Sure, the Ducks should be better in 2017. But 10 wins? No way.
Yes, Willie Taggart has brought the enthusiasm, the recruiting magic, the superb coaching staff and the Harbaugh moxie (Jim took Michigan from 5-7 to 10-3 in his first season). He may well be the next “it” coach. But it sounds as if the overly optimistic author of this article has been drinking a little too much of the Taggart Kool-Aid – along with whatever 80 proof distilled spirits he’s mixing in with it.
Multiple prognosticators have the Ducks going 9-3, with all of them predicting that the Ducks will lose to Stanford, UCLA and Washington. Which, if you’re a robot, makes complete sense. This preseason the Ducks are ranked higher than nine of the teams on their schedule and lower than three, so 9-3 it is.
Nine wins would be great; most Duck fans would be happy as pie with nine. But if the Ducks can get to nine, and remembering that “greed is good,” why not get to 10?
Let’s be fair, the Ducks have a relatively easy schedule. In non-conference, Nebraska looks tough on paper, but the Huskers aren’t that good. And as far as PAC-12 play goes, the Ducks have favorable misses against defending PAC-12 South champ Colorado, and USC. Nice.
Another thing the Ducks have on their side is history. Say what? Yes, history. So, without further ado, let’s take a little trip back in time…
2005 was the last time the Ducks entered a season having missed out on a bowl game the year before.
The 2005 team was a good – not great – team that finished the regular season 10-1. The Ducks of 2017 can also be a very good team, but they won’t be great (check back in 2019 for that, assuming Justin Herbert stays). There are too many questions marks. Of main concern, the depth and talent on the defensive front seven.
But here are three similarities between then and now:
Coaching Changes: We all know what’s gone on the past several months. During the 2005 offseason, Mike Bellotti parted ways with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and hired on Gary Crowton to install his version of the spread offense – and it worked. A much more comfortable Kellen Clemens led the Ducks to nine more points a game (34.5) than in 2004 (25.6). Crowton went on to become a finalist for the Broyles Award given to college football’s best assistant coach.
Soft Schedule: As with this year, the 2005 team had a very weak non-conference slate, and in Pac-10 play missed out on the road against a very good UCLA team. (Coach Karl Dorrell’s only solid season in Westwood, they finished 10-2, beat Oklahoma, and won the Sun Bowl.)
Attention to Detail: In 2004, the Ducks played sloppy, mistake-prone football (e.g. Clemens’ 10 INTs vs 4 in 2005), and as a result lost games they should have won; such as the disaster that was the Indiana Hoosiers at home.
So, it would probably be safe to assume Bellotti spent the 2005 offseason emphasizing effort, fundamentals, attention to detail and a team-first mentality. Again, the 2005 Ducks were not a great team that just happened to casually go 10-1, they were a good team that scratched and clawed their way to a 10-1 mark.
Now, if Oregon fans saw poor tackling, taking plays off, lack of discipline and fundamentals in 2016, it’s safe to say Taggart saw the same things on film, and then some. At PAC-12 media days this past week he emphasized, “Just getting our guys to be fundamentally and technically sound and playing with great effort … they’ve got to play together and play for one another. I think that’s huge in anything that we do.”
Amen, Coach. Amen.
Game-by-Game Breakdown: September
9/2 Southern Utah at Autzen: A warm-up game against a middling Big Sky school before the real season begins, and a sneak peek at the all the changes the coaching staff implemented over the offseason. Cake walk. WIN (1-0, 0-0)
9/9 Nebraska at Autzen: Speaking of warm-up games, The Ducks used to be a warm-up team to the big boys even during the Chris Miller era, having played at Nebraska in both ’85 and ’86 – without Nebraska ever coming to Eugene – and the Ducks got destroyed. (See here)
In spite piss-poor coaching, a horrendous defense, a question mark at quarterback, and top running back down, the Ducks still gave away last year’s game in Lincoln. With those negatives seemingly corrected – at least a tad – and Nebraska not looking as “good” as it did last year; how can the Ducks not win at Autzen? The Huskers lost a ton on offense from a year ago with some describing 2017 as a rebuilding year.
