For many (read: non-Pac-12 fans), the Oregon Ducks were a good football program, capable of making a splash on the national scene, but never truly threatening the hallowed Big 12 and SEC ranks. Chip Kelly and his shifty, speedy team changed all of that on January 2, 2012.
After 95 years, Oregon has a Rose Bowl victory. After 10 years, Oregon has a BCS bowl victory. After two years of BCS disappointment, the Ducks have bested their bowl opponent, proving once and for all that Chip Kelly's innovative blur offense was not just flash, but lightning.
Winning the Rose Bowl against Big 10 champ Wisconsin in a down-to-the-wire shootout gave Oregon the signature victory it needed to quell doubts that a) it was an elite program capable of winning the big games and b) Chip Kelly's offense still clicks even when very good teams have time to prepare for it.
Oregon already had the hallmarks of being hailed elite. It had a top 25 recruiting class the past two years and looks to have another this year.
It has a methodical, high-profile, and genius coach in Chip Kelly, the second highest paid coach in the Pac-12 (because we all know Lane Kiffin makes more).
And it has the dubious distinction of going through an NCAA investigation, something the NCAA only bothers with when your program is truly elite (for examples see USC, OSU, and Auburn).
But in many ways Oregon's "other-ness" and what has kept it at the fringe for so long also gives its team and coach (and fans) pride.
It's quirky and tricky offense is adaptable for big gambles—something you never see in the grind-em-out style of football they play in the SEC and Big 10.
How Far Will the Ducks go in 2012?
Its Pacific Northwest rural berth in Eugene, Oregon, far removed from any power centers and major recruiting grounds, offers a chance for individuals looking to make a name for themselves without the traditional supporting comforts of family and friends living nearby.
And it's not afraid to schedule tough, out of conference opponents to prove its worth, rather than eat cupcakes like much of the SEC does to earn a higher ranking.
On that last one, it's important to note that while Oregon's OCC schedule next year is full of cupcakes (though Arkansas State did go 10-2 this year, so they are hardly pushovers), they didn't do that by choice. Kansas State backed out of their home-and-home contract, forcing the Ducks to scramble for a replacement. At the same time, the SEC East Champs, Georgia, have pulled out of their own contractual showdown with the Ducks.
So that's the other thing about being an elite: other elite programs fear you, while up-and-comers want to play you to prove their worth (read: USC - sure, they already are elite, but beating out the three time Pac-12 champs would make their return to the top echelons of college football complete).
So get ready, Oregon fans. 2012 is going to be fun.