Top 5 Reasons Why Your Oregon Ducks Will (or Won’t) Be National Champions This Season

Oregon will need great defensive performances like the one Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (#14) gave against Michigan State on Saturday, if they want to stay undefeated.

National Champions!

It’s the label that everyone associated with the University of Oregon football has long been waiting to use. It narrowly escaped their grasp in 2011 (thanks a lot, Michael Dyer), and also recently with the Bowl Championship Series system fiasco in 2001 … but this year it’s looking like it could all come together.

We all were watching Saturday as No. 7 Michigan State fell to the favored Ducks. Now, with the (currently) best-ranked opponent behind them, many would look toward the first game of the college football playoff for the Ducks as their next possible defeat.

It’s not just a matter of ranking, though. With that in mind, here are the five reasons why the Ducks should be national champions in January.

  1. Alabama and Florida State’s recent struggles.

The Seminoles opened up their season in a primer against a less talented Oklahoma State team. The reigning national champions didn’t exactly crush their unranked opponent, and the ‘Noles escaped with a 37-31 win.

‘Bama, known for its defense, was mostly fooled by the fast-paced Mountaineer offense (look forward to a possible Oregon-Alabama matchup if both teams make it to the playoffs, Oregon fans). The Crimson Tide escaped with a 10-point win, but never let West Virginia out of it.

Both teams played Football Championship Subdivision doormats last week, after these aforementioned performances.

  1. Oregon can win a grind-’em-out game.

Kevin Cline

It was a tough battle, but in the end, the line of scrimmage was controlled by the guys in yellow.

The announcers were heralding Michigan State as this “grinding” team all throughout the game last Saturday. After being criticized for not being physical – by losing to Stanford during the last two years – the Ducks finally got a win against a similar opponent.

Having to come back after trailing at halftime — and winning — made it seem like Oregon was mentally tougher than I once thought, too. No losing to a team by three after a blowout win the previous week. I liked this from the Ducks. A lot.

  1. They helped their own playoff case by beating another school from a Power-5 conference.

The Pac-12 as a whole benefited from the Duck’s win Saturday, in that whoever is champion will probably be seeded higher than the B1G champ. (I’m assuming Washington will take care of Illinois this week as a home favorite, although the team has been inconsistent to start the season.) And if the Ducks are the team to come out of the Pac-12, they have the chance at being the No. 1 seed, which would not happen had they lost to the Spartans.

  1. Stanford has glaring weaknesses + Oregon doesn’t have to play USC or Arizona State.

Duck fans should have been keeping tabs on the Stanford-USC game before Oregon played. Stanford had obvious offensive and special teams troubles (400+ yards yielding only 10 points). Two fumbles and missed field goals resulted in a 13-10 USC win.

The Ducks, thankfully, won’t have to face the Trojans – good news for a team that lost to the USC just two years ago. Arizona State, like USC, is currently ranked in the Top-25 and would definitely give the Ducks their best game if they were to play each other.

  1. Oregon has all three phases of the game working for them.

Much like in 2011, Oregon’s defense is potent enough to let their quick-paced offense flourish (and vice-versa). No more Tyler Gaffney or Kadeem Carrey going up the gut, for what seemed like 15 yards a pop. The turnovers created by the Duck defense were huge, too, as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s interception sealed the game.

Kevin Cline

Oregon will need great defensive performances such as the one Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (No. 14) gave against Michigan State on Saturday, if they want to stay undefeated.

As for the special teams unit, which always features great returning, Matt Wogan looked spotless as a kicker. For the field goal kicker to be used in the red zone is unlike the Oregon teams of the recent past.

As for the third phase, the team notorious for their offense is never lacking. Marcus Mariota is a definite Heisman candidate. Enough said here …

So yes, this Ducks team is elite. Could they go undefeated? Yes. As of now, they’ve trumped their best opponent per the rankings, and Duck fans such as myself are especially hyped after such a huge win.

