The scoff heard most frequently from fans elsewhere is, "You haven't done anything. How many national championships have you won?"
If Oregon is going to change that, this is the year. It's the last, best chance to win one, because everything changes after this season. Five defensive tackles graduate. Three starters on the offensive line, Hroniss Grasu, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher, are draft eligible. In the secondary, they'll lose senior leaders Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson, and juniors Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell could also opt for NFL draft. Ifo's a likely first-rounder, slated to make a four million dollar signing bonus with a salary to match.
Crossing the finish line: only one runner gets to break the tape, and only one college football team gets to hoist the Crystal Football. If the Ducks are to succeed in getting one, the current year's dazzling array of weapons are their best chance (Ross Franklin, AP photo).
Offensively, senior wide receiver and a team leader Josh Huff is gone at the end of the season. So too are Daryle Hawkins and offensive guard Mana Greig, solid practioners of The Oregon Way. Colt Lyerla, the prodigiously gifted action figure at tight end, is likely to rock the Combine with test scores that make Mel Kiper rave like a geek with a new Star Wars toy.
The biggest losses of all could be two offensive stars and singular talents, quarterback Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas, once-in-a-lifetime, Ring of Honor players with their own page in the record book. There's no plug-and-play solution to losing either one, particularly Mariota, who is the perfect quarterback to operate the Oregon offense, with a gazelle-like stride and accurate arm, a coolness under pressure that leads to 65 correct decisions a game. The number would be higher but he usually sits out the fourth quarter.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost is also likely to leave, tapped to become the new head coach at his alma mater, Nebraska, where he won a national championship at quarterback in 1997.
That's a lot of adjusting, redefining, and rebooting, and it can't be done without growing pains. In the last few years the Ducks have succeeded in replacing Mark Asper, Jairus Byrd, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, but they've never had to do it all at once, and replacing Mariota is an even bigger task. Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie are good football players, but neither is a future Dennis Dixon or Flyin' Hawaiian, particularly operating behind a new offensive line.
This isn't meant to be grim. But the key to winning national championships is winning the first one when the opportunity comes. Oregon fans know how tenuous opportunity is, having one wrenched away in 2001-2 when the Ducks were the best opponent for the Miami Hurricanes, the amalgram of polls and computers incongruously tapping Nebraska instead, and another crumple to the turf with Dixon in a night game in the desert in 2007.
The 2013 team has the best combination of depth, talent and internal leadership to be a national champion. The window is as wide as it will ever be. The Ducks are in position, reaching #2 in the polls the earliest they ever have. The challenge and the opportunity are laid out before them.
Preseason questions about this team concerned experience at linebacker and depth at running back. The questions have been answered. De'Anthony Thomas has 338 yards, 6 touchdowns and 8 yards a carry as the lead back, and the Oregon rushing attack has cranked out 1066 yards, 8.5 yards a carry (Thomas is killing the average) and 17 touchdowns in three games. That's insane productivity, particularly when you add that the Quack Attack has another 950 through the air, 10.56 yards per attempt.
Defensively, linebackers Derrick Malone, Boseko Lokombo and Tony Washington lead the team in tackles, on a unit that has 8 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Relentless and efficient, the Ducks have forced seven turnovers and have yet to turn the ball over.
With 61 points a game and 25 touchdowns, there has never been a better Oregon team. This is the last Oregon team with a Chip Kelly stamp, the last one where the bulk of the roster was shaped by his voice and his methods. That gets increasingly watered down as Frost advances, assistants approach retirement and Helfrich takes his own direction. He'll do a credible job, but Kelly was a once-in-a-lifetime college coach, an innovator and a genius, a reshaper of destiny and culture. The affable Helfrich has cheerfully said he doesn't have a stamp, but a college coach needs one: all the top programs in the history of college football have been shaped and given their identity by their head coach. Helfrich, likable as he is, intelligent as he is, is not a Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden or Pete Carroll. Chip Kelly was.
Winning the first title makes it easier to win another one. There's a cache in the polls, an annual five-slot boost. There's added legitimacy in the homes of the nation's most elite recruits. There's the fierce infusion of the expectation of excellence. Pretty good is no longer good enough. No one ever rises to low expectations. After a national championship, it's no longer patently ridiculous to predict the second.
Beating Washington, UCLA and Stanford in the space of four weeks is a tall order. Avoiding a stumble, staying healthy and on point over 15-week season, avoiding the pitfalls of turned ankles and distractions and personal tragedies is accumulation of good luck visited only by the most talented and resourceful.
This year, right now, the Oregon Ducks are the most talented and resource-rich they have ever been. If they are going to win a national championship, the time is now.
I'm going to say it because it's true: the window of any particular team is only dependent on three things. (1) Great quarterback play, (2) a solid defense, and (3) a consistently productive run game. I don't buy that there is a "window" in college, whereas I do buy that hypothesis in the pros. The reason I don't is because only (1) truly applies to programs that consistently produce. As long as the resources are there for Oregon, and as long as the coaching staff remains largely intact, our window is respectively Mariota's window. That remains true for AJ McCarron and Alabama, Mettenberger and LSU, Hogan and Stanford, etc.
I'm not sure about "the window closes after this year" part. Other teams lose players also and we have some pretty good talent waiting to get their chance, There are OC candidates out there that are as good, if not better, than SF who would love to coach at Oregon. I like "the window narrows" rather than "the window closes".
A good friend once told me that "The Ducks have transformed the game of football, and some people have made a career out of doubting that the transformation is real or has staying power." Don't become one of those people, Dale. :-)
You've made a great case for winning it all this year. No doubt you are right about that. I can't say I have ever, even with the clunky, sloppy starts we've had so far, seen a more complete offensive weapon and defensive juggernaut wearing the O.
