Posted on: November 14, 2011 11:50 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 11:55 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
The build up wasn't quite as big as that tussle down in Tuscaloosa but there was no denying that Saturday's game between Oregon and Stanford was the biggest conference game in years. Two top six teams, a packed crowd at Stanford Stadium, a visit from GameDay, and even an appearance by the new Pac-12 championship trophy.
People who normally wouldn't be caught dead at a Stanford football game showed up in droves and ticket scalpers were quite desperate to talk to anyone who had tickets. Duck fans brought plenty of kegs and the Cardinal fans opened up a few more bottles of wine than they normally do. The atmosphere wasn't Autzen or Husky Stadium or the Coliseum but there was a noticeable buzz in Palo Alto.
And then Oregon came in and unleashed their familiar blitzkrieg on offense and literally and figuratively ran away from Stanford in a final score, 52-31, remarkably similar to last season's game in Eugene. Say what you want about Chip Kelly's struggles in bowl games or non-conference match ups but he owns the Pac-12 in a way that not even Pete Carroll did, winning his 19th consecutive conference game - all but three by double-digits.
The storyline Saturday during the game was the play of the Ducks' defense, who forced Andrew Luck to be a mere mortal by throwing into coverage most of the night, fumbling and tossing a pick-six. Credit longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti for several weeks of great game plans, shutting down Washington's offense with six sacks and two picks the game before. Breaking in several new starters this year, it took awhile for the unit to gel in the first half of the season but they've come on strong as of late. The secret to their success lies in part on the offense, who are so quick scoring that it forces opposing offenses to wear themselves out trying to play catch up. Mix in some pressure from the front seven, which Aliotti loves to do, and Oregon has more than a solid defense.
The storyline after the game (or, at least, beginning in the middle of the third quarter) was the sudden emergence of the Ducks back in the national title race. For all the talk of an Alabama-LSU rematch in New Orleans, suddenly that wasn't the only possible one on the table. As Dennis Dodd wrote after the game, for pure entertainment value it has to be the Ducks.
"I feel we should have a chance to play LSU again," speedster DeAnthony Thomas said.
Thomas, no doubt, wants some measure of redemption against the Tigers after fumbling in the opener and contributing to the lopsided 40-27 score. Were the Ducks closer than that margin indicated? Sure. The margin is what it is however and a great deal more than Alabama's three point loss in overtime.
As Kelly made his way to the post-game set for a television hit, plenty of Oregon fans had gathered in the section of stands near him to celebrate their beloved "Big Balls Chip." Euphoric after beating the Cardinal, everybody clad in green (or yellow or silver or lighting yellow or black…) was excited about the possibility - albeit slim if examined closely - of a rematch with LSU in the national title game.
Column after column was filed from the press box bringing up the same point. Plenty of Oregon fans on Twitter began discussing their resume. With the South division a mess, the win essentially gave Oregon the the conference title in what was the defacto Pac-12 Championship game.
Yet all anybody could talk about was the possibility of another trip to the title game. Two words I didn't hear from anybody affiliated with Oregon: Rose Bowl. Everybody and their mother were putting the cart before the horse or, to be more apt in this case, the Rose before the Mardi Gras beads.
Sure, everybody wants to play for the national championship. Ducks fans not only want a shot of redemption against LSU, but want one in response to the agonizing last second loss to Auburn in Glendale. Still, it's hard to fathom that no one is excited over playing THE bowl game against the weakest Big Ten opponent in years. Beating Stanford established Oregon as a likely double-digit favorite in the granddaddy of them all and yet that wasn't on anybody's mind this weekend.
Color me confused, especially when you consider the school has only been to 24 bowl games total and has a 9-15 record in them. Oregon has been to Pasadena only twice in 50 years and have just one trophy from the game - from 1917.
When USC went on their run under Carroll, there was plenty of talk coming out of Troy about being disappointed playing in "another" Rose Bowl. It seems like Ducks fans have the same mentality despite the lack of trips to the game or the wins.
BCS proponents often state, every week in the college football season is a playoff. The Ducks playoff game? They lost it. The Crimson Tide's playoff game? They lost it. The talk of a rematch needs to be saved for another day.
Is the Rose Bowl technically an exhibition/consolation prize? Yes, but it's the best consolation prize in college football. So forget about a rematch, Oregon should be excited about the possibility of a Rose Bowl win at the end of the year, not arguing their worthiness for the title game. That's the takeaway from Saturday's win people need to focus on.
Stat of the week
Vanderbilt's 38-8 win over Kentucky was the school's most decisive SEC win in four decades. The Commodores are now three point favorites over Tennessee, who they beat seemingly once a century. Strange times.
Stats of the week
- Every SEC team has scored a defensive touchdown this season. South Carolina has five alone while Alabama leads the country in all major defensive categories.
- Quarterback Connor Halliday set a Washington State freshman record after throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona State. The mark was the sixth most yards the Sun Devils have ever given up.
- Just some amazing numbers with Boise State's loss to TCU this weekend. The Broncos are college football's winningest team over the past four years (46-3) and all of their losses are by a combined five points (1, 3 and 1). The loss to the Horned Frogs was Chris Petersen's first at home as head coach and the team's first home conference loss since 1998. According to Brian Murphy, the last home conference loss was to Idaho, 36-35 on a 2-point conversion. Boise State lost to TCU 36-35 thanks to a 2-point conversion.
- Missouri held Texas to single digits for the first time since 2006, a span of 61 games. The last time the Longhorns scored just five points was a 5-6 loss to Sewanee in 1911.
- South Carolina held Florida to fewer than 14 points for the first time since 1939.
Tweet of the week
"We just had a marriage proposal at midfield during halftime. So at least one Red Raider is going to score today."
- Aaron Dickens, editor of RedRaiderSports.com during Tech's 66-6 loss to Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders have been outscored 159-33 in three losses following their upset of Oklahoma.
2. Oklahoma State
8. Boise State
Where we'll be this week
Columnist Gregg Doyel will be in Columbus to see Ohio State's final home game against Penn State while Dennis Dodd will see Oregon again as USC travels up to Eugene. Brett McMurphy will be in Houston as SMU comes in with hopes of pulling a BCS-sized upset.
Leaning this way
Nebraska at Michigan
This an elimination game for the loser as both have an outside shot of going to the Big Ten championship game with a win and some help by Michigan State's opponents. Michigan has not been terribly sharp the past few games while Nebraska has been in back-to-back close games. This is at the Big House which might be the biggest advantage the Wolverines have.
SMU at Houston
A potential stumbling block for Houston as they continue to march their way to the Conference USA title game and a BCS berth. The best offense in the country has been rolling up points - 73 last week for the second time this season - but faces their stiffest competition yet with the Mustangs, who have one of the better defenses in the conference. Still, SMU isn't a special team and this should be a chance for Case Keenum to impress Heisman voters some more with a big spotlight game.
USC at Oregon
Is USC better equipped defensively to handle the Ducks? Yes. Do they have more talent on offense than anybody else Oregon has faced? Yes. But that still doesn't make up for the fact that the Trojans haven't won in the state of Oregon in years. Oregon continues their march to another conference championship in front of a raucous Autzen crowd.
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