The Chip Kelly-led Oregon Ducks have logged an incredible number of accomplishments over the course of the last three years. But what is missing from the trophy case is a new BCS trophy. Defeats in the Rose Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game the last two years have made fans all the more hungry to win the big one.
Considering that the Ducks know how to compete on the big stage—witness losses by nine and by three in their BCS games—they need to crank it up one more notch to "Win the Day" in this year's Rose Bowl.
That means that certain players are going to have to play the games of their careers. The players mentioned here must have perfect performances if the Ducks are to have their best chance as a team to take home the trophy.
And they are...
Yeah, it's shooting fish in a barrel, to a certain extent, by putting him first on the list, but there is a reason...
Points will matter to the Ducks in this game. Losing each of their BCS games the last two years by less than 10 points demonstrates the need to get points on the board with every opportunity that arises.
Unlike the USC game, in which he was called in to tie it in the final seconds, Maldonado will most likely be summoned for extra points and chip-shot FG's when the offense stalls in—or very near—the red zone and Chip decides to pull the offense.
Confidence is everything with a kicker. Over the course of many practices, I hope that Maldonado is hitting most or all of his kicks with relative ease. If the Ducks do end up with the game resting on the foot of Maldonado...
This is where it all begins for the Duck offense—the snap of the ball. Because of the extremely quick reads that quarterback Darron Thomas must make when the ball hits his hands, it is imperative that the pigskin gets there in the best possible manner.
Hroniss Grasu is a redshirt freshman who is the ignition switch for the offense. Grasu has seen his share of BCS games as a Duck, but this is his first time playing in the game. Considering the pressure that will be put on the offensive line to hold off yet another big and fast defensive front, this is going to be a very intense position for Grasu to be in.
As the game progresses and fatigue starts to set in, the famed conditioning program the Ducks champion will be put to the test. Missing a block on the line is one thing; causing a bad snap is another and can lead to a game-altering turnover.
A true freshman who is set to become a Duck legend that may outshine even LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas is the epitome of the "Chip Kelly system." In open space, Thomas can outrun anybody on the field, as well as "shuck and jive" his way free when a defender has the opportunity to take him down.
If there is one knock on Thomas, it is his hands when in traffic. Chip Kelly knows this and you can bet Bret Bielema has this all over his scouting report.
Thomas has done his part toward earning the forgiveness of Duck fans, because his positive plays have considerably outshone his gaffes. But this year, fans also like to point at him when lamenting the opening day loss to LSU.
The ball will find its way into Thomas's hands upwards of 20 times during the Rose Bowl. Each time he has the ball, the defenders will be doing everything they can to strip him of that ball, even making this a priority over tackling him (in confined space).
As much as DAT wants to score a TD each time the play comes to him, he must be sure not to leave the ball behind as he dances into the end zone.
Playing behind an all-conference player like David Paulson can help take the edge off of a true freshman. In Lyerla's case, playing on the same field as Paulson has allowed a future all-conference player to emerge.
When considering the nature of the spread offense, having two tight ends on the field seems like a very strong improbability. But there they are at times, Paulson and Lyerla on the field, getting ready to help the offense get some short yards.
This is where Kelly's genius comes into play. With the O-line bookended with TE's, the ball can run to either side and have an extra blocker there to get that edge for the running back. If the play is a pass play, there are TE two options underneath. Play-action will find one TE going long.
There will be a handful of times at which Lyerla will be the lone tight end on the field. In these situations, Lyerla will find the same coverage on him as there would be on Paulson. But the times at which the two share the field is when Lyerla will have to make his mark. Paulson will draw the coverage and will even make the sick catch in traffic when least expected.
At the times when the defense has focused on Paulson, Lyerla has shown an innate ability to get open. In those situations, he must make the catch. Forcing the defense to make adjustments to cover Lyerla will open up Paulson, and if Darron Thomas is making his reads, this will definitely move the chains.
If there is a weak link on this Duck football team, it is the corners of the defense. Injuries and an incomprehensible lack of common sense have depleted a layer of the depth chart and forced a few underclassmen to step up. This has put the safeties in a great position to shine this year.
In this game, Boyett and Pleasant will have the unenviable task of holding down the middle of the field, while at the same time focusing on the abilities of a dual-threat quarterback (Russell Wilson) on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
If Wilson can open up the field utilizing his legs and play-action, it will force the safeties to back off a bit and allow Heisman candidate Montee Ball more room to run.
Oh yeah, and missing a tackle...touchdown Badgers.
Adding a third conference championship trophy to the case is a pretty big accomplishment alone, but the Duck faithful have set the bar higher. A Rose Bowl trophy would not only be a validation of how far this program has come over the last 20 years, but it would also be a fitting tribute to the coaches and players who have sold out to the "Win the Day" mantra.
Perfection means setting the bar at its highest level, but this is what it will take to earn the hardware come January 2nd.