However, it’s not all unicorns and bunnies for the Ducks. Five reasons why the Ducks won’t win the championship are provided below — fair-weather fans and extreme optimists, look away.

  1. The run game in-between the tackles.

Michigan State’s run defense isn’t average — it’s superb. That being said, the Ducks weren’t very successful in changing that in the first half (14 yards on 13 rushes).

Running in-between the tackles was actually ineffective the whole game. Mariota and Royce Freeman got loose on the outside running the ball. (Oregon had 130 of the 160 rushing yards in the game outside the tackles. Thomas Tyner had more carries than yards in the first half because he rarely went to the outside.) So if there is an area to improve, it is between the tackles. Expect future foes to recognize this weakness in Oregon’s game.

If Oregon faces, say, an Alabama in the playoff, the Crimson Tide will definitely be looking back to the MSU game to see how the Spartans were effective on defense. From that, they would be able to execute against the rushing attack just as good as — if not better than — Michigan State.

  1. Most preseason favorites are still holding suit.

No Top-25 team — except Ohio State — has lost to an unranked foe yet. That’s almost unheard of, after two weeks of college football.

Don’t get me wrong; Oregon is a great team this year. They’ve beaten what could be the eventual B1G champion. However, Texas A&M creamed South Carolina, another Top-10 team at the time, which is just as impressive a win as Oregon has, especially since it was at South Carolina.

My point is, there are other teams out there capable of beating Michigan State as badly as Oregon did. Many of which surround Oregon in the polls.

  1. A dark horse.

Auburn in the 2010 and 2013 seasons, Boise State in 2006 and 2009, Notre Dame in 2012, Oklahoma in 2013, Utah in 2004.

All these teams made BCS Bowl Game appearances and either won them in an upset or were too under the radar at the beginning of the season for anyone to put them in the discussion, to be at their respective bowl games.

A bad game against either a currently shaky-but-talented Washington team at home or against a commonly underrated Utah team in Utah could yield a dark horse from within the conference to take the Pac-12 crown. (If you think I’m wrong, UW hosts a team they’ve always played well against in Stanford as well as Arizona State and UCLA … whereas Utah hasn’t put up less than 56 points their first two games.)

Likewise, a team could go 12-1 or even 13-0 from another conference after being previously unranked, and defeat the Ducks in the postseason.

  1. The mid-range pass defense. 

I know I wasn’t the only one who witnessed the eight- to 20-yard passes that Connor Cook was seemingly completing at will in the first half on Saturday. Cook completed a career-high eight passes for 15 yards or longer according to ESPN. This is a glaring hole in the Duck’s D.

Kevin Cline

Connor Cook sliced the Oregon defense with his mid-range passing game in the first half.

Even South Dakota scored on their opening possession against Oregon, in a drive that featured a nine-yard pass along with a 10-yard pass on third down later in the drive, both of which earned the Coyotes a fresh set of downs.

   5.  UCLA on the road + Stanford.

It would be easy for one to be confused about the usage of the Cardinal in both lists, but considering recent history, the Stanford-Oregon game decides who wins the Pac-12 North.

In the game against USC, it could be argued that Stanford’s miscues were by chance. Don’t get me wrong, fumbles and missed field goals are both careless mistakes, but Stanford was a couple of misfortunes away from victory against a formidable opponent.

The Bruins are feared in their own right. Of course, two victories by only one possession each against Memphis and Virginia isn’t what most were expecting – although, we all know what UCLA is capable of.

Wrapping it up …

Considering all of the impressive gains the Ducks have made, it would be hard to imagine them missing the college football playoff, even this early in the season. The Ducks made a statement Saturday, one that I was worried they wouldn’t make, and one that hopefully sets the tone for the rest of the season.

The season is only two weeks in, so a lot can and will happen. The only thing that I’m sure of is that the Ducks are lucky that the two South Division opponents they don’t have to play — Arizona State and USC –  could be the best and very likely would face off with one of them in the Pac-12 championships.

If the season ended today, though, the Ducks would be in the college football playoff and sittin’ pretty. I’d have money on them as eventual champions, too.

Let’s hope this stands.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Riley Bushnell

Riley Bushnell

Riley Bushnell is an Organizational Communication and Sociology double major at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. A product of athletics his whole life, Riley became a decent runner in high school so he decided to run cross country, track and field at GFU (although he is currently out for his would-be sophomore cross country season due to injury). Hailing from the City of Destiny, Riley grew up a Mariner, Sonic and Seahawk fan although he currently enjoys rooting for any northwest team and especially the mighty Ducks. When he’s not catching up on or practicing sports, you can find Riley hiking, Geocaching or keeping up on the latest music buzz. You can catch Riley running somewhere in the streets along the northwest I-5 corridor or on twitter at @dyelir

  • Trevor Westerdahl

    I LOVE watching football BECAUSE of its inherent unpredictability. No matter how well a team has performed previously, there is always some potential for the next game to play out very differently than expected. Odds makers have a career trying to formulate some way to accurately predict a game. Yet, over and over, we have game after game where the actual games play out much differently than expected.

    Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t weed out the inept. That doesn’t mean we can’t figure large areas of variability and be right in estimating far more often than be wrong. The “odds” are generally close, most of the time.
    If I had to wager on a team in the PAC-12, I would pick the Ducks. It is obvious that Stanford is not the same team this year. Looking at who they lost, it was mostly predictable. However, Stanford also had a habit of reloading so well recently that people expected that they would somehow reload too. Its clear: Stanford did not reload this year. If the Ducks face them healthy this year, it will be their win.

    What does that mean about USC? Everyone is using Stanford as a gauge to judge USC this year. Well, everyone used Michigan State’s win against Stanford as a measuring stick too. If Stanford is a lesser team this year (and they are a lesser team this year).

    What does that mean?

    Did anyone watch that game (USC vs Stanford)? I want to know when the pods landed on earth from outer space and when David Shaw was replaced with a pod-person. That was the most abysmally coached game I have ever witnessed. I am not alone in that assessment, am I?

    1) It seemed that whenever there was a timeout taken (usually taken because players were lost), the team came out of the timeout even more lost, without any focus, and performed some major blunder

    2) Punting not once, but TWICE from inside the 40? Really??

    3) Nine times (I believe) the offense marched its way to the red zone, only to use highly predictable play calls that failed miserably. These results were very anti-Stanford and while I do credit USCs “D”, I mostly blame Stanford’s play calling: it was ultra-predictable

    If there ever was overwhelming circumstantial evidence for intentionally losing a game, that USC game was it. If most people watched the game like me, who really was the better team on the field? I thought Stanford out-classed and out-played USC until – magically- when it mattered most, they disintegrated in the red zone.

    All of that was really to say, let us not overrate USC until there is more history. They did not look all that great. And before you jump in anointing them… consider…

    If Oregon was the team playing Stanford and, if Oregon had yet to face Michigan State, wouldn’t we all hear how Oregon didn’t win the game as much as Stanford lost the game? Be real here. If Oregon played as sloppily as USC. If Oregon struggled to score like USC. If Oregon had their “D” exploited with long, field marching drives… like what happened with USC. What would have been said about Oregon? About Stanford?
    Oregon will easily find a way to put up more than 13 points on Stanford and more than 13 on USC. Oregon is in a class above both this year. Oh, and I know Oregon will not be so lucky to have Shaw coaching so badly like happened against USC. I do know that Oregon will likely get their A-Game.

    So, I am still standing by my estimate/prediction that Oregon runs the gamut. They won’t lose a game this year as they are the most complete team and its much more than just having Mariota. Oregon has always done well without elite QBs. They went to the Natty with Thomas. Oregon is simply the most complete team with a much underrated defense and an underrated o-line and a whole lot of offensive weapons with more than a few elite defenders.
    Go Ducks!