Oregon Ducks: Darron Thomas

Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Nick from Washington, D.C., writes: Okay So Marcus Mariota is obviously the man in college football. Heisman front-runner, keys to the Oregon offensive castle, clearly an A-list athlete. As an Oregon fan, I have loved the progression from Harrington, Clemens, Masoli, Thomas, and now Mariota. However, as awesome as watching Oregon's continuous progression has been ... I am terrified of the future. With no heralded spread option QBs committing to Oregon, and no real news of Oregon hunting them down, have we become Running Back U of the Pac-12 and no longer the destination of choice for hardcore quasi-under-the-radar quarterbacks? Is Jake Rodrigues really the next in line? If so, should we be worried?

Ted Miller: You are terrified of the future? You should be. Two words: Giant Asteroids.

Run … run! Save yourselves!

Well, Nick -- mind if I call you Chicken Little? -- I would say that, no, you shouldn't be worried.

I recall the panic of 2008: Nate Costa injured! Justin Roper … injured! Who the heck is Jeremiah Masoli?

And then there was the panic of 2010: Masoli gets the boot? Who the heck is Darron Thomas?

And, of course, few saw Mariota coming when he beat out Bryan Bennett, who some fans had been clamoring to replace Thomas.

It does appear that Jake Rodrigues is the favorite to be Mariota's backup this year, and that projects him as the starter in 2015 as a junior. He was a pretty touted recruit, by the way.

As for present recruiting worries, I would only point to what everyone was saying in February 2011: "Who the heck is Marcus Mariota, a two-star recruit and the nation's 123rd best QB?"

Now, stop reading and get out of the way of that GIANT ASTEROID!




John from Dublin, Calif., writes: Regarding scheduling: Ted, you do know the fix is simple, don't you? Just pass a rule that to be included in the playoffs (or any major bowl) you cannot play an FCS team that season, and one-third or more of your nonconference games must be played in the opponents home stadium. Schedules will equalize overnight, or at least within a year or two.

Ted Miller: I hear you. I think the folks promoting the laissez-faire attitude that each conference has a right to schedule as it sees fit are either compromised or naive.

I actually don't care if teams play an FCS team any given year. What I do think is reasonable is to demand teams aspire toward comparable schedules across the Big Five conferences: nine conference games plus an A, B, C plan in nonconference scheduling.

That means play the same number of conference games as everyone else, one other team from a Big Five conference and one other team with a discernible pulse. Then, fine, write yourself in a win over a patsy. A lot of FCS teams need those payout games to survive.

You'd think the home-road differences would even out with Big Five conference teams signing home-and-home series, but that probably isn't likely because teams with 100,000-seat stadiums can offer an alluring payout to teams with smaller stadiums for a single-game series. I suspect we're going to see going forward SEC teams offering big checks to teams like Virginia, Purdue and Kansas to come visit, thereby satisfying the demands -- if not the spirit -- of a plan to upgrade nonconference scheduling.

The present system -- schedule however you want! -- is both illogical and unfair, and the SEC is 100 percent gaming the system for one reason: because it believes it can.

It will be interesting to see how things stack up with the selection committee. If the SEC gets penalized -- as it should -- for its clear effort to make its path to the College Football Playoff easier, then you can expect a quick adjustment.




Tim from Salt Lake City writes: I like the idea of having the Pac-12 championship game in Levi's Stadium but it's not really a neutral site game is it? It's pretty much in Stanford's backyard (yeah, sure, Cal's too, but I don't see them as much of a threat to come out of the North). Is this going to be a permanent thing or is the league looking to rotate this around the region through a bid process?

Ted Miller: My understanding is that the Pac-12 championship game would be based in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara -- it's notable the Pac-12 offices are in the Bay Area -- but nothing is ever set in stone with the conference, considering it's exploring a move from the home-hosted model after just three years.

There are pluses and minuses for keeping a neutral site game in one place. On the plus side, it could establish a new tradition (see the SEC title game in Atlanta) and thereby become logistically easier to operate. One the negative side, it's not a neutral site. Yet Atlanta isn't truly a neutral site, either (Georgia).

