I have an admission to make: I am a Washington Husky fan. A bleeding-purple-and-gold, flag-in-the-front-yard kind of Husky fan. The UW is my alma mater. I met my fiancée there. From the slippery bricks of Red Square, ready for the hosing down of Vietnam-era protesters (long-held urban legend), to the incredibly creepy and overly quiet Suzzallo reading room, I love the U (and yes, I just said the U, as if it is the only university worth mentioning and universally known by this moniker). And when my Dawgs finally end this infernal football losing streak, I will be the first to belt out an (extremely) off-key rendition of “Bow Down to Washington.” All that said, I have a second admission to make:
I rooted for the Oregon Ducks to beat Stanford.
I joined the Oregon faithful with my head in hands for three quarters. I was only to see a glimmer of hope, extinguished once more as the final onside kick failed and the fate was sealed.
Right now, my fellow Huskies are likely disowning me. My own fiancée was saddened that I even dared to put this statement on paper (seeing as she bought said flag for the front yard. As of now, the wedding is still on). I am not even sure that my degree will still be valid once this article hits the web. But I stand by my choice nonetheless. If asked why I sided with the Ducks, I would have one simple response:
I think the Pac-12 is better than the SEC.
That is practically a statement of heresy in the world of college football today. I’m aware that I’m probably no longer welcome in much of the South. That’s okay, I don’t like sweet tea anyway. The accusations are surely flying that this is a simple homer pick. But it is so much more than that. I fully believe it and will argue it until I am blue in the face or purple in the face, as a Husky fan won’t deign to turn Kentucky blue.
Even further, the Pac-12 North might be the scariest division in all of conference football. I challenge any SEC team to run the gauntlet of UW, Oregon and Stanford. Let’s also not forget the Oregon State Beavers, a scrappy and dangerous team; or even the Washington State Cougars who are on the rise. What else makes this conference so intimidating? Teams employ such a variety of mechanisms to beat their opponents. The Ducks (and to a lesser extent, the Huskies) will simply wear down other teams; Stanford can out physical just about any team in the nation. The air-it-out offense of Oregon State (leading both the Pac-12 and SEC; averaging over 400 yards per game) shows yet another look. The Pac-12 can beat opponents in so many ways, which is why it is so hard to run that gauntlet successfully. Still not convinced?
Does anyone else remember week one? The Cougars, recently the very dregs of the conference, traveled to SEC country to take on the Auburn Tigers. Sure, the Cougs didn’t win. But they played Auburn close, only losing by a touchdown despite three Cougar interceptions. And no, this wasn’t a garbage time Cougar comeback. It was a 4-point game at the half. Where are these teams now?
Wazzu is on the rise and might even make a bowl game (a huge victory for the program), but certainly isn’t challenging for the top spot in the division. Auburn? A top 10 team, cited as a likely contender to play in the SEC title game and bandied about as a battle for Alabama. The Cougs will finish in the bottom of the division while Auburn might win theirs. And the Cougs traveled to SEC country (allegedly, the most intimidating location in college football) and played a tough game. On the road.
Hardly conclusive evidence, I know. Maybe the 13-12 Pac-12 record against the SEC in all games over the last 25 meetings is more substantial, but I think the current Pac-12 is even better than that record indicates. Oregon State averages the most yards in the air of any team in either conference. Oregon scores more points per game than anyone in either conference. And the vaunted defense of Alabama and the SEC? Oregon has recorded nine more sacks and five more interceptions than Alabama. And Oregon isn’t the best in the Pac-12 in either category (Utah and Oregon State are, respectively). In so many categories, the Pac-12 looks stronger to me than the SEC.
While I don’t want to digress, there is one other reason I don’t mind rooting for Oregon. Marcus Mariota is like the anti-Manziel - eschewing everything I dislike about “Johnny Football” while displaying the same, if not, more, talent. Marcus seems like a professional already, in terms of demeanor, leadership and attitude. Johnny Manziel still seems like an entitled kid who taunts his opponents and, likely, took money for autographs. If I don’t get to watch the Ducks against the Tide, maybe I can at least dream about Marcus clobbering Manziel. Sadly, that matchup will probably stay in my dreams.
That’s why I wanted Oregon to win so badly. They were the conference’s best hope to back me up on the biggest stage: the National Championship game, presumably against consecutive victor, Alabama. Now, without some BCS insanity, the Pac-12 will again be on the outside looking in.
Dedicated to my favorite Oregon Duck football player (1958 Rose Bowl team), Marine Corps veteran and my surrogate grandfather: Stewart White.