The year was 2001. It was the third Saturday in October. As an SEC undergrad student at the University of Tennessee, it was basically a holiday.
We were in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the big rivalry game. Tennessee won. On they marched to an improbable national title game appearance. Who would they face?
Out west, the upstart Oregon Ducks were cruising along undefeated behind the comeback kid, QB Joey Harrington. Then came the news. Walking away from the stadium happy with a Volunteer victory, I couldn't believe my ears. Oregon had lost 49-42 to STANFORD.
All was not completely lost as the Ducks would rise back to the top of the standings, but not the top two of the BCS.
They would finish out the season by pummelling Colorado 38-16 and earn a very respectable No. 2 in the rankings.
After such a good start, that wasn't a very fulfilling finish. Will it be different this time around? How can we be sure the Ducks won't slip and fall on their way to a national title game appearance?
For one, the coach is different this time around. Mike Belotti did a fantastic job building the program, but he could never seem to get Oregon over the hump.
Fast forward to 2007: Oregon hires an obscure coordinator from New Hampshire, Dennis Dixon becomes a star QB. The Ducks are on the rise until Dixon suffers a devastating injury and Oregon falls short after ranking as high as No. 2.
Fast forward to 2010, that obscure coordinator is a prime candidate for Coach of the Year, and Oregon is No. 1 in both human polls. If the season ended today, the Ducks would be playing in the BCS National Title Game.
As my friend Jacob put in Thursday night, Chip Kelly is like Steve Spurrier in his heyday at Florida, minus the arrogant last second TDs. Kelly is ruthless. Kelly isn't afraid to take a chance or suspend his star player one game into his head coaching tenure. Kelly will kick the surprise onside kick. Basically, he's Les Miles but knows where the game clock is in a stadium.
Kelly has the cajones to get Oregon to the BCS National Title Game. His offensive knowledge is top-notch. The spread offense Oregon runs is, so far, invincible. Oregon may stumble early, but by the end of the game they will get you.
Throw in to the equation surprising star QB Darron Thomas, and you have Dennis Dixon reincarnated. Dixon was special in his own right, but no one expected Thomas to be a star. Heck, no one really even thought for sure he would be starting.
That job was supposed to go to senior Nate Costa, but a series of injuries derailed his career.
Now, Thomas is a semi-finalist for the Davey O'Brien Award which goes to the nation's top quarterback.
Throw into this dangerous equation an established star running back in LaMichael James, and Oregon has the best offense in the nation.
James emerged last season as a threat once LeGarrette Blount was suspended following a vicious punch after a loss to Boise State.
The sophomore has 971 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Though these appear to be somewhat modest numbers, keep in mind that he is usually on the sidelines for the fourth quarter as Oregon is decimating opponents.
So, why will Oregon not repeat 2001 and slip up to a mediocre Pac-10 school? Easy. They are simply too good.
They came back against a Tennessee team that nearly (should have) upset LSU, the same LSU team who came within a TD of beating the current BCS No. 1 Auburn.
They fell behind three touchdowns to a good Stanford team, only to roar back and put up over 50 points in a convincing win.
They annihilated UCLA Thursday night, scoring 60.
The scariest thing may be that their defense is also playing pretty well. In the past, that has been the missing link. Giving up 49 points in 2001 to Stanford didn't get the job done.
This season, though, the Ducks will continue to run up the score while playing solid defense.
The road to the championship all starts this Saturday at USC, in prime time.
Chip Kelly versus...Lane Kiffin. I think the whole country is rooting against Kiffin, and with good reason. He is all that is wrong with college sports today. I think his brief tenure at Tennessee rubbed off on Vols hoops coach Bruce Pearl.
Back to Oregon. The season ends in Corvallis with the Civil War. The Beavers are never an easy win.
Can the Ducks run the table? This season, I think it will be easier than any of us believe.
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