The two previous football seasons were torture for Oregon fans. Our expectations of winning, even the national title, were crushed as mediocrity, confusion and mistakes became the norm, replacing the dominance, resourcefulness and the high-scoring Ducks performances we had become so accustomed to. The Ducks’ 2016 defense became a doormat of Division I teams.
Another year in sports is fast unfolding. The College Football Playoff National Championship game followed New Year’s. Then came March Madness with amazing runs by the Ducks women’s and men’s teams. The 2017 Masters golf championship rolled by in April. Like the promise of spring itself, hope springs once again for Duck fans as Oregon’s Spring Game looms close at hand. What a difference a year can make in our expectations!
The head coach was changed in the offseason — enter Willie Taggart. Coach Taggart promptly turned over the entire coaching staff by replacing every assistant. With his engaging optimism, energy and superb public relations skills, Coach Taggart quickly turned fan pessimism into optimism. Ducks fans are once again rabidly enthused about Oregon football.
Coach Taggart talks about “bringing the juice.” That’s exciting, but have we let our optimism obscure the realities of the coming season? While the team is getting “Juiced,“ have we been “drinking the Kool-Aid“ letting our hopes, dreams and optimism overshadow the difficult realities of rebuilding a program from mediocrity to greatness in Division I football? Does Willie Taggart yet realize how tough going through a Pac-12 season is?
The regular season lasts 12 games. Do the fans really expect our Ducks to win the Pac-12 North, Pac-12 Conference championship, a major bowl or to play in the NCAA Championship Playoffs in 2017? This team has depth and talent, but the analysts and sports news services still universally rate USC, Washington, Stanford and other teams with variations of the order, ahead of the Ducks. Then there are teams in other conferences that will likely have better records than the Ducks by the season’s end.
Duck fans, of course, want to win championships, but is that expectation realistic and plausible for the coming 2017 season? What are the challenges that must be overcome to rise from good to great?
• The coaches are all new to Oregon and have not yet coached a season together as a staff. So far in practice those coaches look great and are exciting to follow, but will they perform effectively in situational game football at the very high level needed to excel?
• With co-offensive coordinators and an offensive-minded head coach calling plays, will the offense optimize its opportunities and play at an extraordinarily fast pace without mistakes and penalties resulting? Can the players and coaches get on the same page?
• USC, Washington and Stanford are the preseason favorites of the Pac-12 analysts. Washington State, Colorado and Utah will win games and score upsets. The Ducks don’t face Colorado or USC in the coming regular season. Can the Ducks upset the higher rated teams? Will they take care of business in games where they are favored?
• Poor tackling and excessive penalties stalled last year’s team. Poor tackling has been a problem in previous years. Will missed tackles and excessive penalties be corrected in 2017?
• The defensive secondary has been porous and victimized for big plays during the past several seasons. The “Prevent defense” has translated into the “Allow defense.”
In crunch situations on 3rd down or within the red zone, the defensive secondary has been unable to stop the short passing games of mediocre and highly ranked teams, alike. The 2017 team appears to have depth, experience and superb new talent in the defensive backfield, but will it stop the opponents passing attacks?
• Synergy is critical to success in football. The players must play to their potential and reach new personal heights. With effective leadership on the field by positional and team leaders, and the winning leadership of coaches, top teams excel to overcome short-term obstacles. Can Oregon overcome the ghosts of the last two seasons and play to its potential improving as the season progresses? Will the team get better every week and build its players back to champions?
The coming season’s schedule is back-end loaded to the Ducks’ advantage with the toughest games in the second half. This Ducks team will have time to learn and grow during the first half of the season. The most difficult challenge over the first six games will be Nebraska, but the home field advantage is with the Ducks. The Nebraska game will be pivotal for early momentum and confidence. The team will buoy if the Ducks can pull off the win.
The effects of an early loss might be a devastating setback. Second-half challenges against Stanford (Oct. 14), UCLA (Oct. 21) and Washington (Nov. 4) are on the road. The Ducks must become grounded and grow during the first half of the season to build the skills and teamwork necessary to compete in the second half. The coaching staff must do the same.
The Spring Game will be played on Saturday, April 29, 2017. The Ducks team and its coaches will unveil the new look of reconstituted Oregon Ducks football. The team’s performance will open the window for a preview and glimpse into the future of Ducks football under Willie Taggart.
Our imaginations will begin to run wild, set in play by what we see on and off the field, and what we read or view shortly thereafter. Hope springs eternal for Duck fans at the beginning of each new season, whether or not it is warranted by the talent, depth, cohesiveness, coaching and execution on the field.
You make the call after you watch the Spring Game. When the season begins in September, will the players “bring the juice” or have many of us fans been “drinking the Kool-Aid” in our ever faithful, always hopeful oh-how-we-love-our-beloved-Ducks, auras?
Truth or lies?
#Go Ducks! #DoSomething!
Greenville, South Carolina
Top photo by Gary Breedlove