Oregon Football: Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for Ducks' Final 4 Games
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Eight games are in the books for the Oregon Ducks in 2013, and every goal set forth back in August remains intact.
This team is in great position to win the Pac-12 North, make it to the conference championship game and with a win there, end up in Pasadena for the national title.
Marcus Mariota is putting up Heisman-like numbers and has yet to throw a pick, Byron Marshall has emerged as the go-to running back, and guys like Johnny Mundt and Bralon Addison have developed into excellent receiving options.
You want defense? The Ducks have defense, and there's not a better example than the way Nick Aliotti's unit played in a 42-14 win over UCLA. Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley was held to just 64 yards passing and the team, as a whole, gained fewer than 100 yards in the second half.
In fact, both of UCLA's touchdowns came off Oregon turnovers. The Ducks didn't yield a scoring drive longer than 40 yards in the entire game.
Last, but certainly not least, everyone is pretty healthy heading into November, which isn't common in a year when so many teams seem to be weathering a number of devastating losses.
While the majority of Duck fans will tell you 8-0 is what they expected at this point, the final stretch is always the hardest, and getting through November unscathed isn't a simple task.
Let's take a look at the best and worst-case scenarios for the remainder of the 2013 regular season, with a bonus look at what treats postseason play might bring.
The game everybody had circled on his or her calendars in the offseason was Stanford, which is fast approaching. The Ducks and Cardinal will square off next Thursday, and the winner will have a major leg up in the Pac-12 North division race.
On the surface, Duck fans should feel confident heading into this one. The Cardinal are scoring just 32 points per game, though they haven't eclipsed the 30-point mark since a 31-28 victory over Washington on Oct. 5.
With the recent news that defensive end Ben Gardner would be out for the season, Stanford's defense suddenly looks less intimidating. To be clear, the unit as whole will still be the toughest the Ducks have faced this season, and even hitting the 30-point mark will be difficult. But with a sluggish offense and banged up defense, the Cardinal will have trouble with Oregon this time around.
Mark Helfrich's team goes down to Palo Alto, dominates on defense and pulls out a 35-13 victory for the whole country to see.
After that, Utah comes a-calling. After a fast start that saw the Utes upset Stanford, the team has slowed down in recent weeks with losses to Arizona and USC. Travis Wilson and company can move the ball, but they are completely out of sync after managing just three points against the Trojans.
The Ducks take care of business once again, 49-20.
Sitting at 10-0, people will begin to look ahead (if they haven't already). But that wouldn't be smart before a trip to Tucson, where the Arizona Wildcats always seem to give Oregon fits. Ka'Deem Carey will keep things close early, but the leadership on Oregon's sideline will take over and propel the Ducks to a 45-23 win.
In the Civil War against Oregon State, the game plan will be to simply put pressure on Sean Mannion and cover Brandin Cooks like he's the only receiver on the field. The Beavers defense is much improved since a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, but it still won't be able to handle Mariota and the rest of the offense.
In a best-case scenario, the Ducks beat the Beavers 47-24 to finish out the regular season 12-0.
Of course, the ride doesn't stop there. The Ducks would then go on to beat UCLA once again and find themselves in Pasadena, playing Alabama for the national title. Because this is a best-case scenario, Oregon's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback leads his team to a 38-35 victory over the Crimson Tide in a game for the ages, securing the school's first national championship in football.
It appears the Stanford Cardinal still have Oregon's number, and the Ducks are unable to move the ball for the second year in a row.
In the worst-case scenario, Marcus Mariota starts off slow against David Shaw's team, reverting back to old habits of overthrowing his receivers and scrambling out of the pocket too early. Stanford's linebackers are able to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline, and to make matters worse, none of the Oregon receivers are gaining separation between them and the Cardinal defensive backs.
Stanford's powerful rushing attack is able to get gains of five and six yards on every first down, which opens up the playbook for quarterback Kevin Hogan and the rest of the offense. In the end, the Ducks reveal themselves as frauds, unable to move the ball on a good defense and ultimately losing 28-17.
While fans are understandably depressed, the veteran leadership allows the team to bounce back against Utah. At Arizona, the front seven is once again torn apart, this time by Ka'Deem Carey, but the offense hits its stride in the second half, leading to a closer-than-you-think 42-35 win.
Heading into the Civil War, the Ducks have a chance to make it to the Pac-12 championship game because of Stanford's unexpected loss to USC. Of course, so do the Beavers, who haven't lost since dropping a game to the Cardinal.
What will Oregon's record be in the final four games?
Oregon's secondary, which has been a strength all season, is torched by Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks. The Beavers' wideout catches 12 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, and in an interesting twist, it's the Ducks' offense that is unable to keep up. The Beavers score an upset victory, 45-38, and make their way to the Pac-12 title game.
Obviously, any worst-case scenario would also involve a loss in bowl season and the early departures of Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Hroniss Grasu.
The beauty of college football is that you never know what to expect because, every season, unforeseen drama occurs, and fans are left dealing with a variety of emotions. The 2013 Oregon Ducks are on the verge of something very special. Of course, this makes the potential for a puzzling finish all the more terrifying.
All stats via ESPN
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