My guess is the Pac-12 wouldn't become too fixated on playing the game long term in one stadium if, say, Los Angeles or Phoenix decided to ante up a pile of cash to host the game.

As in most things in college football, this is about revenue -- both present and future. The Pac-12 will follow the money.




Matt from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Teddy ball game. Quick! WSU is killing it right now in recruiting, just got another four-star recruit. This is uncharted territory for the Cougs. I know its early. so give them a little shine before anyone decommits!!!

Ted Miller: Mike Leach and the Cougs are surging, no doubt, with two of five commitments ranked in the ESPN 300. That's a function of folks buying into the future under Leach, as well as shiny new facilities on campus.

The challenge, of course, is getting the letters of intent on signing day. Some of you Cougs might recall that a guy name Bishop Sankey was once a longtime commitment to Washington State.

And, yes, I feel bad for even mentioning that.




Scott from Mound, Minn, writes: You know Ted just when I think you turned a corner you say something ignorant like "any clear-thinking person sees the SEC as the best conference." Maybe it is more of any clear-thinking person realizes that there is no way to really see what conference is the "best." But you work for ESecPN and the SEC is the cash cow so I get why you talking heads would say that. As you so often say Ted, if you repeat a line over and over and shout down other opinions eventually it becomes accepted as truth. Thanks again Ted for demonstrating how biased ESecPN is in their coverage and news reporting. Go back to the South where you belong.

Ted Miller: This is for the Pac-12 blog's SEC friends. See: Pac-12 fans don't like me either.

Scott, I'm not going to even mention the SEC winning seven of the past eight national titles. Or recruiting rankings.

I will only note that the SEC on Thursday led all conferences with 11 first-round picks in the NFL draft, more than twice as many as any other conference.

Of course, that is somewhat disappointing because the SEC had 12 first-round picks last year, when it ended up with 63 draft picks, more than double that of any other conference.

I know the SEC has 14 teams, but the SEC East had more draft picks in 2013 -- 32 -- than any other conference.

Would you describe the NFL business model as being biased toward the SEC?

While the Pac-12 blog often speaks up for Pac-12 causes, it also believes in credibility. This is not a PR instrument. We are not going to be disingenuous or be free and easy with "facts" in order to support a cause.
.
The Pac-12 blog is that way because it wants folks to know that when it takes a position, it does so because it actually believes said position to be true.

So, Scott, it is simply credible to assert that clear-thinking people out there believe the SEC, in general, is the best college football conference.




Chris from Seattle writes: Ted, as a member of the Husky Faithful, I'm a devout reader of the blog. In my day job, I spend my time helping others visualize and understand their data. ESPN recently released the college athletic revenue/expense data, and I found it hard to make sense of. Given the nature of the debate around money in college athletics, I think it's more important than ever to make sure people really understand the data. In an attempt to fix that, I've created an interactive visualization that allows you to pick your conference and teams and see where the money comes from and where it goes. I also added in Director's Cup performance data, so people can see what the outcome of all this money is.

Ted Miller: That is pretty cool. I'm sure many readers will be fascinated.

Pac-12's lunch links

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
2:45
PM ET
Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment?

Pac-12 lunch links: Cooks is top WR

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.
Much has been made of Chip Kelly's departure from Oregon, and many questions remain regarding how new head coach Mark Helfrich will handle the red-hot Oregon program in his first stint as a head coach. How much will things change in Eugene?

Through the first spring under Helfrich, it looks to be more of the same for the high-flying Ducks. That is true on the field and in their search for the next Oregon quarterback.

Oregon recruiting mailbag: Jan. 11 

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
6:00
AM ET
Eddie VanderdoesDamon Sayles/ESPN.comOregon was the early favorite for standout Eddie Vanderdoes.

With the decision by head coach Chip Kelly to return to Eugene after nearly leaving for the NFL for the second year in a row, the Ducks are settling in for the stretch run of the 2013 recruiting cycle.

The return of Kelly, a win in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 2 ranking in the final BCS poll give the Ducks plenty of momentum as they look to close their recruiting class with a bang for the third year in a row.

