The Path to Glory Is Covered in Blue-Blood

Golden_Dome (1)

There’s been a lot of grousing about preseason rankings and critics. When did Ducks fans develop such a thin skin? Rather than pound the table, I say bring it on.

Nick Saban can get away with that jacket

Wikimedia

No one questions Nick Saban’s fashion sense for a reason.

To the national pundits we’re known as the Blur or Track Town, USA. Speed may impress, but it doesn’t always earn long-term respect. We hear it all the time. They call it gimmicky. They question the team’s grit, their toughness. Think about it. The Tide may move slowly, but that’s only because Nick Saban doesn’t have to move for anybody. When a team is respected outside of its own conference, you don’t have to worry about pleasing the critics. Like it or not, blue-blood teams are just expected to be tough. Their reputations have become their own currency.

Outside of the Pac-12, Oregon’s currency is wildcat tender. Audiences expect an offensive show but, fair or not, they still have questions. I have a plan to fix that. In a word: outreach.

And thus the genesis of this gripe: even when Oregon is ranked in the Top 5, it’s hard enough to watch them on the east coast. Pac-12 president Larry Scott and network chief Lydia Murphy-Stephans are doing great work bringing Pac-12 action to Australia. Thank them later. And they signed Twitter. Live action; 140 characters at a time. (Yes, I know they will be streaming but I doubt I will be watching.) But growing the brand seems beyond their reach.

Pac-12 athletic directors must look to the southeast and wonder why, with the likes of USC, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon, the Pac-12 Network is yielding around $1M per school annually when the SEC Network kicks back around $7M per. Answer: supply and demand. Even as the Pac-12 Network hosts some 850 live events, who’s watching? Supply is ample, but national demand is lean.

The Network’s efforts to grow the market with DirectTV failed because the deal required an asset transfer from public universities that mandated competitive bids. Which begs the question: don’t antitrust laws prevent cartelizing a market and limiting access? Yet the Pac-12 Network has done exactly that to the televised sports market for 12 public universities. But I digress … I just want to watch the Ducks, even when they play UC Davis. And where’s the demand for that game? Right in the lumberyard.

This guy merits a rivalry.

J. Sperry

This guy alone merits a rivalry.

Which leads me to my next point: scheduling. During the excitement of each new season, it’s easy to quiet the nagging disappointment we feel with our non-conference scheduling. I can’t be the only one.

Sure, we usually have one big game. Nebraska’s blue-blood program is a welcome opponent. We go tit-for-tat for two years just as we did with Michigan State. As we look past 2017, however … meh. Two big non-conference opponents are lined up: Auburn in 2019, back-to-back duels with Ohio State in 2020-2021 (let that sink in: it will be 2020 before we can shut up the other OSU fans).

What Oregon football needs is a blue-blood rival. As much as I loathed Stanford during the Jim Harbaugh era, a sentiment which has almost vanished under David Shaw whom I respect a great deal (to be fair, now that Harbaugh is not wearing cardinal red I’ve a new found respect for him as well), and as much as I cringe at the fact that Stanford has won 3-of-5 Pac-12 titles, every year I look forward to the Stanford and USC duels with Notre Dame. Why? Because when any Pac-12 team plays blue-blood, they are the conference standard-bearer.

Stanford and USC have played Notre Dame every year since 1996 and 1997 and will continue to do so every year through 2024 and 2023, respectively.

Those rivalries are not just part of football history, they serve as bellwethers. While USC has taken only two of the last six Jeweled Shillelaghs (after dominating eight straight years), Stanford has taken seven of the last nine Legends Trophies, which demonstrates how far that program has come since they lost seven straight from 2002-2008. In contrast, this year we can juxtapose the results of the University of Virginia game with the 2013 results from Mark Helfrich’s first season.

Oregon can beat Stanford at its best but should follow their lead to a blue-blood rivalry.

J. Sperry

Oregon can beat Stanford at its best but should follow their lead to a blue-blood rivalry.

While Duck fans complain about respect, Stanford, our chief division rival, is ascending on an annual stage that it built to play, not just for a national prime time audience, but for a devout Irish fan base. I doubt any Irish fan “likes” Stanford or David Shaw, but I would be willing to bet the vast majority of them have learned to respect the Cardinal in this decade.

It’s difficult to gain national respect when your biggest rivalries have no currency outside of the Pac-12. If it’s not in their backyard, southern and middle American football audiences have zero interest in anything Oregon does outside of a title game. That won’t change until Oregon proves itself year-in-year-out to a blue-blood fan base.

