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Tako Tuesdays: Best Case/Worst Case 2017

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Tako Tuesdays is a year older, and a thousand years wiser.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Oregon Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports

Since the last Tako Tuesdays of 2016 (which, just to remind you, I advocated for Washington to win the College Football Playoff. They did not, because everything I touch turns to ashes and dust), big changes have transformed the program. Willie Taggart took office, hired the assistant coach version of The Avengers, some guys got rhabdo, some other guys got DUIs, a recruit bounty was landed, and it was announced Oregon was toning down its uniform game.

In more significant news to you and your family, I turned 30.

When I was a 29 year old man-child, I knew nothing about the world. Frankly, I’m surprised you listened to me at all*. I am now a 30 year old man-child, and can now speak from a place of newfound wisdom and experience. Consider this:

In both years, my worst case scenario wasn’t even as bad as the actual outcome. But I was in my twenties when I wrote those. I was a mewling infant, barely able to feed himself, let alone accurately forecast a college football season. But I have completed my Jedi training, returned from my vision quest, and I am ready to bring you kinder, gentler, wiser, and more measured best case/worst case scenarios for 2017.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Oregon opens the season with a loss to Southern Utah.

KIDDING!

Oregon opens with a ho-hum win over Southern Utah. Things look rough, particularly on defense, but it’s easy to out-talent an FCS team. Oregon can’t do the same a week later against Nebraska. That “new program rust” looks glaringly clear in a home loss to the Cornhuskers, and becomes even more worrying in Week 3 against Wyoming, when top NFL prospect Josh Allen picks apart a not-yet-ready Oregon defense in Laramie.

Oregon starts Pac-12 play in Tempe against Arizona State, and as is customary the game is sloppy and stupid and someone wins in 3OT. Let’s make it the Sun Devils, just to be masochistic about this whole exercise. A win over Cal puts Oregon at 2-3 headed into this make-or-break five game stretch of Oregon’s season:

October 7: Washington State

October 14: @ Stanford

October 21: @ UCLA

October 28: Utah

November 4: @ Washington

Now, this is the worst case scenario, so I think this goes without saying: 0-5. And that’s really not an embarrassing 0-5, with three road games against the three most talented teams on Oregon’s schedule (UCLA might not be the third-best team even with that talent, but that’s Jim Mora’s fault, not the players’), and then home games against Washington State and Utah, maybe the most polar opposite teams in the conference in terms of play style, thrown in for good measure. For a team hitting a hard reset like Oregon is, a competitive 0-5 in this stretch wouldn’t be shocking, and really wouldn’t be the cause for alarm that it might feel like.

Oregon takes advantage of the bye week, and comes in strong to beat Arizona at home, leaving them at 3-8 heading into the Civil War.

You don’t actually think we beat the Beavers in this scenario, do you?

The final numbers on Willie Taggart, season 1: a 3-9 record, losing streaks to every team in the PNW, and a lot of impatient fans who just have to sit on their hands and let Taggart work his rebuild magic. Fun fact: a 3-9 record would be Willie Taggart’s best record ever in his first year as a program’s head coach. Keep that in mind this season if things get messy.

BEST CASE SCENARIO

If there’s one thing Willie Taggart can lean on in his first year, it’s the wealth of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The Ducks put that firepower on display in their opener, hanging 63 on Southern Utah in an easy win. The defense is still a big question mark, but the Ducks get a good week 2 draw with a Nebraska team replacing a lot on offense. The Autzen crowd summons some long-forgotten energy during a close second half, and Oregon pulls away for a 14-point win thanks in part to multiple fourth-down stops by a defense growing in confidence.

Josh Allen is an NFL-caliber talent, for sure. But so is Royce Freeman, who runs all over an overmatched Wyoming defense for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns. Despite Allen’s best efforts, the Cowboys simply can’t keep pace with the potent Oregon offense, and the Ducks enter Pac-12 play with a 3-0 record. Oregon keeps its groove going against Arizona State and Cal, both teams with big question marks. The Sun Devils will put up points, but don’t have a defense that can get enough stops, and Cal is starting from next to nothing under Justin Wilcox.

With a 5-0 record to start the season, the national media is taking notice of Oregon. The Ducks are back in the Top 25 for the first time in over a year. Royce Freeman is creeping up Heisman watch lists. Tyrell Crosby is showing up in NFL mock drafts. “THE DUCKS ARE BACK!”, they shout. Those expectations of “just look like you give a shit” have gone out the window. Ducks fans want wins. They’re going to have a tough time getting them in the next five games.

I don’t see a universe where we run the table through this stretch, even in a “best case scenario”**. 3-2 would be tremendous. Maybe we beat WSU and Utah at home, and steal one from UCLA on the road. Maybe Stanford isn’t as solid as we assume they will be. Maybe Washington is stricken with a case of the itis the day before the game in Seattle. I have a hard time seeing anything more than 3-2 during this stretch, so let’s roll with that for our best-case scenario. That leaves Oregon at 8-2 heading into its final two games against Arizona and Oregon State. A dominant win over an interim-coached Arizona team, and a win in the Civil War puts Oregon at 10-2, 7-2 in conference. Is two losses good enough to win the North? Depends on who those losses are to, but unless something preposterous happens to Washington or Stanford, I’m thinking one of those two teams will do enough to win the conference. That leaves Oregon either 2nd or 3rd in the Pac-12 North, with an appearance in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl. Royce Freeman becomes Oregon’s all-time rushing leader; Justin Herbert starts 2018 as a Heisman dark horse; and the Ducks go into 2018 as a preseason top-15 team with a top 5 national recruiting class. THE DUCKS ARE BACK!

A MORE REALISTIC SCENARIO

Let’s be real: 10-2 ain’t gonna happen***. Hopefully, 4-8 won’t happen either. Let’s break down this schedule by win probability. I used Bill C’s numbers and came up with groups I thought made sense.

WILL WIN (90% or higher)
Southern Utah (97% win probability)

REALLY SHOULD WIN (75-90%)
@Wyoming (78%)
Arizona (77%)

SOLID FAVORITES (60-75%)
Nebraska (69%)
@Arizona State (63%)
Cal (73%)
Washington State (68%)
Utah (70%)
Oregon State (73%)

COIN FLIPS (40-60%)
@UCLA (54%)

PROBABLY WON’T WIN (less than 40%)
@Stanford (29%)
@Washington (30%)

A few of these numbers really surprised me: WSU and Utah seem too high, Arizona State seems too low (I know home/road is a factor here, but still). The really surprising part? We’re favored in ten games. Ten. What?!? That seems bonkers. Let’s tone these categories back a little bit.

WILL WIN (90% or higher)
Southern Utah (97% win probability)

PROBABLY SHOULD WIN (75-90%)
@Wyoming (78%)
Arizona (77%)

A WIN WOULD BE NICE (70-75%)
Cal (73%)
Oregon State (73%)

A LOSS WOULDN’T SURPRISE ME, BUT LET’S WIN THESE PLEASE (60-70%)
Nebraska (69%)
@Arizona State (63%)
Washington State (68%)
Utah (70%)

A WIN WOULD BE A GREAT SIGN (40-60%)
@UCLA (54%)

PROBABLY WON’T WIN (less than 40%)
@Stanford (29%)
@Washington (30%)

That looks a little more reasonable. So let’s say we win the easiest five, split the Nebraska/ASU/WSU/Utah group, and lose the tough roadies. That puts us at 7-5 and in a low-tier bowl game like El Paso, Vegas, or Phoenix. That feels right. Anything from 6-6 to 8-4 feels right...right?

Nah, screw it. Let’s go 10-2.


*cue a dozen smart asses in the comments saying, “LOL like we ever listened to you LOL”. These people are liars, and I am very important in their lives.

**I reserve the right to come back and delete this sentence in the event Oregon goes 5-0 in that stretch, and deny ever writing it in the first place.

***Again, this sentence will not exist in January if Oregon’s in the Fiesta Bowl.