Oregon’s loss to Georgia is going to sting for quite some time to come, as bad losses always do. But this wouldn’t be the first time Oregon lost its season opener only to end the year competing in a major bowl game and a walking away with an overall successful season. I pulled Mr. FishDuck away from his NFL lines to do some pleasant comparisons to Oregon teams of the past with him.
In 2009, Chip Kelly lost not only the season-opening game but his first game as Oregon’s head coach to Boise State. That season ended with Oregon winning the Pac-10 title and making an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Oregon lost to Ohio State, but the program was on the rise.
Then in 2011, the Kelly-led Ducks lost their opening game against LSU 27-40 in a pretty bad defeat to an SEC powerhouse, granted not as bad as our recent loss to Georgia. The Ducks rallied through the year and ended up playing in the Rose Bowl again — and this time, Oregon defeated a Russell Wilson-led Wisconsin team.
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Fast-forward to 2019: Oregon loses to Auburn, led by Bo Nix of all people, in the season-opening game at another “neutral site.” As the season progressed, it looked like Oregon could very well make the playoff, though our second loss of the season to ASU ended up killing that dream. Oregon did defeat Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game and blocked the Utes from making the playoff. That win sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl where they beat the Wisconsin Badgers yet again for another Rose Bowl victory.
Out of the last four Rose Bowl appearances, Oregon has lost three of those seasons’ opening games. Of those three games, the two Rose Bowls that Oregon won were seasons where Oregon lost to an SEC opponent to start the season. Those opening games were body blows that produced important takeaways. They were unpleasant to experience for fans, coaches and players alike — but the team learned major lessons from those games.
But this loss to Georgia was far worse than any of those other examples. However, Georgia is probably one of the Top 2 teams in the country (along with Alabama). Those two teams have the best rosters in all of College Football, and with NIL dollars flowing freely, the gap between the haves and have-nots is only widening. Where does Oregon fall on this spectrum? Oregon is one of the haves, but even among the haves there is a massive talent gap between the Ducks with a very good roster and Georgia with a roster that could probably compete with some of the bottom-tier NFL teams.
Georgia didn’t get there overnight. either. Kirby Smart arrived at Georgia in 2016 and it took him until 2021 to have a top-to-bottom roster that could win a National Championship. In 2022 it is clear he has reloaded the roster. The coaches at Georgia know their roles in the program, and Smart knows exactly how he wants his program to function. Dan Lanning is in his first year as a head coach, and he is still working out just how he wants his program to look. Lanning will have to make changes. That is just part of the process.
Reaching the Rose Bowl is Still an Achievement
With the College Football Playoff taking most of the post-season limelight, the Rose Bowl doesn’t seem anywhere near as good of a reward for a successful season. Last year Ohio State had several star players sit out of the “granddaddy of them all” to avoid injury or hurting their draft stock because the Rose Bowl is now not considered worth the risk. But for Utah, it was the best bowl game they have played in since the 2009 Sugar Bowl. These New Years Six Bowl Games are still good games and still achievements for a hard season.
This first game of the Lanning era is important, and it would have been just as important if Mario Cristobal opted to stay at Oregon — and if Cristobal had opted to stay Oregon, the Ducks would still probably have lost just as badly. Playing Georgia shows just where Oregon is right now, and how far Oregon has to go in order to win a National Championship. In order to win the biggest game of the year, Oregon has to be able to beat the best teams in the country.
The Ducks may or may not be going to the Rose Bowl; it is simply too early in the season to tell. The whole season is still ahead of us. We don’t know how it is going to end, but shouldn’t we wait and see what Lanning has to offer through the whole season before declaring the entire season lost?
Top Photo By Amazing Moments Photography
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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