The time for revenge is now. WIN (2-0, 0-0)
9/16 Wyoming in Laramie: Top candidate for “trap game.” For what it’s worth, Wyoming lost early to Nebraska 52-17 in Lincoln last year and then proceeded to win the Mountain West while working magic in a win over Boise State. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the county in Josh Allen, who looks like a first-round NFL pick come spring. So, there are things to worry about here on the road and a test to see how well Jim Leavitt has improved the Ducks’ pass defense.
If the Ducks don’t come to play, they could lose this game. But alas, they’ll show up. WIN (3-0, 0-0)
9/23 ASU in Tempe: Oregon has a 10-game winning streak against the Sun Devils and haven’t lost since 2004. This year shouldn’t be any different. The Sun Devils are weak at quarterback and can’t play defense. With the win streak at 10, as the classic hard-rock band Spinal Tap would agree, let’s crank this puppy up to eleven. WIN (4-0, 1-0)
9/30 Cal at Autzen: Oregon is closing in on Cal with an all-time mark of 37-40-2, while going 15-5 since 1994, and this year they should get them even closer. Cal is bad, and in a battle of who sucked worse last year, the Ducks wanted it just a little bit more and lost, in spite of Herbert setting the record for TD passes in a game. Two matador-style defenses escorted the opposing offense to the goal line time and time again.
It was one of those games where as a PAC-12 fan, you’re embarrassed, thinking, “Wow this is really shitty football… thank God it’s on at midnight back east.”
Something tells me with Jim Leavitt as D-coordinator, tackling and poor effort shouldn’t be an issue. But with a new quarterback, a new coach, and a general lack of talent, Cal is in true rebuilding mode and will most likely be the worst team in the conference. Count on Justin Wilcox improving the effort and preparation on the Cal side, but it won’t be enough. WIN (5-0, 2-0)
10/6 WSU at Autzen: Cougar fans are bitter, sore losers who long for the days when Oregon, OSU and themselves were the poor little bastard children of the conference. They long for the northwest trio to harmoniously cry in their beers while complaining about how they can’t compete against the bigger, better and richer schools.
WSU is addicted to its loser mentality. And much like a drug addict who recovers from his addiction only to be hated by his former addict friends, the Cougs despise the Ducks for breaking the loser mold and becoming winners. Beating Oregon would give the Cougars something to feel good about, so – and it goes without saying – it won’t happen.
Oregon hasn’t lost three in a row to the Cougars since they lost four from 1981-1984, highlighted by Rueben Mayes setting the single-game rushing record. And it’s not gonna’ happen this year. Luke Falk is one of the best in the country, but it doesn’t matter.
As much as the Ducks wanna’ win this game, the Cougs want to lose it even more. When the Cougars have a chance to turn the corner and do something great, they don’t; they Coug-it. 2017 will be no different. WIN (6-0, 3-0)
10/14 Stanford in Palo Alto: The Ducks and Cardinal are 4-4 against each other since they both began – before last year’s gut-wrenching purple haze – to dominate the conference in 2009. After getting destroyed at home last year, the Ducks should come into this one ready to battle.
Stanford went into the off-season with momentum after winning their final six games, and bring back a strong core of 16 starters. It’s the same old Stanford: tough D, grind it out run game, and solid game management from the quarterback position.
The Ducks will play tough, but ultimately the Cardinal will wear down the Duck defense in the fourth quarter and come away with the W. LOSS (6-1, 3-1)
10/21 UCLA in Pasadena: Since 2000, the Ducks are 11-2 against the Bruins, 5-1 down there, and currently riding a six-game winning streak. UCLA has talent, but Jim Mora just can’t get the Bruins over the hump.
There’s a good chance by the time the Ducks come to town, that Josh Rosen will be out with an injury and the Bruins’ season will have fallen apart, with Mora awaiting his imminent firing.
