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Oregon Preview & Interview with Dan Rubenstein

Gators FirstCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2009

Written by Gatorsfirst.com & Dan Rubenstein

With the college football season rapidly approaching, Gatorsfirst.com is presenting a different take on the 2009 season every day for the entire month of August.

We call it our ''Full Month of College Football Previews''. As part of the project, we are having fellow bloggers and other college football personalities from around the SEC and the rest of the nation give us their take on the current state of college football.

This approach will allow us to bring you a much more in-depth look at the 2009 season than we could possibly provide on our own.

The next in this series is an Oregon Ducks season preview, by Dan Rubenstein. Dan co-hosts the Solid Verbal podcast and writes for SI.com.

As he is an Oregon fan, we turned to him for his take on the Ducks' outlook for 2009, the BCS, and the Pac-10's TV deal. Check out the interview below.


Gatorsfirst (G1): How did you become a fan of your team?

Dan Rubenstein (DR): I don't have any great stories about my dad taking me to Duck games as a kid since I grew up in Los Angeles, but when I gave my verbal commitment Coach Bellotti (that's how I choose to look at it), I became a Duck fan.

My first game at Autzen was a 24-22 barnburner, with Oregon kicker Jared Siegel kicking a game winning field goal af the end of an Oregon two-minute drill. I know this now sounds improbable, but Joey Harrington was amazing. Just trust me on this one.


(G1): Describe the gameday atmosphere.

(DR): I'm clearly biased, but since I've seen a wide variety of gameday atmospheres, including gameday at nine of the 10 Pac-10 stadiums, Oregon's is either the first or second best in the conference. Washington is the other school that comes to mind, but it's pretty hard to get the energy up for a game in Seattle right now.

Autzen Stadium is off-campus, but it's still only about a mile walk through a small forest and over a foot bridge. Student tailgating is minimal, but since there's a huge lot and a couple of large fields across the street, everything is pretty centralized.

The actual gameday scene isn't specifically different, but it's loud, people are friendly, and there's nothing but green and yellow as far as the eye can see. Actually, there's also black and white, didn't mean to exclude any of the uni combos here.

My own gameday experience consists of praying to the Football Gods that I'll be lucky enough to get to see a Pac-10 game on the west coast (you read that correctly), and going into a mode in which I either can't be spoken to or am jumping around like a lunatic. Understandably, I very rarely watch games with USC friends.


(G1): Give me some thought on your coaching staff. Are you satisfied? Do you wish your team ran different schemes? How is recruiting?

(DR): I may be in the minority among fans around the country, but I'm quite happy with Oregon's staff. Despite his lack of head coaching experience, I don't expect a drop-off when the Chip Kelly era begins, if anything, immediate improvement isn't totally out of the question.

It's hard to find something wrong with Oregon offensive scheme, although sometimes I wish they wouldn't move and score so quickly because the defense becomes that much more taxed, but scoring two quickly is a pretty high class problem.

Defensively, the stats aren't pretty, but they're on the field 20-30 percent more than almost every other team. Nick Alliotti, the defensive coordinator, receives endless criticism for some excruciating bend-but-don't-break drives in which the D gives up a couple of 13-yard completions on 3rd and 12, but I'm generally fine with how things are handled.

Recruiting has been interesting. Oregon is starting to become a national recruiter, which in large is due to the spread option (The Sproption?) system that the Ducks employ targets specific types of athletes that are rarely found in the Northwest.

The Ducks continue to recruit both Northern and Southern California Hard, but have may significant inroads into Texas, Florida, and various other southern states.

Chip Kelly was Mike Bellotti's primary recruiter in Texas and the South, and the new younger members of the staff, Scott Frost (WRs) and Mark Helfrich (Offense, QBs) are considered to be outstanding on the road.


(G1): Who is a player we might not know from Oregon that you are excited about this season? Why?

(DR): The player that seems to be generating the most excitement is redshirt freshman RB LaMichael James, who along with LeGarrette Blount forms the LeBackfield, a nickname I sorely wish I came up with.

James should make up the lightning to Blount's thunder, but is said to have a higher top speed than Jeremiah Johnson did over the last few years.

Coaches raved about his performances on last year's scout team and secretly felt lucky that they had the luxury of redshirting such a talented back.

On a team that finished second in the country in rushing last year, it's always nice to have a new running back step right into the spotlight when another leaves. Blount did it last season, replacing Jonathan Stewart, and the cycle looks to continue.


(G1): Make one point about Oregon and one about the Pac-10 you think is overlooked on the national level.

(DR): To a certain degree, Oregon's reputation of being a flashy school due to their uniforms and facilities is warranted, but since Chip Kelly arrived, Oregon has been a team that has used a punishing ground game to set up the passing game, which generally isn't the case with spread offenses.

This is in no small part due to offensive line play in the trenches that has been consistently overpowering. The uniform combinations and training room juice bars may be there, but it hasn't made the team any softer up front.

On a similar note, the Pac-10 has traditionally been the most pass-happy offense in the land, but the conference is now built around top tier running backs, and should be the best conference on the ground in 2009.

