The Alabama Crimson Tide might sit atop the polls right now, but the threat of the Oregon Ducks' spread offense dethroning Nick Saban is more real this year than in years past. Chip Kelly departed from Oregon, but that hasn't slowed the offense at all.
The Ducks come off their first real test against No. 16 Washington. They ended their streak of scoring 50-plus points, and Marcus Mariota, pictured above, had to play in the fourth quarter. Oregon, albeit without De'Anthony Thomas, handled Washington with the ease one would expect from a BCS National Championship hopeful.
The Ducks will have to get through an improved Washington State and stellar No. 11 UCLA team before facing No. 5 Stanford. Stanford showed some vulnerability on defense in a loss to Utah, whose roster doesn't come close to the offensive firepower of the Oregon Ducks.
Stanford has also resorted to a passing attack that is more wide-receiver-oriented. While that has worked for them, thus far, and led to the emergence of Ty Montgomery, it wasn't what got them the win in Autzen last season.
Last year, Kevin Hogan was able to find tight end Zach Ertz 11 times for 106 yards and one of the Stanford touchdowns. Ertz clearly posed a matchup issue for Oregon's defense. With Stanford relying on receivers and Oregon's improved secondary, the matchup favors Oregon more than last season.
Not to mention the added experience that Mariota will have at that point. After a stellar first year at the helm for Oregon, Mariota is the Heisman favorite at this point in the season, according to HeismanPundit.com.
In fact Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Mariota boast similar numbers this season, with Mariota sitting out the bulk of Oregon's early-season blowouts. The way Manziel moved the ball against Alabama has to be a good sign for Mariota and the Ducks.
Yes, Manziel is the gold standard, as far as mobile QBs go, but Mariota isn't far behind and might even be playing better this season. Mariota has yet to throw an interception and has doubled the rushing touchdowns and yards per carry as Manziel. That's a debate for the Heisman voters to discuss, but one thing is for certain.
Mobile QBs can neutralize Alabama's defense.
“I think with Johnny Manziel, he’s spectacular. The way he plays will drive the Alabama defense crazy." CBS Sports Network college football analyst Tom Bradley said on The Damon Amendolara Show. "A guy that can move around like he does, the plays that he can make – a mobile quarterback is going to give them some problems. I think that’s the one thing that will bother them.”
Of course, we're assuming that Alabama doesn't stumble against LSU, where Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill have given the LSU offense more life than previous years. Despite the Tigers' impressive win over Florida, the defense still hasn't looked like the dominant "Bayou Bengals."
The matchup with Alabama won't be another field-goal festival like years past, so my money is on AJ McCarron. Additionally, Alabama has a rather easy schedule leading up to LSU.
Additionally, Clemson and Ohio State are each unlikely to jump Oregon in the polls—even if they run the table. Clemson boasts the better schedule with No. 6 Florida State and No. 14 South Carolina remaining, but South Carolina will either be in the Top 10 or bottom of the polls when they meet Clemson.
Ohio State really only has Michigan remaining as a marquee game, and they just lost to Penn State. Meanwhile, Oregon has No. 11 UCLA and No. 5 Stanford remaining, both of whom play each other before Oregon. Oregon will also have the Pac-12 Championship Game against a presumably ranked UCLA.
That takes us to an Oregon vs. Alabama BCS National Championship Game. That means, Oregon has three ranked teams left on its schedule if the Ducks win out and the advantage of starting higher in the rankings.
Oregon has had the offensive weapons to compete with the best of them in recent years, but this might be the first year the Ducks have the ability to match up with Alabama.
The Crimson Tide haven't found consistency on offense and have struggled to run the ball thus far. During their 2012 national title run Alabama averaged 226.5 rush yards per game, but this year, that total is down to 166.2 yards per game. Granted AJ McCarron is a polished passer, but Oregon's quick defense would likely prefer a pass-heavy attack to a downhill running scheme.
Even if Alabama decided to run it down Oregon's throat, the Ducks defense now has the size to compete with guys like 6'8", 285-pound Arik Armstead and 6'7", 285-pound DeForest Buckner. Some of the defensive numbers get skewed because of Oregon's fast-pace offense, but they aren't making any excuses. They're up for any challenge.
"With a group as deep as it is dynamic, the Oregon defense boasts the brawn of a sizable front line, the speed of an experienced secondary and the smarts of a linebacking corps - a blend that has combined to form what strong safety Brian Jackson calls 'a formidable force,'" via Jason Quick of The Oregonian.
With Mariota leading the Heisman race, the emergence and size of Oregon's defense and the changing landscape of teams around the Ducks this year, the, "We Want 'Bama" chants from the student section are more valid than ever before, but Oregon has a tough round ahead.
It can be done, but it will have to be earned.