I forgive you for thinking that the Ducks would return to glory in 2018. I forgive you for thinking that they would be Crist-o-ballin’ back to the Rose Bowl or maybe even the playoffs. And I forgive your twitter hyperbole and article comments of anticipatory grandeur, despite the fact that it was delusional to expect such a drastic turnaround in light of the Ducks’ recent history.
After a disaster in the 2015 Alamo Bowl, a 4-8 season the following year and getting completely worked in the Las Vegas Bowl by Boise frickin’ State, it was unrealistic to expect the Ducks to be legitimate contenders in 2018.
The Odds Weren’t In Their Favor, But the Ducks Started Off Hot
Those with more experience, and perhaps more football knowledge, cautioned that 2018 would still be a building year. They suggested that eight wins would be a good goal, and that nine or ten would be incredible, but to expect more would be unrealistic. Those wizened Oregon soothsayers instead spoke of 2019 as the year to pin one’s hopes on — if Justin Herbert were to return, that is (and return he will).
But the first three games and three quarters of the 2018 season did nothing to dispel those visions of grandeur. Early wins over “titans” Southern Utah, Bowling Green and Portland State built hype.
And the Ducks’ dominance of Stanford for about 58 minutes only stoked the fire. Then, a cluster of turnovers quenched it. Stanford’s stupid-tall tight ends (who catch balls out of bounds but get them called catches anyway) pulled out a last-minute victory in debilitating fashion.
As Jedi master Yoda would say: crushing that loss was. Hard to forget, it will be.
Then, They Nearly Went on a Run
The Ducks shook off the sting of their defeat the following week by trouncing Cal. And then the stage was set for a meeting with their hated rivals from the north, the Huskies. (Full disclosure: I’m a Husky alumnus. You can read about it here.)
It was a much awaited showdown between two ranked teams who each needed a win to keep pace in a competitive conference. Remember that epic battle? Both teams fought hard, and the scoring was back and forth all game. If not for the curse of the kicker, the Huskies probably would have escaped with a narrow victory. Instead, Oregon ran it down their throats in overtime and won in a thriller. (I just want to take a moment here to remind all readers that our record is 13-2 versus the Huskies in last 15 years).
Had the Ducks not blown their game against the Cardinal, the win against Washington would have assuredly vaulted the Ducks into the top 10.
The following week on the Palouse was an unmitigated disaster. Would it have been different if the Ducks hadn’t lost to Stanford? It’s possible. Maybe they would have tackled better. Maybe Dillon Mitchell would have caught the touchdown pass that he dropped at the end of the first half.
And things certainly would have gone differently had it not been for the Pac-12 refs. Remember when Jevon Holland intercepted the ball with under seven minutes remaining, landed on his back, and then had it ripped away on the ground by Washington State? If that play was ruled differently, maybe the Ducks would have completed the comeback.
If they could have squeaked out a win against the Cougars and not choked away their game against Stanford, the Ducks would have then been 7-0 heading into games against conference bottom-dwellers Arizona and UCLA. In other words, they easily could have gone into the Utah game undefeated.
Then They Imploded
Things didn’t play out as expected. Instead of coasting past the seemingly inferior Wildcats, the Ducks were on the opposite end of a 44-15 butt-whooping. Arizona completely shut down the Ducks’ offense that day, no excuses.
There was a lot of blame to go around, and even if they had been coming into that game following a win against Washington State, I don’t think they win even in this idealistic season rewind. The game was that bad. So instead, let’s say the Ducks are 8-1 (5-1 in conference play) going into Utah, and have dropped to the 20s in the rankings.
The Utah game started much like the Washington State game. The Utes got off to a good start, and the Ducks took a while to warm up. After many punts, one good drive and touchdown, and a missed field goal, Oregon was down 19-7 at the half. In the second half they methodically chipped away at the Utes’ lead, and finally took a 25-22 lead with just over eight minutes remaining.
But a late touchdown and field goal by Utah, along with some help from the Pac-12 refs on the final play, buried the Ducks in the end.
What Could Have Been In 2018 Suggests That the Future is Bright
Let’s assume in this fantasy look-back that Oregon still loses this game, then finishes with wins against Arizona State and Oregon State, leaving them 10-2 and Pac-12 North champs. And their opponent in the conference title game: the Utes. Who knows how that would have gone, but needless to say, with smarter play against Stanford, momentum and a few breaks against the Cougars, Oregon gets at least two more wins and is potentially playing in the Rose Bowl, or at least Alamo Bowl.
Looking back at what could have been in 2018 is cathartic, and bit fun and a bit frustrating all at the same time. It brings hope, stirs memories of depressing moments and fuels anger at the refs — so it’s pretty much like every college football conversation ever.
But with the season now in the rear view, let’s turn our gaze towards the new year. Justin Herbert and plenty of others are returning, and despite an ugly win in the Redbox Bowl, we now look forward to a potential playoff run in 2019.
Top Photo by Ernie Abrea/AmericanPresswire
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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