From 2002-2008, the Pac-10 was known to many as USC and the nine dwarfs. While Oregon fans took offense to that notion, there was really no disputing the Trojans’ standing as the only school west of Texas to have consistent national respect.
After a couple of off seasons, USC is back and has everyone's attention as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. With the Ducks having to travel to Los Angeles on Nov. 3rd to face the Trojans, the general consensus is that the Trojans have the upper hand for this year's Pac-12 crown.
That might actually work to Oregon’s advantage though, as the Ducks tend to perform well in the underdog role.
The Ducks weren’t expected to go to the Rose Bowl in 2009 after a rough loss to Boise State to open the Chip Kelly era. No one expected the Ducks to be in the BCS National Championship a year later after the dismissal of Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback. Not many expected the Ducks to win the inaugural Pac-12 championship game after losing many of the stars off the BCS runner-up team.
As the 2012 season approaches, not many expect Oregon to win a fourth straight league title.
The Ducks’ schedule should allow them to stroll into the Coliseum undefeated to face a Trojans squad that should also be undefeated. What would result is one of the most hyped games in conference history.
What if the Ducks stroll into the Coliseum and walk away with the win? They would find themselves in the driver’s seat for hosting the Pac-12 Championship Game, which would likely involve a rematch with USC. They would also be staring a return trip to the BCS Championship game right in the eyes.
The Pac-12 now has three teams that have been to multiple BCS games in the past five seasons. The conference can't be called a one-trick pony anymore, as Stanford has joined the elite in recent years.
The biggest reason for the boost in prestige at the top of the league is Oregon's rise to the top. The question now becomes whether or not the Ducks can stay there now that USC looks to be returning to top form.
The Trojans rolled into Autzen Stadium last season and walked away with a win, the first home defeat for the Ducks in the Kelly era.
Along with the rise of USC, many are overlooking the Ducks due to the losses of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. With the departure of two of the most successful players in school history, it would be a remarkable feat for the Ducks to win their fourth straight conference crown.
What exactly would it mean if the Ducks went to a fourth straight BCS game as conference champions?
For starters, it would signal that Kelly and the Ducks are not ready to give USC their spot atop the league back without a fight. It would also prove that the Ducks can beat USC when the Trojans are at their best. The bottom line is that no school other than Oregon and USC has won an outright Pac-10/12 title since Stanford in 1999.
Other than USC and Oregon, the last team to win three straight league crowns was Washington from 1990-1992. Before that it was UCLA from 1953-1955. Outside of USC doing it from 1966-1969, the last Pac-12 school to win four straight league titles was California from 1920-1923.
With a loaded roster full of talent and returning starters the Ducks have a chance to do something only one Pac-12 school has done in 90 years.
Only Miami (Fla.), Ohio State and USC have made four straight appearances in BCS games. Not Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, LSU, Virginia Tech or Michigan.
Even if the Ducks don't win the league and finish with one or two losses, they should still find themselves in the BCS for the fourth straight season. That in and of itself would be remarkable, but winning a fourth straight conference title would be historic.
Not many outside of Eugene think that the feat is possible and have the Ducks running second behind the Trojans in the Pac-12 race.
Chip Kelly and company wouldn't have it any other way.