With less than a week to go, the excitement in Eugene is palpable. At restaurants and coffee shops alike the talk is all the same. Will the Ducks crush LSU now that they are missing key players? Will Oregon be able to keep up with their injured starters out and those who are suspended?
I suspect it would be difficult to find a fan base that is more sympathetic to LSU’s recent issues than that of Oregon. In the past few off-seasons Oregon fans have become more acquainted than most ever should have to with the occasionally poor judgment of 18-22 year olds. The names and incidents can be listed off like a grocery list, we are all too familiar with their actions off the field.
But I think we should be disappointed that we are getting less than LSU’s best squad. I for one would love to be able to say we pounded LSU with our speed when they had the full starting lineup. Who’s to say we might not have learned some valuable lessons from playing a school like LSU at top performance.
All I know is, Saturday’s game is going to be a monster on the gridiron. The missing cast for the Louisiana State Bayou Bengals is growing by the day. But missing players is not the least of their problems going into this season. Their Offensive Coordinator Steve Kragthorpe had to reduce his duties from OC to Quarterbacks Coach after his diagnosis with Parkinsons Disease. Their star wide receiver Russell Shepard has been declared ineligible for violating NCAA rules, discussing his confidential interview with the NCAA regarding the ongoing Willie Lyles investigation. A recent bar brawl that resulted in the arrest and indefinite suspension of linebacker Josh Johns and senior starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Also rumors abound on LSU message boards that there may be severe knee injuries suffered by two starting senior offensive linemen, Josh Dworaczyk and WIll Blackwell, though at this time it remains solely an unconfirmed rumor.
If you were to ask LSU fans many would say they would actually rather have backup Senior QB Jarrett Lee at the helm than Jefferson anyway.
Coming into this season with a 5-4 record as a starter, he has led LSU to four fourth quarter victories throughout his career, but has also had a panache for throwing pick-six interceptions.
Many consider Jarrett Lee a better passer, but he is not a dual threat runner like JJ, who possess the exact prototype body and skill-set that has torched Oregon in recent years (Terrell Pryor, Cam Newton). Still the LSU faithful are tossed up as to which of the two they really want in the driver seat, taking a pick-your-poison approach knowing neither are the perfect fit, anticipating the team to win in spite of mixed results from the quarterback position. It is a situation much like this time last year when Oregon fans were all split between Darron Thomas and Nate Costa prior to the start of the season.
Oregon has its own issues with attrition. Projected starting middle linebacker Kiko Alonso is suspended indefinitely for an off-field incident, as is superstar Cliff Harris. While Oregon fans may point at the Ducks issues first, thinking that on paper the loss of Cliff Harris is worse for us than the loss for LSU is at QB, the media seems to think it’s LSU that is worse for wear, focusing on the newest events necessitating the greatest sympathy.
This is an interesting role reversal, as it was this same time last year that LSU opened the season with a neutral site night game vs. a North Carolina that had 14 players ruled ineligible for rules violations, and fought valiantly down to the final minute before LSU’s close victory. UNC became the media darlings, while LSU was played up in the media as the bully beating up on the less-fortunate kids, an aura that hung over their team for much of the season. Now it is LSU suffering the string of unfortunate incidents, and the broadcasters and media looking for an angle to tug at heartstrings in light of recent events may take a woe-is-me approach to LSU’s situation, neglecting the losses Oregon has suffered as well.
The losses of Harris and Alonso for Oregon are just the immediate losses on the surface, there is also tight end Curtis White out for the season with a knee injury suffered in camp, a position suddenly severely lacking in depth that was thought to be a major strength until senior Brandon Williams was forced to retire from a neck injury. The status of wide receiver Blake Cantu remains in limbo, and nobody seems to know the severity of the lingering injuries to wide receiver Josh Huff and Ricky Heimuli. As always Oregon head coach Chip Kelly refrains from talking much about injuries so a majority of this injury talk about Oregon is all speculation until gametime, as are the rumored-to-be-hurt whispers coming out LSU.
Aside from all the negative publicity both schools have been receiving, this weekend’s game in Dallas looks to be one for the ages, even with less than the 100% full rosters that were anticipated. These are two powerhouse football teams ready to go at each other for sixty minutes on Saturday night, finally after such a long wait this is the college football we have been waiting for. The pre-game speculations, the gut feelings, it’s what I have been anticipating all summer.
Some of us will be fortunate enough to see it live, a lucky few already beginning their long roadtrip to Dallas, while most will be here watching and cheering from our favorite seats thanks to a fairly uneven distribution of tickets among the two schools.
It’s getting to be that time again, time to wake up early to start smoking various fresh meats, making multiple trips to the store for the dip you forgot, or getting that extra case of beer so you don’t have to miss half the third quarter when you run out. Those are the things I am looking forward to just as much as the game itself, the little joys of gamedays in the fall, as predictable as the tides or the inevitable seven straight months of rain that follow in the latter months of the season.
In any case I think we just need to all enjoy this weekend win or lose, and be careful who we are pointing fingers at. We should hold judgement of all these guys currently in the limelight for less than stellar actions. Lets be classy in victory or dignified in defeat, because as has become familiar the last few off-seasons Oregon can find itself back in the news for all the wrong reasons at any moment, we never know who the next person will be on center stage with the press, or what our starting lineup will look like in 3 months.
Like any team, Oregon’s starting roster can change at any moment due to injury or stupidity. In previous years when Oregon has been this hyped like in 1998 and 2007 thanks to on-field play in September, the team playing by November looked drastically different, though re-hashing the events that led to that need not be repeated, it’s still painful to think about the what-ifs. Let us all simply hope for a quality hard-fought game free of injury that lives up to the immense hype surrounding it, a chance at redemption for losing by the controversial touch of a wrist eight months ago to a SEC rival of LSU, and to the victor go the spoils.
And as always GO DUCKS.
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