No doubt about it, the Oregon Ducks are putting together a very special season. After the tumultuous events that played out after the fall of the program under former coach Mark Helfrich in 2016, Oregon fans must be elated about how things have turned around with current head coach Mario Cristobal. Having said that, while the Ducks are a solid football team, they are not elite … yet.
While we all want the Ducks to play perfect football to get to that great level, the cold, hard truth is, perhaps they just can’t. That’s right; the program just isn’t there yet, and there’s no shame in that. But, as the roster continues to get infused with more and more talent, they might just be there within the next couple of seasons — maybe even next year — just not now.
The offense has improved throughout the season. It’s opened up, produced more big plays, created more explosion, and generally moved away from the overly conservative, headstrong running games. In other words, more of what we like to see.
And while that’s great, there just seems to be another gear that this offense is capable of that it just can’t reach. It just feels like there should have been more points on the board against an extremely poor Arizona Wildcat defense. While the Ducks can get away with it against the likes of Arizona, leaving points on the field against the likes of Utah — let alone a future bowl or playoff opponent — could spell disaster.
The Oregon defense, while much improved this year, has had its Jekyll and Hyde moments, and isn’t at the level of the nation’s top-tier programs. For the Ducks to succeed in the postseason, it will need to be at its very best.
Kicking game. I honestly feel bad for Camden Lewis. He’s getting bashed in the media and soundboards everywhere. But if a game comes down to a field goal, well, yikes. Former kicker Adam Stack transferred after the Nevada game with little notice, and it might be nice to still have that guy around.
If Oregon wins out, then the only roadblock to making the into the final four, assuming Ohio State and Clemson take care of business, is from the SEC.
The Big 12 is the new Pac-12 (kind of joking here) — all offense, no defense, and no shot at the playoff. Short of a total meltdown by several top teams, the Big 12 has no chance to get in.
But in the SEC, the Ducks have two major scenarios to worry about:
- Alabama wins out. This would include a win over Auburn. While I’ve tried to erase it from my memory, the Ducks lost to Auburn. So, it could come down to that darn common opponent thing. In this scenario, with Tua Tagovailoa out and the Ducks securing a conference title, the Ducks would still have a chance to make it over the ‘Tide.
- The scenario we need to worry about is Georgia beating LSU in the SEC championship game. Both teams would only have one loss. Georgia gets in as the SEC champion. LSU would have a much better resume than the Ducks, having beaten three Top-10 teams paired with a better loss (Georgia) than the Ducks. Hard to believe that the Ducks would get in.
You look around this past weekend and see that Clemson and Ohio State both blew the doors off lower-end opponents, while Georgia beat Auburn at Auburn. Given our currently flawed system, we are in beauty pageant time. It’s about looking the part, and Oregon needs a little more, for lack of a better term, “oomph” in their W’s.
If the Ducks do get in, it’ll have the feeling of that 2016 Washington team, the last Pac-12 team to make it. A good but not great team, with perhaps a puncher’s chance, but a long shot. The Huskies put up a fight against Alabama in the playoff that year, but were eventually over-matched.
But hope does spring eternal. As Cristobal said after the game, “Our guys feel like we still haven’t played our best football.” If that’s true, and the Ducks can reach that top-gear and reach their fullest potential here as we hit the home stretch, then perhaps a magical run is still in the works.
The Ducks would just be scratching the surface of what’s to come.
Spokane, WashingtonTop Photo by Craig Strobeck
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
Darren Perkins is a sales professional and 1997 Oregon graduate. After finishing school, he escaped the rain and moved to sunny Southern California where he studied screenwriting for two years at UCLA. Darren grew up in Eugene and in 1980, at the tender age of five, he attended his first Oregon football game. His lasting memory from that experience was an enthusiastic Don Essig announcing to the crowd: “Reggie Ogburn, completes a pass to… Reggie Ogburn.” Captivated by such a thrilling play, Darren’s been hooked on Oregon football ever since. Currently living in Spokane, Darren enjoys flaunting his yellow and green superiority complex over friends and family in Cougar country.
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