When you think of a balanced team, you think of a team that is equally strong on both sides of the ball.
There is a lot of balance in the Pac-12—without a couple of teams—yet the league just doesn't get the credit it deserves when it comes to analysts and fans declaring which conferences play well both offensively and defensively, and which, well...don't.
The Pac-12 has been erroneously accused of being a pass-happy conference that plays no defense by fans that simply don't understand the cause-and-effect of playing against prolific offenses.
The SEC is known for its stingy defenses throughout the league, and it has a strong case for that perception—but if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that SEC teams with outstanding defenses still have a hard time stopping a prolific offense.
Alabama's defense was ranked No. 1 in the country last year yielding an average of 250 yards per game—that's very impressive. But how did the Crimson Tide's defense do against the top-ranked offense of Texas A&M, which averaged 558 yards per game?
The Aggies mustered up 418 yards of total offense and beat the 'Tide 29-24. While Alabama did hold Texas A&M below its average of 558 yards, the Crimson Tide's average defensive yield of 250 yards-per-game was also blown out of the water.
The point is, when a team faces an offensive juggernaut, that team's defensive stats are going to take a hit.
This brings us back to the Pac-12.
Several teams in the Pac-12 played equally well both offensively and defensively last season—Stanford and Oregon State probably stood out more than most. But one team didn't get nearly the credit it deserved.
That team is the Oregon Ducks.
On paper, the Ducks' defense looks mediocre at best, but there's a reason for that—then-head coach Chip Kelly regularly inserted his reserves in the third and fourth quarters of games that for all intents and purposes, were over by the half. That, of course, resulted in points being scored on the Ducks.
Oregon's season opener against Arkansas State is a perfect example of how stats don't always show the real story. At first look, that 57-34 final score conjures up images of an offensive free-for-all on the field. But Oregon was leading Arkansas State 50-0 at the half before its reserves gave up 34 points in the second half. Unfortunately, many fans didn't tune in to watch the game and relied on a news ticker's final score flash as their only data to get a first impression of the game.
Naturally, the Ducks' scoring defense took a hit in national rankings but as we've shown, that's not indicative of how much a rout that game really was. The same thing happened the following week when Oregon played Fresno State—the final score was 42-25 in favor of Oregon, but the halftime score was 35-6.
Those teams were not from the Pac-12, but the points scored by those two teams lowered the Ducks' scoring defense rankings. And that's an important thing to remember for all the stat heads who only look at charts and graphs when evaluating a team's performance.
Oregon lost to Stanford 17-14 but consider this: Stanford's offense averaged 27.9 points per game in 2012, but the Ducks still held the Cardinal to 17 points. Likewise, Oregon averaged 49.6 points per game, but the Cardinal defense held the Ducks to just 14 points.
The Pac-12 can play great defense but against prolific offenses, its teams' defensive stats tend to drop, just like Alabama's did against Texas A&M.
Offensively, the Ducks are a juggernaut. The uptempo, no-huddle spread rushing attack is a frightening thing to watch, especially for defensive coordinators watching game film. While Oregon is at times perceived by football fans as a prolific passing team, that's simply not the case—the Ducks are in the middle of all Pac-12 pass offense rankings at No. 7. Nationally, Oregon's pass offense is ranked No. 74, but the Ducks are still labeled as having a "gimmicky" offense by their critics.
A rushing offense nationally ranked at No. 3 is gimmicky? Perhaps that moniker came about because the Ducks don't run a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, otherwise known as power football. But Oregon does have speed and when you have that much speed in a spread formation, running up the middle is power football—it just doesn't look that way since there is so much space to run through at the line of scrimmage.
Oregon is the most balanced team in the Pac-12—we could make a case for Stanford as well—and the Ducks' 35-17 performance against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl highlights that perfectly.
Kansas State only scored 17 points on the Ducks—its scoring offense average for 2012 was 38.8 points. The Big 12's best scoring defense also gave up 35 points compare to its average of 22.2 points per game.
The Ducks' defense limited Kansas State to 283 offensive yards, well below the Ducks' average yield of 374.1 yards per game. Those stats again highlight the misconceptions of Oregon's defense—its overall defensive rankings indicate a porous defense yet most of its games' films (and outcomes) point to a very good defense.
Last year there were three teams that struck some sort of angst in all of their opponents—Alabama, Oregon and Texas A&M. Their offenses were frightening and their defenses were outstanding. But since Alabama and Texas A&M both play in the SEC, they received more credit for their defenses than the Pac-12's Ducks.
Oregon can probably live with that.
Auburn had to wait until the clock expired before taking the final go-ahead lead over Oregon and winning the 2010 BCS Championship. The Ducks would love another chance to play in the BCS title game and if they were given a berth, would probably face an SEC team, assuming the SEC continues its current dominance in college football.
Maybe, just maybe, the Ducks will finally be able to put to rest all of the misconceptions surrounding its football program and its conference.