Oregon is off to a hot start, but are they a true national title contender? Photo: USA Today Sports
We’ve seen this movie before.
In each of the past three seasons, Oregon has jumped out to a blazing start in September, beating mediocre opponents to a pulp with ease. Every year, we fall in love with the Ducks for this, falling for the illusion that those 45-point (or more) blowouts mean they are national championship material.
It’s happening again this year.
Chip Kelly is gone, but Mark Helfrich has the Ducks moving ahead without skipping a beat. Through September, they’ve pasted Nicholls State (who won exactly one game in FCS play in 2012), Virginia (one of the three or four worst teams in the ACC), Tennessee (arguably the worst team in the SEC), and Cal (who sits firmly in the bottom half of the Pac-12).
Talk about a gauntlet.
Face it: Oregon has done nothing so far to prove it is one of the three best teams in the country. Alabama, Clemson and Georgia have.
Oregon bakes its bread with speed, speed and more speed. Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas are the lightning rods of an offense that executes its playbook to perfection.
There’s one important trump card that a select group of teams can use against the Ducks: elite size and speed along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Since 2010, the Ducks are 35-0 against unranked teams. They are 5-4 against the AP Top 25. Those four losses came against Auburn, LSU, Stanford and USC.
What did those four teams have in common? They all had an ability to impose their will at the point of attack and control the line of scrimmage.
If Oregon is able to get the ball to the second level of the defense, forget about it. No one is stopping the Ducks’ skill players in space. There are maybe 10 teams in the country that can corral Oregon’s playmakers before they break loose and dance their way into the end zone.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no stopping Oregon. But containing them is entirely possible for the most elite teams.
Oregon’s remaining schedule includes a home date with UCLA in addition to road trips to Washington and Stanford. Of those three teams, only the Cardinal has the ability to control the box against the Ducks. An Oregon win over Stanford en route to an unbeaten season would be enough to earn them a spot in the BCS Championship Game. There’s no denying that.
But even if the Ducks get to Pasadena, they will almost certainly face the SEC Champion (there’s an outside chance that Clemson could take the other spot, but the Tigers are essentially an SEC team across the board anyway). Even in a “down” year, Alabama, Georgia or LSU’s defensive line would outclass Oregon’s offensive front. Any of those three team’s offensive lines would certainly punish Oregon’s defensive front.
In Oregon’s 40 wins since 2010, it has scored 51.3 points per game. In those four losses, they averaged 23.8.
It is entirely possible to slow down the Ducks. And there are teams who can do it.
Would Alabama, Georgia, or LSU beat Oregon 100 times out of 100? Of course not. But the scales do tip in their favor.
Until Oregon proves it can go toe-to-toe with the best the SEC has to offer and actually come out on top, let’s remember who has earned the rights to be kings of college football and give them their due.