The Oregon Ducks are now ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS polls after Alabama’s loss, but it means nothing to Chip Kelly and his football program.
Perhaps the rest of the sporting world may have their weighty fingers on the pulse of Eugene, Ore., and with good reason. ESPN College GameDay is making their way back to the damp roads of the Pacific Northwest this Saturday for Oregon's matchup with No. 13 Stanford, and the green swoosh-imprinted mesh jerseys are rapidly swarming off racks in Nike stores across America.
But for the fans of the University of Oregon, receiving No. 2 in the BCS is as abstract a concept as time itself. In fact, the ranking is a lot like a clock: a defined comment on where the program is at this point in the world.
At 13 straight games, the Oregon Ducks hold the longest win streak in the nation. The names “Kenjon” and “Mariota” are currently being thrown by media pundits around talk shows, attached to these immortal words: Heisman candidate. Today is the highest that the program has been ranked since January 10th, 2011, when the team played for a national championship against Auburn, and now Las Vegas oddsmakers have the team as the favorite to win the title this year with 1:1 odds.
But none of this should matter to Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks.
Chip Kelly’s mantra has always been a simple, perhaps even culturally recycled key phrase: win the day.
That’s what got the Oregon Ducks to a title game in 2010, and that’s what helped the Oregon Ducks win a Rose Bowl in 2011. The program is doing nothing different this year: same spread offense, same blur scheme and the same flashy Nike jerseys that capture social media by storm each and every Saturday to the envy of other programs across the nation.
If you squint hard enough and lean in just right, you can almost mistake Oregon Coach Chip Kelly for the legendary poetry teacher, John Keating, from Dead Poet’s Society (1989). The two guru minds are hardly different in their inspirational manner of approach.
So long as the Ducks are ranked within the top two in the nation after “winning out” against Stanford, Oregon St. and in the Pac-12 Championship, like the 2010-2011 team, they too will play for the title this year.
“They're not that different from you, are they?” exclaimed the character portrayed by Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society, almost impeccably applicable to a comparison between the last run at the title the Ducks had in the 2010-11 season and this year. “Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you.”
The team and city of Eugene are undoubtedly growing hyped for an unconfirmed future. The road to glory and immortality are certainly familiar, and this year the BCS National Championship game will be held in Florida on January 7th, the exact day that the students of the University of Oregon will be returning for winter term of their quarter system.
But the Oregon Ducks are not invincible.
Last time the Ducks played for the title was January 10th, 2011. There are plenty of players on the current roster, including star running back Kenjon Barner, who would remember what it felt like to take the team to their first title appearance in program history.
In the time that has passed, however, the dynamics and core of the team have shifted completely, and the Ducks are blessed with a certain hint of undeniable inexperience in a “big game” setting.
Then Heisman candidate running back LaMichael James now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive star Casey Matthews is a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Quarterback Darron Thomas lives in Calgary and moved on to the Canadian Football League.
The Houston Texans recently cut wide receiver Jeff Maehl from their roster, and the Philadelphia Eagles cut former Oregon corner back Cliff Harris nearly a year after he was dismissed from the University of Oregon program.
Unfortunately, the Oregon Ducks fell to an elite SEC program as Cam Newton led Auburn to a BCS National Championship victory. Their progress, however, was not lost in vain.
“But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you,” continued Williams, now almost mirroring what the ghosts of 2011’s past may have said to this year’s roster. “Listen, you hear it? .....Carpe..... hear it? Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
There’s a lot to be learned about the progress and leaps that the 2010-2011 team helped the program make, but the work is not done for the youthful 2012-13 roster. Under the leadership of Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, major sparks to the successes of the current season, the Ducks have a goal in mind.
All that they need to do is win the day.
This weekend, the University of Oregon football program has their biggest test of the season in the Pac-12 North rival Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford may showcase true freshman Kevin Hogan at QB in his first ever away game in the absence of Josh Nunes, but Oregon’s defense is especially banged up. Rumors are circulating (via oregonlive.com) that De’Anthony Thomas may even get some reps on defense with the recent loss of Avery Patterson. Taylor Hart will be missing time as well.
The lack of defensive depth may even lead to backup QB Bryan Bennett seeing some time at safety as well.
While Oregon's offense has been impressive, their defense may be tested this week.
On the other side of the ball, fans will be most entertained by a real defensive threat for Oregon. Oregon has the third best rushing attack in the nation (325 yards per game), and they'll face their biggest test of the season against the country's best run defense (58.6 yards per game). The Cardinal have allowed only 17.2 PPG, which is the 12th best in NCAAF. Oregon has scored 105 points in their last two games alone, and feature the highest scoring average in the league with 54.8 PPG on the year.
This is the highest ranked team that Oregon has played this year, but the Ducks have won nine of their last 10 matches in the series. Stanford comes to Eugene and will play Oregon at Autzen Stadium at 5:00 PM PST; the game will be shown on ABC.
If the Oregon Ducks hope to make another trip to the title, they’ll have to win the day when Stanford comes to town. It’s a good time to be a fan of the Oregon Ducks.
And that’s entirely what being ranked No. 2 means to Oregon.