As the Oregon Ducks skipped their way past a comically over-matched UCLA for their third consecutive Pac-12 title last December, there were whispers emanating from Los Angeles that the Ducks weren't the real Pac-12 champs. Up and down the west coast, people in the know said that the Ducks just got lucky. They were the right team, in the right place, at the right time, while the real, deserved champ was being held down by the NCAA. No, people said. The Ducks third consecutive Pac-12 title didn't mean anything, because they didn't have to face USC head on in the conference championship game.
The Trojans beat the Ducks 38-35 in one of the best college football games of the 2011 season at Autzen, and USC told anyone who would listen that they, not the Ducks, were the best team in league in 2011. Oregon downplayed the story as they prepared for the ultimately triumphant culmination of their season in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Because it was true. Oregon caught quite a break last year. They very well may not have been the best team in the conference.
We'll never know if the 2011 Ducks would have beaten USC in a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game last year, but there was ample evidence to suggest they wouldn't. Losing that game would have been the difference between the Rose Bowl and the Alamo Bowl, conquering the BCS, or having the questions about whether the Ducks could win big games persist. Most importantly, the Ducks slice of luck may have been the difference between Oregon have a chance to go for a dynasty in this coming season, and becoming a college football superpower, or fading into history as a nice little team that went on a nice little run. But hey, it's better to be lucky than good, right?
The Ducks might have beaten USC in a championship game last year anyway, and all these questions would have been rendered moot. But they didn't get a chance to win. And they didn't have the chance to lose. This year, however, all the questions will be answered. USC has been let out of their cage, which prevented them from playing in the postseason the last two years, and their ready to knock Oregon off their pedestal, and take their Pac-12 throne back.
While USC is eager to reestablish themselves as players in the National Championship picture, Oregon has the chance to do something special this year. When you win one championship in a row, you're the champs. When you've won two in a row, you've gone back to back. When you've won three in a row, it's a three-peat. But when you've won four in a row, there is no phrase, no term to easily sum up what you've accomplished. It's a dynasty. That's what Chip Kelly has a chance to achieve in this coming campaign, which should, it things go to plan, boil down to the game at USC in the regular season, a potential rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, and the Ducks bowl game. Oregon doesn't play anyone non-conference, and no one in the conference can challenge the Ducks and Trojans. Basically, it's USC or bust.
If the Ducks do win another title this year, and make it a dynasty, no one will be able to ask any questions. The Ducks will have beaten the Trojans at the top of their game. Their run atop the Pac-12 will be legitimized. If USC gets the better of the Ducks, then there will be an asterix next to the Ducks three titles: Won in the non-USC era.
We have to be careful not to over-dramatize this USC - Oregon clash or clashes on the horizon. Win or lose this year, the Ducks have accomplished more than we dared dream about before Chip Kelly in the last three years. But you can't help feeling that this time, this year, the two alpha dogs are colliding to see who rules the roost. Stanford was no challenge to Oregon's crown. Sure, Andrew Luck's Cardinal were a very good team, but they couldn't compete athletically over the course of 60 minutes with the Ducks. In fact, Stanford was the team that made the Ducks look the best over the last two years. Inside their conference, USC has always made the Ducks look the worst, and chances are, they'll be favored when they clash with Oregon at the LA Coliseum later on this year.
Bennett - Mariota is a pick 'em. Both will be great. But who will match Matt Barkley when push comes to shove? We know Bennett is good under pressure, his cameo replacing an injured Darron Thomas against Arizona State in a primetime ABC game proved that. But Mariota's spring game numbers and the comparisons to Dennis Dixon tell their own story. All I know is that I wouldn't want to be in Chip Kelly's shoes making this call.
When Kelly Chip-flopped and eventually turned down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job last spring, he returned to Eugene saying he had "unfinished business" with the Ducks. Kelly has just two things left to do with the Ducks: One is winning a national championship, and the other is making this program a dynasty in the Pac-12, and a lasting power nationally. 2012 provides the Ducks a shot they have earned the last three years, a shot to turn a three-peat into a dynasty. This may be the Ducks worst team under Kelly. But, by beating USC for the Pac-12 title and BCS glory this year, they can accomplish the most.
A dynasty in sports is three years. USC could've won the conference in 2009, but they didn't. In fact, nothing was stopping them from having the best record in conference in 2010 either, which they would've been considered to have won the conference if they finished with the best record in the Pac-10. Sure, they weren't bowl eligible, but they didn't have scholarship limitations. Kiffin even had a 13th game for them, and they still only went 8-5.
Like it or not, the Ducks 2009-2011 run was a dynasty. And the USC always making Oregon look the worst comment is laughable too. Oregon's only really been relevant since 1994, but since then, Oregon has a winning record against every team in the Pac-10/12, including USC.