Why Isn't Oregon's Chip Kelly in the Conversation of Best Football Coaches?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterOctober 5, 2012

The SEC's dominance in college football is well documented. Six consecutive BCS championships speak volumes about how the conference's West division has had a stranglehold over the rest of the college football landscape.

The 2012 Oregon Ducks look like the best team to ever come out of Eugene, but few people are talking about them or head coach Chip Kelly's phenomenal record since taking over the team in 2009. 

Why is that?

Nick Saban has won two BCS championships in three years while coaching at Alabama. Let's not forget that he has a BCS hat trick; he won his first BCS championship while coaching the 2003 LSU Tigers.

Saban is the most powerful coach in sports, according to Forbes. Who can argue? Rarely do you hear a coach chide reporters about how they've written articles. Rarely do you hear reporters remain quiet while getting their rear ends handed to them on a platter. 

That's the power of Nick Saban. Sometimes, he doesn't even need to speak. A cursory glare with a slightly grimaced face sends the message loud and clear. 

He's almost too good for the college level, but he hasn't given any indication that he may return to the NFL. Until (when) that happens, we are all just mere witnesses to his greatness. 

Les Miles, too, has a lot of status in the world of football, but for different reasons.

True, he has won a BCS championship, but naysayers will point out he accomplished that with his predecessor's players, aka Nick Saban's recruits.

Sill, Miles has had his Tigers play in three BCS championships since the 2003 season. More impressive is that it only took Miles three years to win his first BCS championship.

Miles is a cult hero. He snacks on grass, drops the ball when watching the game clock and wins games with a lucky clover dangling over his visor. He confounds critics and makes arguments for his team's worthiness with unabashed arrogance. 

Undefeated in regulation. That was Miles' argument—at the reported suggestion from his wife—for why his 2007 squad should play in the BCS championship.

It worked.

Instant hero status was invoked on Miles when the Tigers beat the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, 38-24. 

Unlike Saban, Miles' teams have played down to the level of their opponents yet somehow have managed to win against teams like Towson. It's frustrating, but predictable, and, in the end, Miles is a winner.

Urban Meyer's legacy as a winner is sealed. Meyer's Utah Utes became the first non-automatic qualifying team to go to a BCS bowl. His 2004 squad ending up beating Pittsburgh, 35-7.

His next six years were spent in Gainesville, Fla., where he produced a Heisman Trophy winner and a 5-1 bowl record, including two BCS championships. Like Saban, it took Meyer four years to win his first BCS championship.  

Oregon, under head coach Chip Kelly, has been the new heavyweight in the Pac-12. Kelly's record is 39-6, not bad for only three-and-a-half year's worth of work.

The Ducks have made three consecutive BCS bowl appearances (1-2), playing twice in the Rose Bowl and once in the BCS National Championship. Remarkably, Chip Kelly has become the invisible man to the national media.

Maybe it's because his personality is so undefined. He's actually a pretty nice guy who has a great sense of humor, but most media east of the Mississippi River wouldn't know that. They're too busy fawning over more colorful SEC characters who remain abundant and ripe for sound bites. 

Maybe it's because he hasn't really won anything. Duck fans will point out they're three-time Pac-12 champions. But only once were the BCS pollsters impressed enough with that title to eventually send Oregon on to the Big Dance, where it lost to Auburn, 22-19.

Oregon beat Wisconsin, 45-38, in last season's Rose Bowl, but it lost to Ohio State, 26-19, in the Rose Bowl two years prior. Maybe that's the problem.

The SEC has dominated the Big Ten in BCS bowls, 3-1. Last year's Sugar Bowl win by Ohio State has been vacated, while the Ducks have gone 1-1 in Rose Bowls against the Big Ten. If you can't dominate a conference that has been dominated by the best conference in the country, you lose your swag.

There's also the "defense wins championships" argument that has undermined Oregon's unspoken request for respect. Last year's BCS champion, Alabama, had the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in the country, yielding an average 8.2 points a game. Oregon's average was a tad higher at 24.6. 

For football enthusiasts, defensive numbers impress while offensive numbers don't. In the 2008 Sugar Bowl, 12-0 Hawaii took on the 10-2 Georgia Bulldogs. Hawaii was averaging 43.4 points per game, and fans wondered how the Bulldogs would be able to handle the Rainbows' prolific offense.

Georgia won 41-10.

The Ducks have a better defense than most fans realize, but a lot of fans don't stay up to watch a Saturday night game at 10:30 p.m. ET.

A cursory look at a score the next day can be very misleading. In the Ducks' 57-34 win over Arkansas State, Kelly pulled his starters at the beginning of the third quarter with the score at 50-0. But how many voters, blissfully asleep when the game ended, even knew that?  

The bias against the Ducks is nothing new. They've come out with highlighter-yellow and neon-green uniforms that defy the senses and irritate traditionalists. They scream, "Look at me!" In their one chance to finally get the respect of the national media and SEC fans, the Ducks faltered against Auburn.

We looked away. 

Chip Kelly was sent back to Eugene, while the SEC continued its march to the beat of  5-0. Now 6-0.

The Ducks lost at LSU in its season opener last year—again, with a huge national audience watching—and against USC last November before going on to win the Pac-12. The Ducks look like the favorites to win the North this year, but they still have to beat USC at least once. 

Chip Kelly has had three incredible years, and his teams have looked better each year. This year may be his best team yet. Beat USC, win the Pac-12 championship and the BCS championship, and Chip Kelly's name will be whispered among the greats.

A slow, methodical climb to the top is something that earns that legacy label.

A one-and-done won't do it. Just ask Gene Chizik. 

Les Miles did it in three years. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer did it in four.

Chip Kelly could finally be mentioned among the great BCS-era coaches in 2012, his fourth year.


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