Why Oregon Is the Only Team That Can End Alabama's Dynasty
There is no denying that Nick Saban's Alabama team is on a dynasty-like run. While very few teams will be able to challenge the Tide in 2013, the Oregon Ducks have the best chance of knocking off Alabama.
How will the Ducks end King Saban's reign? There are several things that point to Oregon becoming the new powerhouse of college football's elite in 2013.
Keep an open mind and follow along as Oregon's path to glory over Alabama is revealed.
SEC Looking Human
If you don't love Les Miles, LSU's head coach, then you don't love college football. Miles embodies all that is fun and good about the game.
However, Miles' LSU team looked extremely mortal this year, especially in the end-of-season bowl, as did poll-darling Florida. And Mississippi State. South Carolina should have lost, and Steve Spurrier would probably tell you that his team was very lucky to not get beat by Michigan.
Yes, there were some nice SEC bowl victories, particularly Alabama and Texas A&M's. But overall, the SEC seemed, well, average—both during the season and in the bowls.
A big part of breaking the SEC stranglehold on the poll voters and computers is the increasing realization that the SEC was barely above average in 2012. Alabama deserves to be ranked No. 1 preseason 2013, but its supporting cast will and should be given a closer look than in the past.
The nation is on to you, SEC.
Contrast In Styles
In 2013, the offensive speed of the Ducks will be more of a weapon than ever before, and it will challenge any SEC defense.
You know Oregon was fast on offense in 2012, right? Well, add to the likes of running back and kick returner extraordinaire De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus "The Flyin Hawaiian" Mariota, guys like incoming freshman Thomas Tyner (10.38 in the 100-yard dash). Tyner has track-star speed and acceleration and will only add to the blur that is the Ducks' offense.
Tyner's competition to break into the starting lineup is sophomore Byron Marshall, who backed up Thomas and Barner in 2012 as a true freshman. While Marshall appeared to be very patient in his rushing efforts, he also showed real ability to burst through holes. He may or may not be a track guy like Tyner, but Marshall has quick feet and can be gone in an instant.
The point here is that Oregon is taking offensive speed to a new level, and the case for Alabama's defense to stop the Ducks is a weak one in 2013.
Chip Kelly vs. Nick Saban
Nick Saban is a great college football coach. He has proven over and over again that he knows what it takes to win the big ones.
But if you are looking for a coach who is changing the face of college football while you are sleeping, that man is Oregon's Chip Kelly. Kelly, by his own admission, did not invent the no-huddle, spread-option offense, but he did invent doing it at warp speed.
And Kelly's teams have been getting progressively more lethal at it as Oregon has become, not a no-huddle offense, but a no-huddle program. Yes, Oregon lost to LSU's powerful defense in 2011, but 2013 is a new day, folks, as all of the Ducks buy into Kelly's vision completely.
The innovation of what Kelly is doing to goof up traditional gap-control defenses is what sets Oregon apart.
If you load up the box to stop the run up the middle, Kelly will burn you deep. It's part athletes executing brilliantly, and part unequaled speed. So far, there are imitators—the New England Patriots, for one—but no one does it better than the Ducks.
Nick Saban knows this. Saban is afraid of Kelly, witnessed by his 2012 midseason thinly disguised preemptive strike at the Ducks' style of play. When speaking of the no-huddle offense, Saban whined: "Is this what we want football to be?"
Whether you want it or not, Nick, it's coming after you this year.
Last Seven Championships
When you look at the last seven BCS National Championship games dominated by the SEC, one thing stands out.
Only the Auburn vs. Oregon game was close—22-19. The other six championships averaged a point spread of over 17 points, and several games were blowouts.
The Ducks were one field goal away from potentially ending the SEC dominance, the only team that has come as close. The 2013 version of the Ducks will be faster, deeper and stronger on defense than that 2010 team.
It all starts, of course, with the players. Nick Saban and Chip Kelly are two great coaches, but without quality players continually coming into the program and filling the pipeline, they don't have a team.
There is no question that Alabama and the rest of the SEC have a geographical advantage when it comes to recruiting. The southeast is chock full of big ol' boys who don't want to get too far away from their momma's cooking.
But there are signs that the SEC's recruiting advantage is not quite what it once was. Players are venturing further from home, attracted by flashier programs with national TV visibility.
Oregon is now an elite program, and they are going after kids that they wouldn't have had a chance with just five years ago. Momma is opening up her kitchen to the likes of Chip Kelly, Nick Aliotti and Gary Campbell, and she apparently likes what she sees and hears.
While the Ducks still primarily recruit from the mother lodes that are California and Hawaii, youngsters from Texas (especially), North Carolina, Nebraska and Florida now increasingly dot Oregon's roster.
Maybe Chip Kelly can't walk down the street in Portland and sign three recruits like Nick Saban can do in his territory, but, make no mistake, the gap is closing.
Say one thing about USC's Matt Barkley—he made every NFL-eligible player take a serious look at declaring for the NFL Draft rather than coming back for a senior season that might disappoint.
Oregon loses All-American running back Kenjon Barner and three key defensive players—all expected to be playing on Sunday next fall. Otherwise, it returns a fairly intact squad in 2013.
The 2012 team went 12-1 and was undefeated in regulation.
With Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner now expected to depart early for the NFL, the Tide has as many as 12 starters from their 2012 team who might be saying bye-bye.
It's a tribute to Alabama's program that so many of their team will likely have opportunities in the NFL next year, but it remains to be seen if Saban has the next-guy-up players who can fill championship shoes.
Returning starters? Advantage Oregon.
Will Alabama three-peat?
There is a seismic change coming, and it's called Oregon. The Ducks have the returning players, the coaches, the scheme and the will to end the Roll Tide dynasty and, perhaps, start one of their own.
And it can't come soon enough to revitalize the national college football scene.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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