Over the last four years, the Oregon Ducks have averaged 11 wins per season, won a Rose Bowl, went to a National Championship and finished in the Top 10 three times.
Chip Kelly’s 2012-13 squad is better than any of those teams.
That statement is about as bold as brass (click only if you like
awesome creepy 1970s Australian music videos), but Oregon’s start to the season speaks for itself.
Seven games, seven wins. 51.0 points per game. 20.1 points per game allowed. Second in the AP and Coaches Poll. Fourth in the BCS.
If the BCS’ new playoff system was implemented this year, the Alabamas and Floridas of the world would undoubtedly be fearing Oregon’s unique system.
But because of a lack of schedule strength for the Ducks, the top teams in the nation could easily dodge this DeAnthony Thomas-ing bullet.
(I often substitute DeAnthony Thomas for the word “speed.”)
Nonetheless, just as my girlfriend likes to remind me, no one is perfect. Not Ryan Gosling (OK, that’s a lie), not Walter White, not Alabama, not even Oregon. The Ducks, just like every other team in the nation, have flawed aspects—albeit less than most teams—holding them back from the Promised Land.
Let’s take a look at the good and bad that makes up this talented team.
First and foremost, the Ducks are unique.
Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota make up one of the most feared rushing attacks in the nation.
Barner is the north-south workhorse with some breakaway speed mixed in. Thomas is all breakaway speed with a little more breakaway speed mixed in. Mariota is the efficient quarterback who has, wouldn’t you know it, some breakaway speed.
The Ducks’ rushing attack, which ranks fourth in the nation in yards per rush and rushing yards per game, is fast, versatile and unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the country. Because of that, it’s incredibly difficult to plan for.
Of course, don’t mistake this team for Air Force or Georgia Tech, either. Marcus Mariota, the former three-star recruit, looks like a future—if he’s not already—stud.
The freshman out of Hawaii has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 7.48 yards per attempt, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. His QB rating of 155.0 is third-best in the Pac-12.
But what makes this team so special is the underrated defense.
People are used to seeing the Ducks win shootouts, but this year’s version is elite on both sides of the ball. Oregon is 27th in the country in points per game allowed, 25th in yards per play allowed and most importantly, first in takeaways per game.
Imagine one of the most proficient offenses in the NFL being completely unlike any other team in the league. Then give that same team the Chicago Bears’ playmaking defense.
With that you have the Oregon Ducks.
Let’s start with the monkey wrapped around the giraffe’s neck, which is sitting on the elephant in the room; strength of schedule.
Oregon has absolutely wrecked every team it has faced, but wins against Arizona (now 1-3 in the Pac-12), Washington (1-3) and Arizona State aren’t really impressing any person or computer. It’s not a weakness of the team, per se, but it’s a weakness in the Ducks’ quest for the National Championship.
Nonetheless, two potential games against USC, one against Stanford and one at Oregon State should help the computers go "beep boop" in Oregon’s favor.
On the field, the Ducks haven’t shown very many weaknesses.
The special teams has been mediocre at best, the wide receiving corps isn't much to look at and despite the tremendous play of Mariota, you have to remember he is only a freshman. But with the way Oregon plays, those things haven’t really come into play.
The largest question mark, as always, is how will Oregon’s fast-pace offense fare against SEC teams, which tend to boast defenses that could give the Jacksonville Jaguars a run for their money.
Chip Kelly’s offense is fun to watch, but there’s a reason his type of playbook doesn’t show up in the NFL. Defenders are faster. It won’t work with the same type of efficiency against everyone, especially if Alabama is lining up on the opposite side of the ball.
The Ducks are fast and dominant in nearly every phase of the game, but the question of the unknown looms large.
After its inevitable 72-point win over Colorado at Autzen, Oregon begins its tough part of the schedule, which starts with USC in the Coliseum.
That’s when the real evaluations will begin.