Here are some of the best questions submitted to the DuckNation mailbag in the past week.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a school of thought, now apparently subscribed to by a handful of desperate NFL teams, that if that uber-suave, hirsute gentleman from those wildly entertaining Dos Equis beer commercials revealed his true identity, he would rip off a bearded mask and reveal Chip Kelly.

Is Kelly the most interesting man in the world?

Pause for a moment before chortling over our potential hyperbole, for Kelly has packed a lot into his 52-game tenure at Oregon, including 45 victories.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Don RyanChip Kelly doesn't often discuss his life with writers, but when he does, his answers are revealing.
He has run with the bulls in Pamplona. He has led the Ducks to three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl games. He has done humanitarian work in Africa. He has produced Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. He has visited U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kelly, 49 and single, is also fiercely private. He has never cooperated with any truly in-depth "This is your life, Chip Kelly!" story, which is exceedingly rare for a high-profile coach. Nearly all his close friends are back in New Hampshire, where he's from and where he went to college.

Kelly doesn't like glad-handing boosters, something often viewed as a prerequisite for being a college coach. He particularly dislikes talking to reporters, and he goes to great lengths to make sure they understand.

The Dos Equis guy says, "Stay thirsty, my friends." Kelly would say, "Stay away, annoying hangers-on."

Yet the vast majority of Ducks fans not only love all the winning, they love Kelly for his wiseacre, smirking self. They chant "Big Balls Chip!" inside rocking Autzen Stadium to celebrate Kelly's penchant for going for it on fourth down, going for 2 and launching onside kicks at surprising times.

He tells fans, "Shut up!" for cheering behind him during an ESPN postgame interview, and they love him more. A Twitter page, Chipisms, celebrates not only Kelly's amusing or insightful wisdom -- “I saw the ‘Feel Sorry for Yourself’ train leaving the parking lot & none of our players were on it, so that was a good sign” -- but also for his snark.

Inquiries that Kelly doesn't like might get one-word answers, clichéd responses or snappy rejoinders that belittle his inquisitors. Questions that engage him, however, receive full and thoughtful treatment. Consider this response from an ESPN story on Kelly's trip to Africa, when he worked with adolescent girls who had no idea who he was.

"The real heroes are the little girls in Africa who are trying to better themselves so they can help their families," he said. "When I hear a coach say, 'We're grinding.' I'm like: You're sitting in a room with air conditioning watching videotape. That's not grinding."

There seem to be three facets to Kelly. His standoffish public face, the detail-obsessed coach and the Renaissance man determined to drink life to the lees away from the game. Even the hard-driving, "win the day" side of Kelly can loosen up behind closed doors; those who work with him frequently cite his sense of humor.

"He [jokes around] all the time," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, a leading candidate to replace Kelly should he bolt for an NFL job. "It's not: 'Aha, he smiled! Isn't that amazing?' It's daily. We have a lot of fun."

Further, while Kelly's offense almost always runs like a finely tuned machine, plenty of, er, interesting things have been interspersed with winning during Kelly's tenure. Drama has not been lacking over the past four seasons.

His first game as Oregon's head coach remains his worst: A 19-8 loss at Boise State. Not only did the Ducks gain an embarrassing 152 total yards, but Kelly's star running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos player afterward, bringing the hot light of controversy to his team's feckless performance.

Some thought Kelly was in over his head. He answered that by becoming the first Pac-10 coach to lead a team to an outright conference championship his first season.

Oh, and in a sign of interesting things to come, when a season-ticket holder wrote Kelly demanding a refund for his expenses incurred after attending that disastrous trip to Boise, Kelly quickly fired off a note with a personal check for $439.

Heading into 2010, starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended after he was involved in the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house. Losing a star quarterback typically would damage a team's chances, but all Kelly's team did was finish undefeated and play for the national championship, losing 22-19 when Auburn kicked a last-second field goal.

The NCAA came calling during the 2011 offseason, wanting to know details of Kelly's and the program's dealings with street agent Willie Lyles. A distraction? Nope. Oregon won the conference a third consecutive year and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.

