They won the Pac-10 by two games in 2009, becoming the first team since the 1991 Washington Huskies to do so. They demolished most of the Pac-10 and came back from an early season flop. But the Oregon Ducks still have to prove themselves in 2010. They would have had to with or without a Rose Bowl Championship.
If the Ducks are ranked in the top 12 when the final rankings come out, they will have finished in the top 12 five times this decade. The Ducks have shown that they can compete with anyone. (Let's remember that with about 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, the Ducks were down by two, having played a terrible game offensively.) But they have yet to win the big one. They win big home games, they win bowl games that are one step below the biggest, but they have not taken that next step.
That is the Ducks' task in 2010. With many returning starters and an average non-conference schedule (New Mexico, Tennessee, Portland State), the Ducks are primed for a quick start and will most likely begin the season ranked in the top 10. But another 9-3 or 10-2 regular season just isn’t good enough.
To cement your legacy as a national football power, you must win a national championship. At the beginning of next season, the Ducks will be in position to play in the national championship with a high ranking, but the Ducks must prove that they have a stronger will than any competitor to reach the ultimate goal.
The Ducks have many things in their favor. Jeremiah Masoli returns as quarterback, LaMichael James at running back, and the entire offensive line is back as well. Overall, 19 of 22 starters return for the Ducks. The receiving core should get a big boost with the addition of Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson—two big, physical receivers who can block and add an extra dimension in the pass game.
The Pac-10 conference schedule isn’t easy, with the Ducks traveling to USC, Cal, and Oregon State, but if the Ducks were to go undefeated with that road schedule, it would cement their power on the west coast.
We seen highly-touted recruits supposedly have the Ducks as their favorite, and then commit somewhere else. Most recently, five-star defensive end Dominique Easley committed to Florida after he was “all but a sure thing for Oregon.” If the Ducks could reach the National Championship game, some of these things might go away.
Duck fans shouldn't be satisfied with another Rose Bowl, because this team should accomplish so much more. They have had a chance to taste success in 2009, only to end the season with the sourness of defeat. The other top-tier teams next year with few questions are Alabama, Boise State, and Ohio State. A young Oregon team lost to two of these three teams, so they don’t deserve to be considered better than them, but they are on a similar level.
The Ducks can make next season a season to remember, but to do so, there must be no letdown and no overconfidence. If Chip Kelly and the Ducks do what they should do, they will be sitting at home Dec. 5 with another Pac-10 title, and, in a perfect world, planning a Jan. 10 trip to Glendale, Arizona.