Saturday’s schedule saw a huge win for Oregon, and I’m not talking about what USC did.
While the game against Utah may not have been an overly impressive victory – Oregon didn’t score at least 55 against an unranked opponent for the first time all season – it was still one that was sorely needed for Oregon, both for 2013 season and the historical purposes.
Bouncing back after a tough loss to Stanford was important, but not unexpected. The Ducks have been able to rebound from tough losses in recent seasons; having followed its previous nine regular season losses with a win in the following game. That is a far greater track record of success than what curse has plagued Oregon the entire 21st century. I call it:
The Curse of the Third Weekend in November
This weekend’s results, both the wins by Oregon and USC, may have produced elation for Duck fans, but this was a rare experience for them. Historically, last weekend had annually been one of the most profoundly miserable weekends for the Ducks. Since defeating Oregon State, 25-14, on November 20, 1999, seemingly every significant heartbreaking moment in recent Oregon memory has taken place on the third weekend in November. Look at the ‘history of misery’ that has taken place for the Ducks on that weekend during the 2000s:
2000: Oregon State 23, Oregon 13. The fifth-ranked Ducks controlled their own destiny for going to the Rose Bowl heading into the first ever Civil War where both teams ranked in the Top-10. Instead, it became a game most remembered for the five interceptions thrown by Joey Harrington, and the loss created a three-way tie at the top of the Pac-10. Somehow out of this three-way tie, it was decided that Washington would be going to its first Rose Bowl in eight years.
2002: Washington 42, Oregon 14. Oregon suffers its biggest margin of defeat to the Huskies since 1983, in a game best remembered for what happened after it ended, with Washington’s players going back onto the field to stomp on the Oregon “O.”
2004: Oregon State 50, Oregon 21. As if suffering its biggest margin of defeat to the Beavers since 1942 wasn’t bad enough, this loss keeps Oregon from a winning season and a bowl game, the only time the Ducks failed to have a winning season since 1993.
2006: Arizona 37, Oregon 10. Worst loss at home by the Ducks since the aforementioned loss to the Huskies in 2002. Arguably the last bad loss at Autzen Stadium for the Ducks, who haven’t lost a game at home by more than a touchdown since.
2007: Arizona 34, Oregon 24. It happened on a Thursday, but it was still the third weekend in November, where, following Dennis Dixon’s season-ending knee injury, second-ranked Oregon loses both the game and its quarterback.
2011: USC 38, Oregon 35. The Trojans take a 38-14 lead late in third quarter before a furious Oregon rally at the end falls short on a missed field goal.
2012: Stanford 17, Oregon 14. I think I’ve said enough about this game already.
Only four times (2003, 2005, 2008, 2009) in the previous 13 seasons have the Ducks won on the third weekend in November. Two of those wins – over Arizona in 2008 and 2009 – could have easily gone the other way. The Ducks saw a 21-point fourth quarter lead shrink to three before a late LaGarrette Blount touchdown sealed the game in 2008. In 2009, Oregon needed many breaks to defeat Arizona 44-41 in two overtimes. Luckily, the football gods decided missing the Rose Bowl on a missed extra point would be a fate too cruel for even Oregon fans to endure, lest it should be added to this list.
The most telling note in these historical struggles: The two benchmark seasons for Oregon this century, 2001 and 2010, were the two years that Oregon didn’t schedule a game for the third weekend in November. Perhaps it would be prudent in the future for Oregon to play any card it has, to keep that date open on future schedules.
Unless doing so is unnecessary; following a tough 20-17 loss to USC, maybe Oregon has passed on its third weekend in November Curse to Stanford, a program who went from national championship dark horse to Alamo Bowl participant in a few short hours last Saturday. Historically, it had always been Oregon who had previously had its national championship hopes and conference title dreams snatched away from them at this particular point on the calendar. That rare shift to seeing its hopes for a conference title restored at the expense of someone else’s loss, rather than the other way around – the way USC did for many years – is one Oregon fans can certainly embrace.
Perhaps this shift in roles between Stanford, Oregon and USC is permanent. For years, USC found its losses to conference opponents as nationally celebrated events, only to find a way to emerge as conference champion by season’s end, a role embraced by Oregon this year should it beat Arizona, Oregon State, and the Pac-12 South champions. If Oregon wins the Pac-12, it will play in its fifth-consecutive BCS bowl, something only done by USC and Ohio State.
USC’s role has switched to a school whose identity is one of the scrappy team trying to win through chemistry and guile, a reputation once belonging to Stanford. Now Stanford becomes what Oregon was pre-2009: a program every bit as talented as the rest of the conference, but one whom despite big wins, struggles to establish an identity as the conference’s premier program.
The curse began in 1999, the same year Stanford won the Pac-10, with Oregon finishing the season ranked higher. Stanford wouldn’t win the conference again until 2012, when those identical circumstances applied again. Clearly, the loop needed to be closed before being passed to the Cardinal.
So to Stanford, we bestow the Curse of the Third Weekend in November. May it gave you the same such fortunes for the next 13n years, and may the curse’s passing keep the Ducks affixed atop the Pac-12 conference for many years to come.