspect of its offense and get one-dimensional, like Oregon State did last week, then all the better.


October 29th - Arizona State

What we know: The Sun Devils are a surprising 5-1 on the season, love to run the ball with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, and are losing quarterbacks at an alarming rate, possibly down to a 4th-string freshman for this week’s game against Colorado.

What we assume: Dual-threat sophomore Manny Wilkins should return from a high ankle sprain by the time the Sun Devils head to Eugene, and that poses a problem for a defense whose worst quality might be keeping quarterbacks contained.

What is “success”? Stop a running QB, just once. Tommy Amstrong and Steven Montez burned Oregon’s defense over and over again with predictable QB draws and scrambles that seemingly everyone except Brady Hoke and the 11 guys on the field could see coming, and even Jake Browning got into the act with a pair of rushing touchdowns last week. Spy the QB every play. Hell, spy him with two guys. Just make Arizona State beat you with something other than the legs of a quarterback.

Do we need to win this game to be “successful”? I mean, kind of. We definitely need to if Wilkins still isn’t healthy. But a close loss against a top-half of the conference opponent isn’t the worst thing unless we’re seeing the same crap we’ve been seeing all season.


November 5th - @ USC

What we know: The Trojans seem to have righted the ship after a 1-3 start against a brutal schedule. Back-to-back wins over Arizona State and Colorado haven’t been pretty - the Colorado game especially - but USC is sitting at 3-3 with a little momentum.

What we assume: Like Justin Herbert, USC QB Sam Darnold will continue to improve with each start, and the next two games against Arizona and Cal give him two chances to stretch out against mediocre defenses. Justin Davis poses a problem for Oregon, because he is a running back with two legs.

What is “success”? Success in this game feels like the defense keeping USC’s offense at least somewhat contained; make Darnold go somewhere other than Juju Smith-Schuster, make Justin Davis work for his yards. USC will score lots and lots of points in this game; make them earn it, and it could give the offense enough of a chance to steal a win.

Do we need to win this game to be “successful”? Heavens no. This is the second-most loseable game left on the schedule, and if Darnold puts it all together in the next couple weeks we could be toast.


November 12th - Stanford

What we know: Right now? Nothing. Stanford just finished getting trounced by the Washington schools almost as badly as we did, losing to UW and WSU by a combined score of 86-22. For comparison, we lost 121-52. It’s like having to choose between eating dogshit and eating catshit: if you’re even pondering the choice, you’ve already lost.

What we assume: Stanford will rebound between now and 11/12, with games against Notre Dame (speaking of football programs spiraling out of control), Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon State in between now and then. If they don’t, then a team with an atrocious offense is exactly the kind of team Oregon wants to face.

What is “success”? Don’t get outclassed. Stanford’s recruited better than Oregon two of the last three years, but there is honestly a similar quality of athlete on both sidelines in this one. Whichever team can sort out its quarterback in the next four weeks will probably win, but looking competitive is attainable.

Do we need to win this game to be “successful”? It’s at home, and if Stanford continues to look shaky on offense then this is a game we can win. If the Cardinal turn it around in their next four games and start looking like the Stanford we expect every year, than this becomes real sketchy.


November 19th - @ Utah

What we know: Playing in Utah gets everyone hurt, and no one wins despite what the final score might tell you. Also, Utah’s pretty good again.

What we assume: That Utah QB Troy Williams is a dual-threat QB just because he’s black. Don’t do that. It’s incorrect, and racist.

What is “success”? No torn ligaments, and drag the Utes into a shootout.

Do we need to win this game to be “successful”? Nooooooooope. On the road against a good team that can run the ball effectively and play good defense? This is not a good matchup for Oregon.


November 26th - @ Oregon State

What we know: The Beavers just won their first conference game in almost two years on the same day Oregon lost its streak to Washington. Our little brothers haven’t felt this confident about this game since the Rodgers brothers were in uniform.

What we assume: That Oregon State is actually still bad at football, that their rushing performance against Cal is an outlier rather than a trend, and that their next five games (Utah, @Washington, WSU, @Stanford, @UCLA) will be painful to watch.

What is “success”? A dominating win. Unless things turn around in a hurry, this will be the last game of the year for Oregon. The Ducks need to take a shred of optimism into the offseason, and they need to do it by pummeling a team that, recent results aside, they should pummel.

Do we need to win this game to be “successful”? Let me put it this way: if Mark Helfrich loses to Oregon State and Washington in the same season, it doesn’t matter how much his players might like him. He’s not getting another season.


So to recap:

Need to win: @Cal, @Oregon State

It’d be nice, but just showing improvement is enough: Arizona State, Stanford

Winning would be an unexpected and welcome surprise: @USC, @Utah

That’s right, my baseline criteria for success has gone from “contend for a conference title and beat Washington” to “go at least 4-8 and don’t completely embarrass yourselves” in just over a month. What a season we’re in right now.