Following the big win against Michigan State last week, much of the ink spilled focused on Oregon’s suddenly clear path to the College Football Playoff. The Ducks had defeated their best opponent they would face in the regular season, and by the transitive property of college football, will win all games thereafter.
Of course, Saturday showed why making such assumptions after the second week of the season isn’t prudent; there are too many factors at work. Chip Kelly used to say that he wanted his team to not worry about outside factors, but this week those outside factors tried their hardest to think about the Ducks.
Things change too much from week-to-week in college football. Week 2’s most prosperous victors were Oregon and Virginia Tech, with both coming off wins over Top-10 teams. Letdown games following a big win are commonplace in college football, which makes it all the more baffling that their respective conferences would set them up to fail in non-conference matchups by scheduling their games the following week as early as possible. That questionable decision made it no surprise that the Ducks and Hokies trailed after the first quarter of their games by a combined score of 28-0.
It’s not as if the potential of danger for Oregon wasn’t evident. I wrote in June that Wyoming represented a potential trap game for the Ducks, and many of those reasons, the early start time and the preparation the Cowboys would bring under new head coach Craig Bohl, bared out Saturday morning.
While those factors didn’t cost Oregon its chances to win on Saturday, one factor that hadn’t been previously considered — injuries — could be the difference between the Playoff and not for the Ducks. Coaches and players will tell you that injuries frequently happen when players are tired, when their technique breaks down, and while there’s no way to know whether the early start time had any influence on injuries, it certainly didn’t do anything to prevent those injuries, either. Meanwhile, Oregon has still yet to finish a game this season without losing a starting tackle to injury, and last time I checked, there weren’t enough tackles to continue losing them at that rate.
I understand the scheduling challenges the conference faces early in the season, with trying to schedule eight games in a single day as they did Saturday, and that they have to put them all somewhere. Perhaps the logic was that putting Oregon on at 11 a.m. would make them more visible to an east coast audience when they would be the only Pac-12 team playing.
Which begs the question, if the conference is trying to push the conference’s marquee team onto an expanded audience, why would they want to present a lethargic version of it? While I understand the reluctance to continue to have the Ducks play late at night, what’s wrong with a mid-afternoon or evening game? The Pac-12’s lone home game this week at 5 p.m. was the conference’s arguably worst team playing an FCS opponent in Washington State and Portland State. Wouldn’t that have been a better timeslot to represent the conference?
I know the conference wanted the focus on the Los Angeles schools airing at that time, but had the Oregon game been on then, it would have given viewers a welcome substitute for the tepid performances put up by those schools on a national stage. Additionally, if the conference actually cared about having as many eyes on their games as possible, they might want to try a little harder at getting that DirecTV deal done.
Maybe the scheduling time might not have been smart, but once the game was scheduled, all the Ducks can do is play. As soon as the Ducks woke up, the game played out as many expected it would; strangely as a near replica of the Tennessee game from last season, also the third non-conference game of the season: An inspired opponent with a good coach comes out strong and takes a 7-0 lead, followed by Oregon running off a million unanswered points in a row (approximate) and running away with the game, all fueled by Marcus Mariota going off.
While Mariota’s performance this year wasn’t statistically comparable to last year’s 456 yard outburst against Tennessee, he was every bit as impressive, leading Bohl to say, “I don’t know if anybody here has a vote for the Heisman Trophy, but I would encourage you to take a look at your ballot for that quarterback. He’s a tremendous player and I thought he played really well today.” Mariota threw for two touchdowns, and rushed for two more, including this one that had everyone talking:
That diving touchdown may have paralyzed coaches and fans alike with fear, but if he finds his way to New York, that’s a Heisman highlight. For a humble guy such as Mariota who would never go out of his way to create a highlight for himself, for it to happen in such an organic way makes it even more real and impressive. Hopefully, plenty of college football fans saw it, because that’s the whole point of this crazy scheduling, right? If the schedule is going to be rearranged to maximize eyes on the team, better show them the best of what the Ducks have.
Top image by Craig Strobeck