It doesn’t have to be the Irish (but that would be awesome). It could be Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Bama, Harbaugh’s Michigan - I don’t care. The opponent is secondary to the continued exposure to an outside market and the respect that a long-term investment in an annual blue-blood rivalry will yield.

Why should we listen to you, Matt? You live in New York and are hardly even an Oregonian any more. If we limit our non-conference exposure to one big annual audience, don’t we necessarily restrict our ability to prove our mettle to as many as possible?

Until the Ducks claim victory in East Lansing, Spartans will only remember 2015.

T. Corno

Until the Ducks claim victory in East Lansing, Spartans will only remember 2015.

The answer: how’s that working out for you?

Critics and fans, when they are not yours, have a short memory. Do you think East Lansing still talks about the Eugene 47-27 drubbing of 2014? If they speak of it at all, they likely chalk it up to the Marcus Mariota factor: an exceptional but momentary Oregon talent. Yet I bet every time Oregon is mentioned at P.T. O’Malley’s, talk turns to holding the Blur to 21 points in 2015.

Another example: the 2014 Rose Bowl. A brilliant game. Yet few outside of Oregon will cherish it as we do. Do you think anyone remembers the turnovers, Tony Washington’s touchdown or the Ducks D holding fast at the 1-yard line? I doubt even Kirk Herbstreit remembers questioning the national audience “can we finally put to rest the question of this team’s toughness?”

Tony Washington stripped Jameis Winston and sauntered into Oregon lore,

C. Strobeck

Tony Washington stripped Jameis Winston and sauntered into Oregon lore.

The question is back and won’t be put to bed until Oregon runs the ball down the throat of some blue-bloods for several years in a row. Every Greenblood knows that year-in, year-out our athletes will make us proud. Give them the opportunity and they will Win The Day. They are the pride of our state. Let them prove themselves against any team in the nation and they will not only make us proud, but they will earn the nation’s respect.

That is the missing ingredient in the Oregon recipe. No one, not even Chip Kelly, was charting a course to a long-term national stage. Respect is not won. It can’t be built like a performance center. It’s not even guaranteed to come with the title. Respect is earned when generation after generation trades blood for victory on an opponent’s pitch. When those fans stand to applaud, out of respect, the critics will follow. Within the Pac-12, there is no question Oregon has earned the respect of its rivals. Outside of the conference, at least for now, questions about Oregon will persist.

There’s a lot about Oregon that I miss. Other Ducks, for one. People cared about the Platypus Trophy. And there was always a place to watch the game. Now, that’s all gone. No one cares. Out here, when I need a venue to watch a game, I have to go to Buffalo Wild Wings like a schnook.

Top photo credit: Wikimedia

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Matt Bryant

Matt Bryant

Matt grew up in Oregon, graduated UO in 1998, and tried to impress a young lady (not from Oregon) by going to law a fancy law school on the East Coast. He did pretty well in law school but never saw the young lady again. Matt is now a lawyer in New York where he bores everyone around him with tales of how much better life can be in the Pacific NW usually carrying on about the biking, the coast, the salmon, the complete lack of humidity, Reubens from The Goose Hollow Inn, and Ducks football. When Matt is not litigating high-stakes, important, commercial disputes for important people, arguing important points, or writing important things, he is likely either reading, on his bike, or (from late August through February) watching football. He lives with his family on North Shore of Long Island because the coast overlooking the Sound almost has a real shoreline but still can’t hold a candle to Oregon’s coast.

  • Platypus

    The SEC is seldom criticized for it’s weak non-conference schedule because it’s conference is perceived to be ‘Strong’ so it’s teams ‘Blue Blood’ pedigree comes from winning championships. When USC was winning Natty’s everyone recognized the PAC as the strongest conference, as far as individual teams everyone loves good match ups but they are soon forgotten…again it’s championships not match-ups that define “Blue Bloods’.

    • Matt B.

      Thanks for reading, Platypus. I think championships and reputation go hand-in-glove. As for SOS, I think virtually every school will have one or two cupcake games. Given risk of injury and import of conference play, it’s hard to criticize that decision but I’m going to disagree with you on the role of rivalries in football. They are one of the anchors of the game. Everyone loves a rivalry. I’d love to see Oregon develop an annual tit-for-tat with one Big Name school. Even a Penn State, or MSU. They become institutions in and of themselves; they sell advertising, fill seats, make good copy. They are the stuff of legend. If we only get one real non-conference game every season, I’d like to see some consistency and an effort to leverage a bigger slice of the national prime time slots on a regular basis.