This game is on the road, but the Rose Bowl doesn’t offer much of a home-field advantage. The weather is great, it’s not very loud, and it’s not intimidating. In fact, one could argue that the visiting team is juiced up to play in great weather and on a nice grass field, with their endorphins firing off the charts. It’s the feeling one gets when embarking on a nice tropical vacation. You play loose, cool and energized. It’s the vacation resort of college football road games. WIN (7-1, 4-1)
10/28 Utah at Autzen: The Ducks, surprisingly, exacted revenge last year in Salt Lake City after the Utes destroyed the Ducks at home 62-20 in 2015. It was the most points ever allowed by the Ducks at Autzen. Of course, the Ducks didn’t allow the Utes to enjoy that record for long as the Huskies put up 70 last year. So, take that, Utes!
The Utes have experience at QB with Troy Williams, and a pretty good brand spanking new WR, but the rest of the offense is of concern. Defense, per usual, will be solid with a terrific front seven. The Utes have won nine games three years in a row.
Expect the Duck offense to be held in check early on, but eventually break through while the defense, behind a loud home crowd, will do enough to keep the Utes offense in check. WIN (8-1, 5-1)
11/4 UW in Seattle: The Ducks are not going to win this game. There’s just no way. The Huskies are the defending champs, have a stout defense, a great QB, and are at home. This is where Oregon fans are begging, begging for the Ducks to prove the world wrong. As Alec Baldwin once said in one of the best movie scenes of all-time in Glengarry Glenross: ”Are you gonna’ take it? Are you man enough to take it?”
Well, Ducks – are you?
The Ducks should be about as optimistic of beating the Huskies this year as a Jake Locker-led Husky team was about beating the Ducks back then. LOSS (8-2, 5-2)
11/18 Arizona at Autzen: The Ducks are 17-5 versus Arizona since 1994 but the Wildcats have, at times, been a surprising thorn in the Ducks’ side over the past ten years. It was in Tucson in 2007 that Dennis Dixon’s knee, as well as the Ducks’ natty aspirations, crumbled to the turf. The loss in 2013 cost the Ducks a chance at the conference championship. as well as the national championship. And in 2014, it cost the Ducks a perfect regular season.
But not this year, AZ has a quarterback who can’t pass and a defense that will struggle against the run – and the Ducks can run. WIN (9-2, 6-2)
11/25 The Beavers in Hell (Autzen): Because Hell is what Autzen will turn into.
I remember as a child after the 1983 0-0 tie, a van full of young beaver fans rolled down Centennial (MLK) Blvd., chanting, “We’re number 1! We’re number 1! We’re number ! ….”
Of course, this was absolutely ludicrous since they finished 2-8-1 and just played in the worst game in the history of football. But it illustrated a stark contrast between young Duck and young Beaver fans at the time. While Duck fans walked out of Autzen that dark day feeling as if they had just lost a close relative in a brutal bear mauling, Beaver fans celebrated as if they just won the national championship.
It’s all about perspective, I guess.
So, what the hell does this have to do with this year’s game? Nothing really. Just that after last year’s game in Corvallis, Duck fans felt as — you guessed it — as if they just lost a close relative in a brutal bear mauling, while those idiot Beaver fans acted as if they just won the national championship.
Last year it looked as if a JV flag football team from Eugene showed up to play a tackle football team. Pathetic. But this year, the Ducks should kill the Beavers at home. But it shouldn’t be decided by a superior game plan, strategy, and personnel. It’s gotta’ be about guts, glory, nastiness, and the will to win. Physically dominating the Beavers and kicking their asses.
Perhaps even sending them off to meet up with their Washington State brethren half-way between Pullman and Corvallis. Maybe somewhere around The Dalles or Tri-Cities. There they can hold hands with their heads hunched down in their beer, crying in unison about how big and bad the rest of the PAC-12 conference is… and how those mean ole’ Ducks no longer hang out with them. WIN (10-2, 7-2)
So, after the Huskies and Trojans slide into the playoff and New Year’s Six games, that’ll leave the Ducks as the third selection from the PAC-12, into the Alamo Bowl. Sure, we lost to Stanford, but the Cardinal finish with an inferior 9-3 record and a game behind the Ducks in PAC-12 play.
The Ducks then take on a revived Texas squad under new coach Tom Herman in San Antonio, where Royce Freeman tops off his “comeback season” with 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns – assuring himself as a late first-round selection as the Ducks beat the Longhorns 42-24.
And these Ducks, my friends, as the legendary Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap once said, “These go to 11.” WIN
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove