Recently I was chewing the fat with a friend of mine up here in Spokane. He was rambling on and on about how this was the year that the Gonzaga Men’s Basketball team was going to win it all; all the pieces were in place, this was it!
As an Oregon fan, I found it hard to conjure up any sympathy for him. You can probably already guess why.
While the Ducks, unlike the Gonzaga Bulldogs, did not have all the pieces in place to win it all, does anyone doubt that Payton Pritchard would have taken the Ducks on a wild ride? One that would have taken them deep into the NCAA tournament?
Pritchard, the first-team All-American and Pac-12 player of the year is the picturesque example of how a player is to develop over his four years in college. In our era of one-and-done, he is a throwback to a more innocent time. To cap off his senior year, no doubt, there was one more magical wave of the wand to cast upon Oregon fans.
The ultimate robbery. If my Spokane buddy felt robbed about his Gonzaga team’s chance at a title, then multiply that by 10 for fans of the Oregon women’s team. The Final Four was a given, with, in my humble opinion, a 75% chance to win it all.
Led by arguably the best college player of all time in Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks had three players drafted in the top 8 selections of the WNBA Draft. They had a great post player (Ruthy Hebard), an outstanding wing (Satou Sabally), and possibly the best point guard of all time (Ionescu). It was to be the ultimate fairy tale season for the Ducks and their destiny.
Maybe there will be a season; maybe there will not. Even if there is and the Ducks have great success, it just already feels as though the whole season comes with one great big asterisk. Sure, the Ducks have questions at quarterback and offensive line, but given their recent recruiting success, the Ducks are officially a “reload” program, not a “rebuild” program.
The defense, led by the best backfield in the country, would be stout. Toss in some uber-talented, albeit young, players along the front seven. Then, sit back and watch them run wild as the offense under new OC Joe Moorhead and quarterback Tyler Shough find their footing and then explode onto the scene.
Please, 2020, throw us a bone. Give us a little magic. While I do hold out a small amount of hope for something positive, I am preparing for the worst.
But, who knows? Perhaps, like the 2001 football team, we are better off not knowing. While we clamored for the Ducks to make the National Championship game that year, it is possible that the Joey Harrington-led team would have gotten destroyed by those NFL talent-laden Miami Hurricanes.
Perhaps in 2020, the men’s team does not make it out of the opening weekend, the women’s team gets upset, and the football team flounders to a 7-5 season.
But I doubt it. That 2001 football team was in a different era. Back then, there was a sense of, “Will we ever get this close again?” At the time, Oregon was an up-and-comer, and that’s just not the Ducks anymore.
In 2020, The Ducks are expected to do well. Oregon, in college’s three biggest sports, is built for sustained success and is in the process of becoming elite, if the Ducks are not there already (it’s women’s hoops who probably hang a banner this year). So, odds are at least one or two of them, if not all three, would have lived up to expectations in 2020.
So here’s to 2021 (or whenever) when I expect the men’s basketball team to make a March Madness run, the women’s team to compete for a natty, and the football team to win the Pac-12 and compete for the CFP.
Oregon athletics: where our sense of, “Will we ever get this close again?” is always just a calendar year away.
Top photo credit: Tom Corno
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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