If the Oregon Ducks were not convinced at the start of the season that their fate was contingent on how far LaMichael James' legs could carry them, they are certainly aware of it now. After the Ducks lost Heisman candidate James for the entire third quarter on Saturday, the team saw their three-point halftime deficit to LSU balloon to a daunting 17 points.
With James and capable backup Kenjon Barner sidelined, Oregon was forced to turn to true freshman De'Anthony Thomas. Although a promising talent, Thomas fumbled the ball twice on two consecutive possessions, allowing LSU to jump out to what amounted to an insurmountable lead.
Interestingly enough, it's what James didn't do in the third quarter that ended up highlighting just how valuable the junior really is. It's clear that without James running the football, the Ducks are not anywhere near the title contender they are billed to be.
Although it should be noted that James' understudy Barner, who is no slouch in his own right, was unavailable due to a sprained ankle suffered earlier in the game; James is, or was, the key ingredient to the Oregon Ducks National Championship hopes in 2011.
As Bleacher Report's own Michael Pinto pointed out, the irony surrounding James in this game is that his performance will inevitably hurt his Heisman candidacy, when in reality it only proves how worthy he is of the award.
It's unfortunate to see a team like Oregon, who was so close to capturing the first National Title in the program's 115-year history, seemingly bow out of the National Title picture so early in the season. Although all may not be lost for the Ducks in 2011, it's safe to say that Oregon have an uphill battle if they want to get back to the championship game this season.
Given what we know about James and this Oregon Ducks Football team, I wouldn't count them out just yet.
Not blessed with the reputation as a "traditional power" in college football, Oregon has always played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and is known for doing things their own way. The school's ties to Nike have given it increased national recognition over the past few seasons, and has also helped the school increase the number of high-quality recruits in its football program.
If they can sidestep the recent accusations surrounding their recruiting practices, Oregon is the program best suited to become the next team of the decade. Make no mistake about it, the Oregon Ducks are going places. Even with this loss, their first stop just might be the 2012 National Championship game.