The Oregon Ducks won nine football games in 2018.
The overwhelming majority of pre-season predictions had the team at either eight or nine wins. A few fan sites (I’m looking at you, FishDuck.com comments section) were certain the team was destined for ten wins, but the majority of people thought eight or nine would be progress considering a third head coach in Eugene in three years.
So why, after the ninth win of the season, does this year feel like such a disappointment?
The buzz that Mario Cristobal built around this team throughout fall camp was incredible. This felt like a national championship contender during camp, with reports that the defense was nothing short of dangerous and that Justin Herbert was on track to win a few trophies at the end of the season.
Those expectations were shattered when the Ducks went down 10-0 with 5:10 left in the first quarter of their first game at home. Suddenly people were on Twitter asking if the team would make a bowl game, or beat a conference opponent.
The Ducks came back and won after some video-game numbers by Herbert and the non-conference schedule never really tested the team again.
Overall, the first quarter of the regular season only saw the Ducks succeed in showing how poorly its pass catchers were going to play throughout the year.
Expectations drastically changed by halftime of the Stanford game. A conference opener against a rival at home and the Ducks were up 24-7. Late in the third fans were on the verge of exploding with excitement as Oregon walked down to the goal line looking to score and put the home team in clock management the rest of the game.
Cue a botched snap, resulting in an easy fumble recovery for a score for the Cardinal. Suddenly a 10 point lead didn’t feel safe.
This was, of course, followed by a punt. And a quick touchdown by the Cardinal.
The rest is history.
Unfortunately, it seems that season expectations never recovered from the high point with three minutes remaining in the third quarter against Stanford.
A mostly forgettable road win at Cal followed the devastation of the Stanford loss.
But then a bye week came and Washington came to Autzen Stadium for the first time since the horrific defensive performance of 2016. The single game that, in my opinion, led to Mark Helfrich being fired at the end of the season.
A stunning victory over the Ducks’ biggest rival felt like a springboard to a conference championship. Who else was going to challenge the team that out-muscled the reigning conference champions?
If the Stanford game showed that Oregon had the talent to win at an elite level, the Washington game showed that they had the coaching to compliment that talent.
Dillon Mitchell was a star, CJ Verdell was the next big thing at running back, Herbert was the best QB in the country, and the defense could stop the most prolific backfield in Washington History.
The media deemed the team dark-horse playoff contenders, the team bought the hype, and nothing could stand in their way.
When Did it all Fall Apart?
The “Nightmare at Martin Stadium,” as it should henceforth be known, took place the week after the emotionally draining Washington game.
Neither the offense or defense looked like they realized they were playing a football game, and the halftime score of 27-0 versus Washington State reflected as much.
They couldn’t overcome the slow start and the awful play followed them to Arizona the following week.
The team that played in these two games was the team from the fourth quarter against Stanford. The team that couldn’t stop anyone and could be stopped by anyone. Any momentum gained by the Washington win was gone, along with any hopes of contention for a conference crown.
After all was said and done the 2018 Oregon Ducks were exactly what most thought they were: a team with a good offensive line, a good quarterback, and a good pass rush. The only surprises seemed to be that the defensive secondary seemed better at catching than the actual pass catchers on offense.
If you asked most of the fan base before the season if nine wins, including victories against Washington and Oregon State, as well as a bowl win against a power-five opponent, would be sufficient, I think most would have been content.
But the coming out parties during the Stanford and Washington games raised the bar to contention or bust. Ultimately, while that may cause some mild disappointment this season, this is a good thing for the long-term trajectory of the program under Coach Cristobal.
Nonetheless, this team met preseason expectations to a “T” and the fan base has a reason to be grateful this holiday season for the first time in years. Cherish it, because next season kicks off with Auburn, and doesn’t get easier from there.
Top Photo Credit: Brian Kaisk
Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.
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