USC will once again rotate 4-5 blue chippers, Arizona, while breaking in a new QB, has the stability of Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby, Stanford will be doing the same with Toby Gerhart while Andrew Luck gets comfortable, Jahvid Best at Cal may be the best RB in the country, Oregon's LeGarrette Blount could play himself into the first round with his combination of size and speed, Quizz Rogers at OSU can't be tackled and is the reigning Pac 10 Offensive POY, and Washington and Washington State, well, I'm not sure what exactly is going on up there, but UW's Jake Locker seems athletic, if nothing else.


(G1): What do you think about conference title games? Would it be a good idea to add to 12? Would you change something about the Pac 10?

(DR): I'm not for or against conference title games. They work in bigger conferences, but I'm happy with the current 10 team round-robin format.

It understandable affects how many bowl eligible teams come out of the conference each season, but it makes for a better football product. With all due respect to Northern Arizona or Montana State, I'll pass on watching a Pac-10 team pony up for four early victories.

Competitively, adding some combination of Boise State, Utah, BYU, or TCU makes sense, but things feel comfortable with the 10 current teams.

Right now, there's no big incentive for the Pac-10 to expand, as none of those schools bring in any sort of major TV market to the conference that would perhaps lead to a better media deal.

Regarding what I would change about the Pac 10, see the above sentence. The TV deal the conference has is atrocious.

The other usual complaint is about bowl alliances, but the reality of changing bowls is quite complicated. You then get into issues of increased payouts, questions about fans traveling great distances, etc.

The TV deal that the Pac-10 signed years ago, though, is terrible. It involves a combination of regional ABC broadcasts and Fox Sports broadcasts.

The Fox Sports contracts include a 10:30 EST game, which, if you're on the east coast, you just don't care about after a day full of football.

Unless you live in or near the college town of the team you care about, at certain points during the season, you'll be forced to somehow pay to see your game, if at all.

Since college football is a game of exposure and reputation, if voters west of the Mississippi can't watch you, you don't matter. You're just a box score.


(G1): How much did you like the bowl system pre-BCS? As a fan, how much do you concentrate on 'National Championships'? Has this changed in the last decade or so?

(DR): I never really had a problem with the system pre-BCS, mainly because it seemed that college football used to be far more regional. With the nationalization of the game, it would be almost impossible to go back to the pre-BCS ways of doing things. If you won the Pac 10, you were in the Rose Bowl. That's it.

Now, though, if Oregon won the Pac-10 and went undefeated and were forced to take on a two-loss Ohio State team in Pasadena instead of playing an undefeated Texas or Oklahoma, I'd lose my shit. Just the way it is now.

As a fan of college football, I take the idea of a national championship with a grain of salt. Unless there's two clear-cut contenders, it doesn't say too much that Florida was better than an Oklahoma team that probably should've played Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Sure, the Gators earned a title, but to the avid football-watching eye, Texas and USC were both playing on the same level as UF and OU, but were simply sent elsewhere.

Nothing has dramatically changed my view things over the past decade. Most years, somebody has a good reason to bitch and moan throughout December and that's not all that fun for me.

Oregon got jobbed by Nebraska and the BCS in '01 and '05 and it doesn't make me any happier that my bitching is part of the fun of college football. The next time I hear that the regular season is already like a playoff, I'm going to start tazering people.


(G1): What sort of changes, if any should be made to the BCS system? Does this opinion put you in-line or out-of-line with other fans of your team and conference?

(DR): My first and only wish would be just to scrap it and go to a four or eight team playoff. The four team version is obviously just a plus-one system.

At this point, Oregon's been jobbed out of two BCS games by screwy logic (Nebraska in '01 for the national championship game, Notre Dame in '05 for being Notre Dame), so I'd say most Duck fans would be in favor of deciding things on the field.

Similarly, the Pac-10 doesn't often get the exposure or opportunities that teams in other BCS conferences seem to get, so I'd say the Pac-10 thought is that a playoff system would be ideal.

Of course, the school presidents couldn't possibly be bothered about what their constituents would like, there are checks to be cashed.


(G1): Are the polls a good idea in the first place? Should they play a role in determining a 'National Champion'?

(DR): College football is better off in every sense by being a national sport, so some sort of ranking system needs to be in place. Polling makes sense to a certain degree, but certainly waiting until Oct. 1 to issue the first one of the year is fine by me.

It's a good measure of progress, and aside from controversies at the top, year-end polls generally get it right.

That said, I'm never crazy about situations in which coaches feel like they need to campaign for their teams in order to secure certain bowl berths. I'm looking at you, Mack Brown.


(G1): How much should non-BCS teams be included in the BCS- and other high payout- bowls? How much do you watch these teams?

(DR): I'm for bowls being open for anyone, but the strength of schedule of a non-BCS team certainly needs to be brought into play.

Most of the time, when you jump down from a BCS conference to a non-BCS conference, there's a discrepancy in talent.

It's not to say, for example, Utah, Boise State, or TCU can't beat a top BCS school, but a bad SEC or ACC team is still on a different level than a bad team in the Sun Belt, at least in the majority of cases.

In the case of last year's big non-BCS team, I watched precisely one Utah game: their victory over Oregon State. Why? Because it was on national TV on a Thursday night.

It's not that I don't want to see a good MWC game, I generally just can't because it's either not on, or there are simply too many other games to choose from.

There's no real "right" answer here. If a non-BCS team earns the right and is collectively voted on by peers as being worthy, the team should have every opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

You can view the original interview here: http://gatorsfirst.com/index.php/florida-gators-sports-news/college-football/interview-with-dan-rubenstein.html

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