      • Platypus

        Thanks for the reply Matt, love talking football. From a fan perspective rivalries bring a lot of excitement and fun but seldom help achieve the year end goal of getting into the playoffs or into a major bowl. LSU, and OK are examples of scheduling harder teams then you need to, now they pretty much need to run the table. Unfortunately when the end of the season comes all they will look at is a teams record. 11-1 your in 10-2 your out.

        • Matt B.

          Indeed. The current playoff committee is only twice as bad the BCS! (Under the logic that two arbitrary decisions are worse than one. I’m all for improving that.) Established rivalries are great for fans but they also play an important role in recruiting. Irrespective of the current defects in playoff selection, if the goal is Win The Day, avoiding tough opponents for fear of imperfection at selection time falls short of that. The last undefeated champion was Texas in 2005 by my count yet here have been many fine teams and great champions since then. There will be losses. No program is perfect. A big part of the game is what the individual and team does after a loss. And part of the excitement of conference play is the rematch. Sometimes, we don’t even have to wait for next season to rematch in the title game. If we tramp around the country looking for pick-up games, that element is gone; the continuity is absent. Hence my example of MSU. Until we play them again, they won the last match. Losses to a rival are of a different nature and, I submit, not only help build the program from the inside, through pride and a tangible connection to generations past, but when our rival base is expanded beyond our conference, they also can command the respect of new fans that would otherwise be unexposed to our great athletes.

          Thanks for talking football.

  • Superb article–well written and researched and I don’t how any Pac-12 fan can read it and not have their blood pressure shoot up as mine did. One million versus seven million? We won’t be competitive as a conference in the future if nothing changes, and that stat is one I did not know and I am just stunned.

    Thanks Matt for stating it so well!

    • Matt B.

      Danka, Charles. Glad you enjoyed it. I love it when a gripe blossoms into a subject and I educate myself as well looking into it.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Some of this makes a whole lot of sense but the one about SC and Stanford playing Notre Lame doesn’t. WHy because Notre Lame is an Independent but if they were in the BIG 10 would they be playing these guy’s every year? Easily answered NO. I hate to admit it but our PAC 12 Commish sucks and I don’t like the pure Laziness of this guy period for the conference even though I don’t care if Washington or SC ever beat anyone because I hate both teams. Oregon’ schedules out of conference games to a degree with who will play them. Look at the Oklahoma conference and tell us who do they play? They don’t even have a conference Championship yet they trumped a PAC 12 in the Playoff who does. Even though I hate to admit it but Stanford belonged in the Playoff not Oklahoma. Oregon schedules what they can get away with and nothing more. Really lets be honest Oregon doesn’t really belong in the Blue blood conversation regardless who they schedule until they actually win a Championship. Remember this nobody remembers 2nd place.

    • Matt B.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Good point that because I agree, it appears up to now, we’ve been taking what we can get outside the conference. I’m not convinced the program has made much of effort to establish a non-conference big-ticket rivalry. I also think we could do so if we wanted to – may not be every year but it could be frequent enough. Notre Dame is a great source non-conference games because they are independent and have the name recognition for a prime time slot. The Big12 is likewise a good source b/c, as you point out, they don’t have divisions yet and only play 8 conference games meaning there are some big name teams shopping around for four non-conference games every year. And you’re right, Oregon is not in the “blueblood” conversation, which should give the admin all the more incentive to pick a fight with one and keep it going. It’d be great for recruiting and bringing Oregon’s name recognition up a little. Winning a national championship is a goal, building a dynasty is another, and cementing Oregon’s place as an elite football program, even if not a “blueblood” is yet a third. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

  • RLWirtz

    For those who disagree with you; the only national titles won by anyone were the last two, and the BCS era before that was a joke. The only indicator of a champion was the AP rankings and reputation. With that in mind, Minnesota was #1 four times, Pittsburgh was #1 twice, Maryland once, BYU once, Colorado once to name a few. I wouldn’t consider any of these teams ‘Blue Bloods.’
    Winning a national title or two would only prove we can do what these programs did.
    Another example: If you average the final rankings for the last eight years only Alabama ranks higher than Oregon. We average higher than Ohio St., Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, LSU, etc. and we’re still not considered one of the Big Boys.
    You’re absolutely right in that until we can play with the Blue Bloods on a regular basis for some time we’ll never be recognized as one.

    • Matt B.

      Thanks for reading and the support! Well stated. You are clearly a highly educated, articulate, and rational being of superior intellect.