Oct. 15, 2016
The Fall of the Oregon Ducks
Perhaps no program has taken the college football landscape by storm in the past 15 years more than the Oregon Ducks. They have risen from the middle of the pack not just in the PAC-12 but the college football ranks. Of course, it partly has to do with this:
Prior to the 2000's the Ducks were pretty much an okay team with some up and down years. In other words, they were a standard college football program that wasn't Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Michigan among others. They put out some good teams in the 90's under Mike Bellotti (though Rich Brooks needs to be congratulated for helping build the program), but just never was considered a threat. It really got going when Phil Knight started to invest more into the football program. Of course, Knight is the founder of Nike (and we will get to that in a little bit).
It really started in the 2000's when the Ducks had Joey Harrington as their quarterback that I think things started to take off for Oregon. He was a great quarterback (say what you will about his NFL career, but the guy was a beast in college and my personal take was he was just in a bad situation in Detroit) and gotten the Ducks to back-to-back 10+win seasons in 2000 and 2001. After Harrington left, the program went into a small lull until 2008 when they started rolling again as Knight really invested in the Ducks. And in this time, Oregon started doing something nobody else did at all. Change uniforms on a WEEKLY basis.
Given Oregon's affiliation with Knight and Nike, it was a win-win for the Ducks and Nike. Fans wanted to see what uniforms they were wearing while they wanted to buy the jerseys. It gave Oregon a tradition and started a trend that I am not overly fond of (crazy jerseys, but in Oregon's case I like it because that is who they are). But it got recruits to start flocking up to Eugene to play for the Ducks. And it paid off.................
From 2008-2014, Oregon ruled the roost in the PAC-12, pretty much winning the conference year in and year out. Chip Kelly took over from Bellotti, who had stepped down. And he pretty much made Oregon into a national threat. However, there was always a hiccup. They were "taken to task" by the likes of the SEC threats of Auburn and LSU in 2010 and 2011 respectively (the 2010 game against Auburn was for the national championship). The Ducks lost those games against the SEC, but it didn't derail them from their belief their national title hopes would wane in their era. They nabbed a lot of the skilled players on both sides of the ball (WR, QB, RB, and CB) and dominated the PAC-12.
However, one trend started to show in the Ducks run late: physical teams had their way against Oregon. The PAC-12, known as an offensive-minded conference where they pride speed and skill over physicality, was considered a weak conference out of the current Power 5. Oregon dominated against the likes of Arizona State, Washington, and Cal to name a few. However, one team, which was an outlier to the conference, gave Oregon fits: Stanford. They played a physical style of defense, especially on the lines that really made teams pay for their speed and skill. And most years, the Cardinal dominated just as much as Oregon (though not by the scores as Oregon would score 60-70 points whereas Stanford would win more of the 27-10 games). But the style worked for Stanford as the Cardinal would ruin the Ducks chances of a national championship. It would ultimately be a sign of things to come.
In 2014, the Ducks were heavily favored to be near the top of the nation with their offensive minded play. Marcus Mariota led the way and got a Heisman in the process. I will admit, I thought Mariota was overrated. Nothing about him screamed "greatness," but after seeing what he has done in Tennessee and how the Ducks have been since he has left, he was UNDERRATED. He covered his offensive line's issues with elusive skills and speed. It helped the Ducks to get to the National Championship game against Ohio State. If you had seen the Ducks in 2014, almost every major threat of Oregon that year, the opposing teams' lines dominated against Oregon (Michigan State, Arizona, Florida State, etc.). It was Mariota that really made sure that the Ducks would win each of those games. On the flip-side, Oregon's defense still gave up a chunk of yards and points, but the defense, as many media "experts" would say was "opportunistic" with getting turnovers (just look at the Rose Bowl game against Florida State). To add on top, playing in Autzen Stadium was like solving world peace, curing cancer, and ending global warming put together. And the fans got pumped, even trolling the likes of Alabama fans in terms of wanting a major war with the Tide that would be settled on the field in the 2014 National Championship game.
But when the national championship game with Ohio State game, Oregon was dominated in every aspect. And it was simple: Oregon might have been fast, but Ohio State was fast and PHYSICAL. Not even Mariota had an answer for the Buckeyes fast and physical defense. End result: Ohio State won in a laugher. The Ducks showed they were a finesse team that could not play physical with the big boys.
The Ducks were EXPOSED in that game against Ohio State. They had no physical presence on either side of the ball. It looked like Ohio State's players were men and the Ducks were boys. And while they did knock off Stanford, teams who had the quality of players on top of the physical presence they had, have run roughshod over Oregon. Even the likes of Washington State have nabbed the Ducks. WASHINGTON STATE!!!!! The same team with the innovator of the Air Raid offense in Mike Leach running the show. But even Leach has implemented a style of physical defense that the last time these two teams met, Oregon had no answer.
The PAC-12 is starting to change. Stanford is no longer the lone team that preaches physicality in the conference. You are seeing the likes of Washington, Utah, USC, Colorado, and UCLA take note of playing a physical style of football, especially on both sides of the lines. That means in those games, Oregon has been completely outmatched to the point where they are the ones being dominated. And it is because those teams have taken a page of the SEC and the Big Ten where the lines mean a lot more than the skill. Part of it is the whole "pride" issue for Oregon. The Ducks love to claim they have the faster skill players and it won't matter what happens up on the lines. Right now in relation to the rest of the PAC-12, the Ducks are struggling to get points. And honestly, Oregon in 2016 might be the WORST team in the PAC-12. If you go to Autzen Stadium, it isn't a threat anymore as we have seen Washington do (and to an extent, Colorado).
But what do we see out of Eugene? What the Ducks uniforms that week will turn out being. They still are proud of their speed players. They still talk a great game out there (though not as much). But fans are realizing that the style of play won't cut it in the PAC-12. Arizona and Arizona State is realizing it in the hard way as they are getting crushed by the physical style of play that these teams are doing to them. Ducks fans (including Phil Knight) are hoping Chip Kelly will return and save Oregon from futility in the conference. But overall, until Oregon realizes the times of out-running your opponents into the ground won't work, they will remain a flashy team that does not want to mix it up.
And that is why they are continuing to fall apart in the PAC-12
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat