Season’s First Quarter Reveals Hypocrisy, Lies and Hope

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

It’s incredible and yet it’s still surprising. Beating Georgia State, 61-28, using a generous helping of second, third and fourth stringers just wasn’t enough blood for too many fans.

What seems to be forgotten is that September 19 is still fairly early in the season. We’re still only half way to the selection committee’s first way-too-early declaration of the final four, which — based upon last year — is indeed still way too early. Of last year’s first four early anointed (Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida State), only Alabama and Florida State made the playoffs, and they both lost in the first round.

As the season progresses, preseason prejudices get exposed, some teams falter and some get stronger. Yet the early season does count for something, and the hypocrisy, lies and hopes that it has revealed are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Myths die hard. Two myths that pollsters just can’t seem to get past are SEC superiority and the misguided belief that all wins are better than all losses.

This week’s AP Poll places Alabama one spot ahead of Oregon. This is, of course, because Alabama’s loss to No. 3 Ole Miss by six at home was a more impressive showing than Oregon’s loss to now No. 2 Michigan State by three on the road.

Wait a minute — that doesn’t make any sense. I guess what it really means is that once again — despite major bowl losses last year and cream puff out of conference scheduling — we are just going to assume SEC superiority.

Ohio State picked up a nice block by an official and retained its top ranking on this pick six.

from video

Ohio State picked up a nice block by an official and retained its top ranking on this pick six.

Which brings us to the next myth — the one that says that all wins are better than all losses. It is true that any win will make the post-game beer go down better, but squeaking out wins over mediocre teams is a warning sign that all too often goes unheeded.

2012 Notre Dame and 2014 Florida State were both undefeated during the regular season. They both had way too many close calls against so-so teams, and yet both were selected for championship consideration.

Not surprisingly for anybody looking deeper than the win-loss record, they both fell flat on their faces when faced with real competition.

Related to this is the myth that the system encourages tough nonconference scheduling. It’s a nice thought, but it is simply not true. Oregon’s three-point loss on the road to Michigan State dropped the Ducks out of the top ten. The absurd conclusion here is that 10 teams should fall between the Spartans (three-point winner at home) and the Ducks (three-point loser on the road).

If anything, the game illustrated that the teams were closer together than the No. 5 and No. 7 rankings they had going into the game. Had the Ducks stayed at home and beaten Idaho that weekend — as did USC — their top ten ranking would have been preserved. No doubt.

The hypocrisy and prejudice is alive and as stinky as ever, and speaking of stinky …

2. The LA schools stink it up. USC’s stink bomb against Stanford is undeniable. The Trojans lost by 10 to a team that couldn’t score a touchdown against Northwestern. Obviously, Stanford has improved since week one, but the Cardinal certainly did the conference no favors by failing to show up for an out-of-conference game and then knocking off 2015 media darling USC.

USC — along with Alabama — is a team that I marked as overrated before the season began. A team has to be steadfast to put together a successful season. Stanford’s David Shaw has it; USC’s Steve Sarkisian doesn’t.

USC’s primary motivation is pre-season hype. Once that’s gone, all that’s left for the Trojans is to put in their three years and jump to the NFL — not the sort of team spirit that wins championships.

Despite this interception and two others, UCLA moved up in the ranking by beating a lesser team by one point.

from video

Despite this interception and two others, UCLA moved up in the ranking by beating a lesser team at home by one point.

Realistically, UCLA did not fare much better. now has the Bruins atop the Pac-12 power rankings, based upon their undefeated status and their Saturday win over ranked BYU. But again, the myth that all wins are better than all losses rears its ugly head.

Sorry, but beating a lower-ranked team by a mere one point on your home field should be no cause for elevation in the rankings. The BYU Cougars are not that special. They struggled against both Nebraska (which lost to unranked Miami) and Boise State (which struggled against Washington). UCLA is going to lose some games.

3. Oregon has troubles? Critics are quick to point out deficiencies in the Ducks’ early season performances. Yes, there are some things to clean up, but the Ducks are hardly the Lone Rangers in that department.

Ohio State had five turnovers and only 298 yards of total offense in a one-touchdown win — over Northern Illinois.

Michigan State relied on a missed pass thrown by a quarterback with a broken finger to escape loss at home against a team ranked 11 places lower.

Alabama lost at home.

TCU – No. 3 in the AP Poll, No. 2 in the Coaches Poll — took down unranked Minnesota by all of six points and gave up 508 yards defensively to Southern Methodist.

The Ducks are less likely to lose because of a missed field goal this year.

Kevin Cline

The Ducks are less likely to lose because of a missed field goal this year.

While three games deliver a bit of a peek into what the season holds, teams will go many different directions from here.

The injury bug will bite here and there, as will locker room problems. Other teams will work out their issues and play their best football at the end of the season.

Despite the naysayers, Oregon remains positioned well. The scheduling has turned out to be opportunistic. The two “patsy” games — Eastern Washington and Georgia State — turned out to be against pass-happy teams, and this is just what the Ducks’ young secondary needed.

The best thing the Ducks have going for them, though, is leadership, starting with the coaches. There’s a highly successful steadiness there that too often goes unappreciated. And it becomes more and more valuable as the excitement of the new season wears off.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • Stagamancer

    While SEC bias is a real and obvious thing, I suspect the reason Alabama is ranked higher than Oregon right now is because they have a win over a P5 team, Wisconsin, and we do not.

    • Mike Merrell

      A good point, and probably something that the pollsters take into consideration. Yet it’s not likely that Alabama will be the only team to beat Wisconsin this year. Wisconsin is a team that Alabama should have beaten — as it did. I just don’t see enough bonus points there to make up for a six-point home loss, especially when the game was not as close as the final score would lead you to believe — as compared to a three-point loss to the number two team on the road. Fortunately week three rankings don’t count for much and it will all sift cleaner by the end.

  • michael b

    Nicely said/written. College football is fluid which adds to the fun.

  • Just Ducky

    Comparing the Ducks to other teams having problems, like Ohio, doesn’t mean the problems will go away. This is now totally Helfrich’s team and the recruiting shortcomings outside of the skill players are becoming evident. The fact that Helfrich had to turn to a JC transfer as starter at QB speaks volumes about his lack of confidence in Lockie and the other QBs in line. Then there is the secondary. Where are the replacements for people like Washington, Ifo and a host of other talented LBs, corners and safeties? Joe Walker is another JC transfer and other than him, the cupboard seems bare here as well. Seisay has been iffy at best. Arrion Springs shows some promise, but the D line is failing to put pressure on QBs, making defending the pass that much harder. For a defense that Pellum said was one of the best after fall camp, what are we to think?
    At the end of the day all the whining about the SEC will take care of itself if the Ducks produce. If not, they will not be a factor anyway.
    We will know a lot more when the Ducks play Utah. Either the recurring problems will lessen or this will be a long season for the Ducks.

  • goducks58

    I hope you’re right, Mike. I’ve been very concerned about the Duck defense in their cupcake games. The worst has been the secondary, followed by linebacker play, but how have we not gotten defensive push into the backfield by our supposedly stout D line? The scheme needs a ton of work, IMO. If I see one more “rush 3, drop 8” to give a QB all day to throw only to find wide open receivers…. ARGH!!!


    Mike this is the way it will always role for Oregon and it’s not like all of a sudden it’s HYPOCRISY! Remember the Harrington led Ducks that got SHAFTED by the NCAA when instead of playing Miami in the Championship game they shallacked a Colorado team that beat a Nebraska team that didn’t even win it’s conference. Talk about HYPOCRISY as in the only way Oregon ever wins that elusive goal is to go out and Dominate every team in front of them. Here’s a good question for you, do you think the NCAA even wanted Oregon in the final against OS? That would be a resounding NO. OS seemed to also have a different set of rules than Oregon did. The Suckeyes had or were available to practice unlimited as Oregon were not able to because of their class schedules and testing as in are you kidding me. Look at Mr Bosa who failed a DRUG test at the beginning of fall and was suspended for 1 game for SMOKING JANE. Carrington gets a drug test and gets 6 suspended games and we all know OS players if they would of been tested would of failed before that game. The NCAA just needs to go away and it should be pay the players and whoever can pay the most should get the most and in comes our savior Uncle Phil. This HYPOCRISY you can plainly call it what it is ” CHEATING at the highest level “. Oregon should not of dropped 1 spot for that loss and Oregon lets just face it are a better team than Sparty even though we lost.