The college football BCS rankings have come out, and the Oregon Ducks football team is listed at No. 10 overall.
Without injured stars Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, the Ducks continued their Pac-12 success with an impressive Oct. 15 victory over Arizona State. The following day, the BCS official rankings have come out, and college football fans from across the nation can begin their debates over the validity of the computer-designed system. What’s most important for this team, however, is to continue to play the style of football that has gotten them to this spot in the first place.
For the Oregon Ducks, who cracked the Top 10 and are the second-highest ranked one-loss team behind Arkansas, the team has proven to be a legitimate BCS contender even after an early season loss. Regardless, the Oregon Ducks will look for the necessary poise to continue living up to their motto: win the day. In the world of sports, that’s the exact mentality that a team needs to have. While your “ranking” is one to be taken with pride, nothing is relevant until you win your football games and live up to the dedication that your team puts into the sport.
Conditioning, practicing, human psychology and game day determination are some words that you will hear to describe a successful football team. For those that have followed Oregon football this season, however, those words are synonymous with what the team has done to get to the point that they are today.
The conditioning of the Oregon Ducks football team is entirely innovative and independent from the rest of college football. For Oregon beat writers, one of their favorite subjects to cover is the impressive conditioning that Head Coach Chip Kelly leads. The Ducks came back from a 14-7 trailing deficit in the first quarter, and have now had comeback victories in two consecutive games.
The Ducks have proven that the first half of the game is irrelevant to the final score. Rather, the holistic appeal of the game is what sets the team aside.
Oregon football relies on a blend of speed and strength, which ultimately “creates power.”
This philosophy comes from conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe and is reinforced in practice by Kelly. By demanding speed and tempo on a day-to-day basis, the Ducks are able to create the explosive atmosphere that they are accustomed to on the field.
When the team warms up at Autzen Stadium, the fans know that they are watching a durable team that will be ready to play until the fourth quarter. In the second half, the Oregon Ducks have outscored the opponents 133 points to 72.
There is much to be said of an efficient practice led by a smart football team. For the Oregon Ducks, that is an integral part to how the school has put out such an impressive team in the past few years.
Practicing and conditioning are virtually linked at the hip, but the quick nature of the Oregon football team allows the team to be prepared for any type of play.
As Chip Kelly says, “It is much easier to slow down than it is to speed up.” If you know how to move fast, he believes, you can move slowly by simply slowing down. When you see Kelly furiously yelling at his players because “they’re taking too long” on a drive in which there’s still something like 15 seconds still left on the play clock, it’s because it violates the essence of his team.
Per game, the Ducks have the ball for 24:42 minutes of the game compared to the average opponent’s 35:18 minutes per game. The Ducks can allow this to happen because they average 7.5 yards per play and 539.0 yards of total offense a game. When you compare that to the 5.1 yards per play of the opponent, and the 413.8 yards of total defense, you realize why practice is so important to this team.
Radcliffe conditions so that the team is able to peak to their potential on Saturday, rather than take Friday as a light day of work. For other teams, they burn up early in the week and are burned out by Friday. The Ducks do the exact opposite and lead up to the game. His is a simple theory, but it is one that has become relatively unique to the university.
The team prepares for every play as if it was a two-minute drill, and that type of play translates onto the field. Watching the Oregon Ducks run their system, fans realize that much of what constitutes their success is the way that the team is run.
This is why the Oregon Ducks were able to beat out a ranked Arizona State team even without their star quarterback, Darron Thomas, and their star running back and Heisman candidate LaMichael James.
Because so much of what is actually expected from the games is reinforced every day at practice, understudies freshman Bryan Bennett and junior Kenjon Barner can help lead the Ducks to victory.
As Oregonian writer John Hunt points out, to realize the potential of an untraditional system requires the players to buy into what they’re doing.
To “win the day” is to disregard hype, disregard college ranking and disregard individual statistics. It is winning, as a team, which matters.
It would be very easy for a 19-year-old freshman like Bryan Bennett to choke under the pressure of a record crowd of 60,055 fans at Autzen Stadium. Every seat, it seemed, was filled and there was utterly no room to move.
Bennett, who experienced the déjà vu of entering for an injured quarterback in a big game after taking over for his high school QB in Crespi following his injury.
“When one guy goes down,” Kenjon Barner said, “the other guys feel like he’s got to pick up the slack. That’s what Bryan did and that’s what I did.”
It cannot be stressed enough that this is a team sport. Believing in the hype of this program is easy, but actually practicing that lifestyle and way of play is another thing entirely.
The Oregon Ducks did not disappoint on Saturday night. In what could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship, down to the very location of an Autzen Stadium host, the human psychology that pushed this team to not give up after losing the two driving forces of their offense is undeniably incredible.
The Ducks have a media policy in place in which their ranking is irrelevant. To them, it’s the football that matters most. As they continue their coming games, they will be sure to stick to that to help their psyche.
To explain this, I will open with an anecdote. College football means the world to university campuses across the country.
When ESPN "College GameDay" came to campus, fans flocked and set up camp in front of the Lillis Business Center for hours on end. Personal friends spent time from 11 p.m. on Friday night until 9 a.m. Saturday morning just to show their support for the Oregon Ducks team. The campus at the University of Oregon loves their Ducks, and fans from all generations come out to see the games. I was personally in attendance of the GameDay telecast from 2 a.m. till 8 a.m., and was a witness to the wild and exhausted atmosphere that the morning provided.
On the day of the game alone, I also saw the entire group from Supwitchugirl (of the famous “I Love My Ducks” song) heading to the game, as well as Ducks basketball legend Aaron Brooks around the city.
The players know the hype of the program. They know that 5-star recruits like Shaq Thompson were at Oregon for the game on Saturday. Thompson, the highest rated safety in the nation, said “it was probably a good thing to check them out since they have such a strong program right now.”
That’s what is on the minds of countless recruits from across the nation, and Oregon football is aware of the sensation that they’ve caused.
The only way that they can continue to thrive, however, is by commitment to the game. That is exactly what the Ducks showed on Saturday, as they beat Arizona State in a rainy and impressive showdown.
Chip Kelly believes in win the day for a reason. When the team is losing players and they are down to a banged-up roster of backups, it is this belief that helps them stick to their system and win the game.
It has become increasingly difficult to imagine the Oregon Ducks sweeping over eight schools in the coming weeks to allow them to end up in the National Championship.
While it is always possible for an SEC team like Alabama or LSU to slip up, the odds of Oregon overcoming these odds are low.
Instead, Ducks fans may be looking on shorter term goals like the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl. Winning a significant bowl game might help this program in the long term more than another BCS loss might, and while the title game may be out of reach the Rose Bowl could be in their horizon.
Right now, the most likely scenario for such would be the winner of LSU and Alabama playing Wisconsin (if they continue to run the table in their conference). This would leave whatever remaining unbeaten teams were left to the Sugar Bowl, and could feature a one- or two-loss team like Oregon in the Rose Bowl against a team like Boise State.
Predicting bowl games is a headache, so a smarter forecast is to examine the remaining schedule for Oregon. Next week they travel to Colorado (1-6), which should prove to be an easy game for a high powered Ducks offense.
After that comes the homecoming game at Autzen Stadium against Washington St. (3-3, 1-2 in Pac-12). The following game is an at Washington showdown with the now-ranked Huskies, before heading to Stanford for their biggest game of the season against a highly ranked Pac-12 team with a Heisman candidate at their leadership.
The Ducks close out the season with two home games, one against USC and the other with the annual Civil War game that will be in Eugene this year.
Click here to Follow @BryanKalbrosky.