Close, But Not Close Enough for the Ducks
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Losing to Ohio State, 42-20, in the inaugural College Football Playoff doesn’t mean the Ducks are fraudulent or not capable of handling the big stage. The Buckeyes dominated the trenches, essentially bullying UO for 60 minutes to the point where those thought-to-be dispelled knocks about being a finesse team and soft resurfaced.
We all know speed kills.
Until it doesn’t, of course. Like Monday night in Arlington, Texas, when the more physical team won the national title.
Even losing the turnover battle didn’t matter for the Buckeyes, who are poised to rule college football until Urban Meyer’s next inevitable burnout.
Here’s what the national landscape looks like - Michigan State isn’t going anywhere, and Jim Harbaugh might revive Michigan. Nick Saban is always a threat at Alabama, and bank on the SEC offering up another viable national contender every year. In the Big 12, Gary Patterson has built a monster at TCU, and time will tell about Art Briles at Baylor.
Florida State is Florida State again, with or without Jameis Winston.
In the Pac-12, keep an alert eye on Arizona and coach Rich Rodriguez, who worked in a freshman this year at quarterback in Anu Solomon and were probably a year ahead of schedule. The Wildcats might be the class of the conference, a title that belonged to the Ducks for the last, um, how many years?
There is going to be transition in the program, and warning, it might be uncomfortable. Unsettling, even. A dip to single-digit victories is likely, and while that might freak out a somewhat fragile fan base, it might be the best thing in the long term for the program.
What Oregon did this season was what any intelligent coaching staff would have done this year - squeeze every single bit of effort from Marcus Mariota, arguably the best player in the country. But Meyer, the best coach in the nation not named Nick Saban, isn’t who he is by not being able to scheme to take away an opponent’s best player - he dominated the SEC doing the exact same thing while at Florida.
He has assembled a monster in Columbus. He will be formidable there.
We’ll have to wait and see on Mark Helfrich in Eugene. Again, this isn’t an indictment of his acumen - he did precisely what he should have done. You have a horse in Mariota? You’d better ride him. Heck, it was a strategy that was effective against virtually everyone else.
But now, in all likelihood, Mariota is gone. Now what?
Well, we’re going to find out. Maybe he scraps the blur offense and goes back to his pro-style roots. Maybe he instructs the staff to recruit differently to shore up his offensive and defensive lines. Or, and this might be the best route, he doesn’t change a thing and just gets back to work. There’s no shame in what was accomplished in 2014-15.
Helfrich has earned his looming raise, but with an increased salary comes heightened scrutiny. At times this season, the criticism was a bit much - and he reached the national championship. Imagine if UO falls to Oregon State and begins to lose four games a year again?
That’s a long way off still.
For now, it’s another heartbreaking defeat in the so-called “natty,” and maybe that monkey - finesse and speed only - is back on the program’s back.
Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Duck Fans React to NCAA Football Championship
Fans gathered throughout Portland Monday night to watch the NCAA Football Championship, the first ever to be determined by a playoff series. GoLocalPDX caught some of fan reactions in the heat of the moment.