In my very first article for FishDuck, I wrote about why Oregon would be the team to save the Pac-12 Conference. I wrote that this would require Oregon getting to the playoff and making it to the National Championship Game. But this year, with all of the unexpected setbacks from COVID-19, we have to settle for a non-playoff New Years Six game.
It was announced on Sunday that Oregon would be competing in the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State. This will be the first time these two teams have met on the field.
This year, for most teams in the Pac-12, it doesn’t make sense to expose players to the stresses of additional practices, game prep and travel involved in a bowl game. It is better for most of the bowl-eligible programs to shut down their football program for player health and wait until the spring to restart practice.
So with all this chaos, and in a year when games only matter to the winners, why should Oregon bother with the Fiesta Bowl?
The Pac-12 Needs Oregon to Win the Fiesta Bowl
Sure it is a New Year’s Six game and comes with a much-needed monetary payout in a year in which all schools are dealing with budget shortfalls, but it isn’t a playoff game. Furthermore, it is against only the second-best team from the Big-12, which is all the more reason why Oregon needs to win.
Oregon is coming off its second consecutive Pac-12 Championship, which is important to the program on many levels — from growing Oregon’s reputation as the leader of the Pac-12, to recruiting, to building a culture of winning throughout the program. It also helped to justify Mario Cristobal’s recent contract extension.
However, the Pac-12 Championship doesn’t hold a lot of meaning to the rest of the country. To the rest of the county, the Pac-12 Champion is merely the best team from a conference that is becoming a college football backwater. This is especially true in 2020, where the Pac-12 was the last conference to start its football season and was given little hope of reaching the playoff with such a reduced schedule.
In a normal year, a New Year’s Six win is important for a program and the conference. But this year it is even more important, as the Pac-12’s non-conference record currently stands at 1-0 (Colorado defeated San Diego State from the Mountain West Conference).
Normally, non-conference games are measuring sticks used to determine how each conference matches up to the others. With no non-conference Power Five match-ups to date, and Oregon and Colorado being the only two teams going bowling this year, the conference is desperate for national attention.
Oregon needs to play in the Fiesta Bowl and win it — not just for themselves, but for the Pac-12.
Building Up for Next Year
2020 has been a disappointing year for Ducks fans, and though we are thrilled to have won the Pac-12 Championship, it will always leave fans wondering what could have been. Despite all the difficulties of this year, the youngest team in the country has grown. New leaders have finally emerged, and this past week Oregon signed its best recruiting class in history. Oregon is primed for years of success.
A Fiesta Bowl victory would create hype for the 2021 Oregon team, a team that would be returning a majority of its starting talent and one that could make a run at the playoff. The offseason hype would only help Oregon coaches build on recent recruiting success. This hype is made even more important given that in-person contact with recruits looks unlikely until the summer due to the pandemic.
As Oregon continues to build they must win major bowl games to sustain their upward trajectory. College football talent is becoming more and more concentrated in just a few top teams. Oregon needs to prove it can be one of those teams in order to recruit the players that will put them in the national championship conversation.
Winning a championship is Cristobal’s end goal, and every year he needs to put Oregon in playoff contention. Only then will the Pac-12’s reputation begin to recover.
Oregon hasn’t been remotely close to playoff-caliber this year, but with a Fiesta Bowl win, could they be next year?
Top Photo By: University of Oregon Athletics
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.
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