The closer it gets, the more fathomable the dream of a title becomes. Win the final two regular season games against arguably the conference’s two worst teams. Get healthy, then a neutral-site matchup against whoever emerges from that clustered South division in a stadium that the Ducks are the only college football team to ever win a game in the building’s history. After that, it’s the Playoff where anything can happen, and given that Oregon’s style is conducive to momentum and after that, who knows…
Let’s take a breath. While I will avoid reminding everyone again of the 2007 parallels, I repeatedly come back to them for this reason: For all the bizarreness of that season, what made that season memorably bizarre was not just how it started, but how it ended. When it felt like the public was finally getting a sense of how things might play out, the chaos refused to turn off, staying present to the season’s final games.
That year, much like this one, no dominant team influenced the landscape, making luck and timing just as significant factors as the quality of a team in the postseason picture. Coming off a week in which the nation’s only remaining undefeated power conference team dropped in the playoff rankings after a win, and the #1 team in the country was a ten-point underdog (and as evidenced by the game itself, rightly so), the season can take its share of turns. It will ebb and flow, things will get weird, and whichever team can best keep its head is likely to come out on top.
While the “Win the Day” philosophy is designed to mitigate these emotional swings for the Ducks, fans have been slightly more susceptible to the emotional swings in response to the natural ebb and flow of a season.
To help review how long a season can really be, let’s revisit the ups and down of this season, and what we’ve learned since.
September 7, 2014
Group Mindset Then: There’s no reason Oregon can’t go undefeated, having just defeated its biggest obstacle on the way to the Playoff.
What We Know Now: That obstacles beyond the quality of your opponent can affect a game or season; that Michigan State might not be as good as we thought.
How I Felt Then: I remember thinking at the time, mathematically, that logic makes sense. Oregon would be better than every remaining opponent on its schedule (which remained true). Things happen over the course of the season; Oregon’s only undefeated regular season was in 2010 when the Ducks had amazing luck with health, at this point in the season Oregon had already lost Bralon Addison, Tyler Johnstone and Andre Yruretagoyena. Penciling in ten more regular season wins felt premature, which it turned out to be.
October 3, 2014
Group Mindset Then: Things are a disaster. This is the end of Oregon as an elite program. Some speculate the Ducks hired the wrong coach.
What We Know Now: If a team’s offensive tackle depth is reduced to a true freshman and a former walk-on, it can impair its chances to win a game. However, what really hurts its chances is when the officials give the opposing team seven chances to score on goal-to-go in the final minutes of a football game because of how they interpret bowing. Also, the loss appears to have had the effect of waking the Ducks up and putting them in their current groove.
How I Felt Then: While I remember leaving the stadium furious (because of the officials) and concerned (because of the exposed flaws), the loss itself held very little concern for me. It was already evident it was a wide open year, and that a single loss in all probability wouldn’t doom a team. Turns out, that’s been exactly the case, as Oregon could potentially be #1 as of Tuesday evening.
November 11, 2014
Group Mindset Then: Now #2 in the nation with the North clinched and only one (likely) ranked opponent remaining before bowl season, little stands between the Ducks and the Playoff.
What We Know Now: Three of the top six teams in the country lost (or should have, in the case of Florida State) on Saturday. With the only team ranked ahead of Oregon losing, the Ducks could be #1…or #3.
How I Felt Then (and Now): There is so much football left to be played.
One more date to remember: December 1, 2007.
That was the final Saturday of that crazy season. Missouri and West Virginia were ranked first and second going into that day, and if both won, they would play for the National Championship.
Yet neither did. Missouri was blown out by Oklahoma (which accounted for its only two losses that year) in the Big 12 Championship (Remember that event?) while West Virginia was upset by its rival Pitt (4-7 going into the game) by a score of 13-9.
But that day was also the last time the Ducks lost the Civil War. That day in 2007 paired with Arizona State’s loss last night and it all serves as one very important reminder. That nothing is certain, and a rival, no matter its record, can take a team down. Especially if it has already proven that it can do it.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Oregon’s chances over the next few weeks, and no reason why the Ducks don’t have as good a chance as any other team in college football to be left standing at the end. But in a year in which anything can happen, anything just might, for bad or for good. All we can do is wait to see how it all unfolds.
Top image by Craig Strobeck.