The Oregon Ducks have spent roughly 90 of its 120 minutes of football this season playing like an fun and talented football team: the offense has been humming, and the defense has been forcing turnovers and making timely stops. The other 30 were spent looking like either a young team playing its first game and making first game mistakes, or a young team not knowing what to do with a big lead against a decent team.
Oregon is all of these things at once: talented, fun, exciting, really good offensively, prone to silly breakdowns and penalties, and completely unpredictable in new and unknown situations. Teams like this usually go 6-6 or so over the course of a full season, winning a game or two they shouldn’t, losing a game or two they shouldn’t, and playing some close games that can fall either way. The problem for Oregon is, their schedule isn’t really built for them to hover around .500 the whole year.
Now that they have dispatched Nebraska, the next section of their schedule shakes out like so:
- @ Wyoming, who was smothered by Iowa in Week 1 before defeating FCS Gardner-Webb 27-0 last week. They have NFL darling Josh Allen, but their rushing attack went for 65 yards on 28 carries last week.
- @ Arizona State, who lost at home to San Diego State last week after struggling with New Mexico State in Week 1, and is a mess on defense, giving up over 450 yards and 6 yards per play thus far.
- Cal, who, after beating North Carolina, entered the fourth quarter last week trailing FCS opponent Weber State, pulling out the win while giving up over 570 yards of offense to Damian Lillard’s alma mater.
Now, none of these are gimmes: two games are on the road, and I really am not interested in getting in a shootout with Arizona State in Tempe. But as of today, Oregon is 2-0 and receiving votes in the Coaches Poll. There’s a legit chance that Oregon will be 5-0 entering the Washington State game on October 7th, probably ranked in the top 15-20.
Even then, we still might not know whether they’re any good or not.
And that’s okay, right? There are plenty of sunshine-pumpers that were expecting a 10-win season out the gate - that Oregon would just jump back into their championship-caliber ways like we reloaded an old save file from 2012 before Mark Helfrich picked up the controller - and those people will puff their chests out and declare themselves prophets. Those among us that were cautiously optimistic - myself included - will be pleasantly surprised. The skeptics will continue to be skeptics, and for good reason. Because as doable as it is for Oregon to start 5-0, it is just as doable for them to follow that up with a slide back to 5-5 against the October/November stretch of WSU-@Stanford-@UCLA-Utah-@Washington.
So let’s enjoy Oregon’s good start, and let’s keep enjoying it if the run of good play keeps going through the month of September. If nothing else, getting to watch a healthy Royce Freeman carry the ball makes this entire season worth it, as does watching an Oregon defense play like they give a shit. But should Oregon keep that 0 in the loss column - and pick up a ranking next to their name - the temptation to fire up the hype machine will grow and grow. Someone in the national media has already got Oregon playing in a New Year’s Six bowl, so the hype is already out there if you need that in your life. Should Oregon get to that 5-0 mark, a number of things may happen that I want you to be prepared for:
- Justin Herbert will start getting mentioned in Heisman talks, even though Royce Freeman will deserve it more. It comes with the territory as a quarterback, as evidenced by 2007 when Dennis Dixon won the Heisman Trophy despite teammate Jonathan Stewart rushing for over 1,700 yards, including two games of 250+. They both won a national title, so I don’t think J-Stew is too worked up about it, but still.
- Oregon will start showing up on lists of “Darkhorse Playoff Teams”. Ignore these, for they are silly and wrong. Take this one, for example, from just last season, where in the middle of September Houston (finished 9-4), Texas A&M (finished 8-5), and Michigan State (finished 3-9) were “in the Playoff picture”. They’re trying to distract you from the real story, which is
Hillary’s emailsthe fact that the same 3-5 teams being good every single year makes sports journalism dull.
- Washington fans will start publicly shitting on the Ducks more often, dismissing the good start and working the number 70 into every conversation. That means we’re getting their attention, and deep down in the lowest reaches of their psyches, they’re getting nervous. This is a good thing, even though we almost certainly aren’t beating Washington this year. If we’re going to be behind them, we want the Huskies looking over their shoulder anxiously.
- Mark Helfrich will still be a TV analyst, because he won’t take the Arizona State job until after the season.
No matter what happens, we can’t forget that the goal of this season is a winning record, and a bowl game. It doesn’t matter if we start 5-0, fall to 5-5, and finish 7-5. I don’t want to hear any “what-if” talk. Bowl game=success. That’s it. Oregon is off to a great start towards that goal, and a win over Wyoming this Saturday will keep the momentum going.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go book my January trip to Atlanta for the title game.