I’m not saying it is going to happen; just saying it is possible.
Not likely, just possible. Like writing a will before travelling abroad: if there’s even a moderate chance of something bad happening, prudent people take precautions to mitigate the danger. Wills are written in case the unexpected happens, that remote possibility no one else saw coming, to let everyone know you were aware of the potential of disaster, however minuscule the chances seemed, and had a plan of action in response.
Same goes with a trap game. Only when the trap game involves your favorite team, there’s no gain or satisfaction from being right, just a Cassandra Complex that comes with seeing potential disaster before everyone else.
This is why, no matter how crazy it sounds, I’m worried about the Wyoming game more than the Michigan State game.
Why am I worried? Here are a few reasons:
Because I remember September 27, 2003
Anyone remember what happened the last time a top-ranked team from the state of Michigan came to Autzen Stadium? OK, it was amazing and incredible and one of the greatest games in school history, one that’s led to tons of literal and virtual ink being spilled celebrating the memory. But does anyone remember the week after that?
Most have tried to forget, because while the Michigan game was the apex of the 2003 season, the following week’s game against Washington State was its nadir. A 55-16 loss (the same score as last year’s Oregon-Cal game, if you want to consider a comparable beatdown), which was 38-2 at the half … and the game wasn’t even that close. It was a humiliating loss that remains the worst at Autzen Stadium since 1985; the No. 10 team in the country having its perfect season ended in brutal fashion.
Why did Oregon get blown out? Explain away, Samie Parker:
“We were still thinking about the Michigan game, and I really don’t think we were really fired up,” Oregon receiver Samie Parker said. “Everyone is usually fired up in the locker room, but we were really quiet today. We were just kind of waltzing around, and I don’t think we were ready to play.”
Oops. Will things be different for Oregon this time? Will they find the energy to rally a week after what could potentially be the biggest non-conference win in more than a decade? Well, there are factors working against them …
The Body Blow Theory
Popularized by Bruce Feldman in college football circles last year, the “Body Blow Theory” was used to describe a lethargic performance by a team the week following a game against a highly physical opponent. Feldman used Stanford as his example of a physical team whose opponents often struggled in weeks following their games. That same Stanford team that was more physical in their matchup with the Ducks last November in Palo Alto, found themselves out-physicaled by Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
And that is the program Oregon is playing Week 2.
If Oregon does prevail over Michigan State, it will be at the end of 60 very physical minutes. The Spartans may be losing some starters from that Rose Bowl squad, but they still have Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi coaching them, and the same physical philosophy that earned MSU a 13-1 record last year is still there. Hopefully the Ducks will have as much time as possible to recover. Oh, wait, they are playing how soon after that game?
That 11:00 AM Kickoff Doesn’t Help
Here was the sequence of thoughts that ran through my head when the team announced last week it had scheduled the kickoff for the Wyoming game at 11:00 AM:
1) Wow, that’s early.
2) That’s really early.
3) Like catching the first flight of the morning early.
4) No way I’m making that game, I wonder if someone will want my tickets.
5) If I’m not getting up that early for a game, no one else I know is either.
6) Oh man, this is the game where the sellout streak ends, isn’t it?
7) When was the last time the Ducks played a regular season game at 11:00 AM? (Answer: 9/25/93, at Illinois.) I couldn’t even tell you if a regular season game has ever been played that early at Autzen Stadium.
8) Wait, I have a regular 8-to-5 office job, and I’m complaining about being up this early. How are the players going to feel?
You might not think an hour is that early, but when a team is playing early on a Saturday following one of the more physical games it will play all season, players will want every minute of rest they can get. And for those of you saying, “it’s just an hour’d difference, the Ducks have played at noon plenty of times,” remember the game is being played by college students. Ask any college kid if there’s a difference between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM, and see what they tell you.
The Man on the Other Sideline is Craig Bohl
Who is Craig Bohl?
In case you are unfamiliar with Wyoming’s first-year head coach, Bohl is a Tom Osborne disciple who believes in a physical brand of football, having spent the previous decade turning a college in Fargo into an FCS powerhouse that won three straight national titles. While leading North Dakota State to those championships, the Bison became the first ever FCS program to receive votes in the final AP Poll of the regular season. His teams were so good he even got College GameDay to host the show from their campus. I’ll repeat that: he got College GameDay to broadcast from the site of an FCS school in North Dakota.
While we don’t know how Bohl will fair as an FBS coach, we do know how he’s done against FBS competition: the answer is, very well. Bohl is 7-3 all-time against FBS schools, he’s won 6 of his last 8 games against FBS teams, and hasn’t lost to an FBS school this decade.
His most recent giant slaying came last year on the season’s opening Friday night, when he knocked off defending Big 12 champion Kansas State in the Wildcats’ home opener, because, well, FBS teams don’t exactly come to FCS stadiums. That win, like all of Bohl-coached teams’ FBS wins, came the same way: on the road.
To reiterate: Oregon has an 11:00 AM game against another team that prides itself on physicality, the week after playing the most physical program in the country — and the game will be played in front of a crowd that may struggle finding its energy at one of the earliest games in stadium history.
Yes, it’s Wyoming, and yes, they are going against the Ducks in Autzen Stadium. Oregon is still a top-five team, and Wyoming won’t stop being a 5-7 Mountain West team overnight. But these are the circumstances in which screwy upsets happen. In years past, I might be dismissive of that fear, but the cachet the Ducks had built up in “never losing to an inferior opponent” disappeared following last year’s game at Arizona. In all probability, the Ducks will be the big favorites before, during and after this game, but should they struggle to find success that day, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
Top image courtesy of Craig Strobeck.