It was not too long ago that many were predicting an easy road to another Pac-12 Title and BCS National Championship for the Oregon Ducks.
There was a time, just about a month ago, that many college football fans and analysts saw the USC Trojans as the only roadblock to further Oregon glory.
A streak of four home games to open the season, coupled with the fact that the Ducks would not see USC until Nov. 3, had led many to believe that the Ducks could easily waltz through their Pac-12 schedule without stressing too much about their opponents.
And, for the most part, that assumption was previously correct.
There was no denying it; Oregon's schedule was pretty easy to start off the season.
Home games against Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to open the season never presented any strain to a Duck team that is expected to be one of the best in the nation.
Following those three games were a home game against Arizona, a game "at" Washington State in Seattle, a home game against Washington before the Ducks' bye of the 2012 season.
As mentioned before, none were too concerned about what could come out of these early games.
Even later on in the season, save for USC, many Oregon fans were not afraid of the schedule the Ducks would be facing.
Other than USC, the Ducks' most formidable opponent still looked to be Stanford. After Stanford and USC, however, the Ducks' schedule was laughable.
Games against Arizona State, Colorado, California and Oregon State were all thought to be easily winnable for the Ducks, resulting in a uniquely easy path to their second straight Pac-12 Championship Game.
All of these assumptions were based on the fact that there was so much uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12 entering the season.
As was publicized by the media last year, the 2011 version of the Pac-12 was not that good. Other than USC, Oregon and Stanford, the other Pac-12 teams were mediocre at best. And, with a few high profile quarterbacks (Nick Foles and Andrew Luck immediately come to mind) departing for the NFL, many believed the Pac-12 would struggle more in 2012 than they did in 2011.
Teams such as Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Oregon State all had auras of uncertainty surrounding them and what would happen in 2012, thus leading many to discount these teams as potential contenders in the Pac-12.
But now, two weeks into the college football season, all of those prior assumptions of Oregon's easy path to another Pac-12 Championship Game have been rewritten.
While games against Tennessee Tech, Washington State and Colorado still represent fairly easy contests for the Ducks, the other games have become a lot more interesting for the sole reason that teams are beginning to establish their identities.
It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Pac-12 had one of its best weekends in recent history this past weekend. Oregon State beat No. 13 Wisconsin, Arizona took down the No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowboys, and UCLA outlasted the No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Yes, this was a great weekend for the Pac-12.
This was also a weekend that completely changed how Duck fans view their 2012 football schedule.
A schedule that was once considered to be one of the easiest in Duck football recent history now has become a lot more interesting, quickly waking fans' anticipation for the Ducks' 2012 Pac-12 games to commence.
Arizona has shown that they can play ball under Rich Rodriguez, Oregon State flashed a stout defense against a powerful Wisconsin team, and Arizona State kept putting up big numbers on offense en route to a big blowout over Illinois.
Yes, the Ducks' 2012 schedule has gotten a lot more interesting, and it will all begin with Arizona in just over a week and a half.
No longer can Duck fans look at their schedule and say that USC is the only tough game on their 2012 schedule.
Now, after teams have established their identities, the Ducks look at their schedule and see a bevy of opponents that will be playing for a legitimate shot at an upset.
Pac-12 games against Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, California, USC, Stanford and Oregon State will all make great competition for the Ducks for the rest of the season.
To say the Ducks have an easy schedule in 2012 would be true no more.
Adding to the increase in Pac-12 competition and toughness of Oregon's schedule is the fact that the Ducks have already been riddled with two big losses that could be exploited by more talented teams.
The unfortunate loss of John Boyett and Carson York, both senior stars, for the rest of the season is huge for the Ducks. While there are talented players behind them that can make an impact, it is always hard to replace the production of senior players, especially when you are talking about replacing two of the most productive and heralded players on the Oregon team.
Expect Pac-12 teams to exploit both of these absences and try to figure out ways to make these reserve players prove they can play against top-tier competition.
And so, Oregon fans, it is now time to rally around your Duck football team more than ever. The Pac-12 is looking to be the most competitive it has been in recent years, and the Ducks will need your support at both home and away games to navigate what is now a difficult Pac-12 schedule.
Rumors have already started that Autzen Stadium is not what it used to be. People have begun to say the noise and passion just isn't there anymore. While the sellout streak continues, it does so just barely.
My call to you, Oregon fans, is one of recognizing that this 2012 season may be one that defines your team for years to come. To say that this season is quickly becoming one of the most important in school history may be an understatement.
The Ducks have the opportunity to become a college football dynasty and will need all of your support to become one.
So get out there, be loud, be obnoxious and support the team more than ever as they rise to new heights and try to conquer what is now an intimidating Pac-12 schedule.
They may just need it.
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