I believe the transformation is real. I believe it has staying power. I believe in the next man up.
In two years, I believe we'll be having this same conversation, but the names will all be different.
Mariota, by a landslide. Nice of ESPN to give us a little love.
"I don't anticipate having any sort of different feelings than I would if it were a home game," he said. "It's a regular game. We're just playing in front of a bunch of crazy people." - Jared Goff
No question, this is the year. I wear an Oregon T-shirt to the gym at least once a week and I get the same question, "When is Oregon going to win the BCS?" I say that this is the year. Yes, Washington, UCLA and Stanford are good but the Ducks are better and will win all these games. One game at a time.
@stroupenator If I'm following you correctly, the Ducks are viable national championship contenders as long as Mariota stays in school, and face a challenge to stay at that level after.
@zduckfan I think the Ducks will be competitive at a reasonably high level in the future, but I equally believe that this team is their best chance for a first title. For one thing, the road gets much harder in the future with a four-team playoff. And breaking through gives them a better shot with Adoree' Jackson and Juju Smith.
@duckified Early Heisman predictions often finish third. For Mariota, focus on the prize, the next game, and everything else will work itself out. For fans like us, this is tasty red meat and a sign that our team is playing at an exceptionally high level.
@duckified Duckified, it is nice. Winning the Heisman isn't the main goal but winning one makes it easier to recruit the guy who can win the second one.
@duckified Just about every quarterback preparing to come to Autzen Stadium over the last four years has made a statement like that leading up to game day, and the vast majority have been wrong. The shocked, stunned, overwhelmed realization sometime during the third quarter convinces them otherwise.
@SonomaDuck If not us, who? If not now, when?
@SonomaDuck One game at a time indeed. I get the same questions at the gym and elsewhere, and the derisive "how many championships have you won?" at least twice a month on Twitter.
@Dale Newton We could've said the same thing about the 08' team. I thought we would NEVER have a dual threat like DD again, Jstew at RB.....a few years later LMJ, Barner, MM, Colt etc........ Keep watering the bamboo....
Someone has to knock the SEC off their catbird seat, I just hope it's the Ducks. This year is our best chance ever. We have a more experienced DAT, who won't fumble multiple times, and a better quarterback than the last time we tried and we have a bigger offensive arsenal with more game breakers. I am very interested to see how the defense stands up to conference play.
@Dale Newton @zduckfan There is a quote I fell in love with some years back, and practice it daily by making eye contact with people and smiling. It applies to everything in life, but it all starts with faith in self.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson
No fear. Win The Day.
@stroupenator @Dale Newton Lockie and Rodrigues aren't the same caliber of talent that Mariota is, in my view. Nice college players, perhaps, but neither is the dual threat Mariota is. Wouldn't expect either to be 15-1 as a starter. Ducks will continue to be competitive, but the 2013 team is the deepest and most talented of the next 2-3 years, looking at the overall roster and possible defections to the NFL. It'd be a suprise for the 2014 or 2015 teams to be as strong.
Of course, this season could still fall apart as some have. I remember a few years back the Ducks started 6-0 and only won one game the rest of the year. Nothing's guaranteed.
@lexusduck @Dale Newton I see what you're saying and this is one of those articles I wrote to prompt discussion. I took an extreme view. What I'd point out about your example is that it lines up with my point: the Ducks had a special class in 2007 with a great nucleus of talent and leadership, a great one in 2001, and 2010 and now 2013.
For a team like Oregon the bamboo gets harvested every 3-4 years, in cycles. This 2013 is the peak of this cycle. I think there will some retraction following, not necessarily severe, but another cycle of gathering and watering and waiting for another quarterback to reach maturity and another great back and outstanding defense to reach the right, explosive blend of talent and experience.
The Ducks aren't yet to the level they can win a national title every season. This team is their best chance so far for the break through of achieving the first one.
@duckified @Dale Newton @zduckfan This is the Ducks' best chance ever. They're improved on both lines and have a more talented and versatile quarterback. This window closes after Mariota and Thomas leave, although that doesn't mean they can't open another one in two to three years. National championship runs are rare, beautiful things, particularly for a school with recruiting disadvantages with classes ranked from 15-25.
After practice, Mark Helfrich briefly addressed the weather with his team. It's expected to be cold and wet Saturday night. "You know that those conditions are?" Helfrich asked. "Perfect. Whatever the conditions are, they're perfect."
I have faith (pun intended) that The Helf will be a good steward of the program, and the sum of all fears (Clancy) will dissipate in time, as new faces replace old, and the young bucks fill the holes left when the old bulls move on to whatever is next. It is a process (St. NIck) that continues in spite of who comes and who goes, because like attracts like.
Next time, let's try non sequiters. It's easier. :-)
Regarding the football rather than the philosophical ramifications of these contributions, I'd say the Ducks do shine a light on the football world, but that light will have to be rekindled when they lose key disciples like Mariota and The Black Momba. They are the rock upon which this church is built.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 5: 14-16
@duckified @Dale Newton @zduckfan I agree, Duckified, just a dab. I fully believe he loves the game and is a great kid, but I think it'd be good for him to enjoy it a little more. He's so reserved. He has every reason to trust himself and in Mark Helfrich's words, "be confident in everything you do."
He doesn't seem to be having quite as much fun as he should and it may just be his personality. Just a little dab of Johnny Autograph's flair and "cock of the walk" attitude would make it seem more like he enjoyed being the Heisman front-runner and quarterback of the country's best football team. I hope he's having a really fun time and enjoying the moment.
@duckified @zduckfan As a fan of college football I love Marcus Mariota for his talent, skills, character, and modesty, but there's a degree to which he just needs to cut loose and own it. He's a careful, controlled personality. I think it would help him to have just a little more fun with the whole process. And I don't say that to slight him in any way.