Kelly then nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His quarterback, two-year starter Darron Thomas, had already opted to leave the program, which again threw into question the Ducks' prospects. But Kelly returned and so did the winning, with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors while leading the Ducks to a No. 4 ranking and a Fiesta Bowl berth opposite Kansas State.

Yet he arrives at the Fiesta Bowl amid swirling rumors that he's about to leave for his pick of available NFL jobs. Asked about his NFL ambitions this week, he gave a 235-word answer that essentially said "no comment."

"My heart is to win the day, and that’s it," he concluded. "I know everybody wants to hear a different answer, and I know at times when I don’t give you guys the answer you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive. My job is to coach the University of Oregon football team, and I love doing it. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

So the question will linger for a coach who at the very least is currently the most interesting man in college football: Will the Fiesta Bowl be his last day to win for Oregon?

A closer look: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
10:00
AM ET
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL

No. 5 Kansas State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Oregon (11-1)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Kansas State: Bill Snyder's boys proved they could get over a painful Baylor loss. With the Big 12 title in the balance, K-State thrashed Texas with a second-half surge to win the Big 12 title on its home field. K-State made the first 10 games of the season look pretty easy, even with close wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road. The Wildcats largely controlled both games but blew out a whole bunch of 7-5 Big 12 teams like West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have a great case as the best K-State team ever, even though a painful loss to Baylor cost them what looked like a really likely shot at a national title after reaching No. 1 in the BCS for the first time ever after a win at TCU. This was K-State's first Big 12 title since 2003 but the first time it's truly been the Big 12's best team throughout the regular season since 1998.

About Oregon: The Ducks are all about go, go, go and this season's been no exception. The run-heavy offense didn't miss a beat without LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. We'll talk about the Ducks trio more a little later, but Oregon nearly reached the national title game for the second time in three years before a painful overtime loss to Oregon's super offense's kryptonite: Stanford. The Ducks hadn't scored fewer than 42 points all season. Stanford held them to just 14 in an overtime loss the same night K-State lost to Baylor. The teams were No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS on Nov. 17, poised to block the SEC from playing for a seventh straight national title, but the loss also cost Oregon a bid to the Pac-12 championship and a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth. Instead, the Ducks are headed to the desert where they lost to Auburn in the title game two years ago. The Ducks are 4-1 against top 25 teams, but haven't played anyone ranked higher than No. 13, which was Stanford. Those four wins, though, came by an average of almost 29 points.

Wildcats to watch: In case you missed the second half of the Wildcats' win over Oklahoma State, Heisman finalist Collin Klein is K-State's offense. Receiver Chris Harper and running back John Hubert are fine talents in their own right, but Klein is the man who makes it all go. When he's out or plays poorly like he did against TCU and Baylor (performances that ultimately cost him the Heisman Trophy), K-State can look very, very average offensively. Linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown has led one of the Big 12's best defenses along with cornerback Nigel Malone and big-time pass-rusher Meshak Williams.

Ducks to watch: How many players on any team ever have had three different players earn legitimate Heisman hype at some point during the season? Scatback De'Anthony Thomas was an early-season splash before slowing with limited touches as the season moved forward, though Kenjon Barner emerged as the team's best back throughout the season. In the middle of the season, though, quarterback Marcus Mariota landed on a few ballots with some big games, too. Barner is the team's best player, ranking fifth nationally with 1,624 rushing yards, but Mariota's passer rating of 165.36 is higher than every Big 12 quarterback but J.W. Walsh. Linebacker Michael Clay racked up 92 tackles and fellow backer Kiko Alonso led the team with 12 tackles for loss (two defensive linemen, Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart, combined for 20.5), but let's be honest: It's all about the offense on this squad.

Did you know? Because of expansion quirks, there have been six Big 12 teams to play in this game in the past five years. No Big 12 team won the game from 2001-08, but the league is 3-1 in the game in the past four seasons, including huge wins over No. 10 Ohio State and No. 4 Stanford over that stretch. (There were also rumors of a win over a five-loss team from somewhere in the Northeast, but I don't know anything about that.)

More on the Big 12 Bowls:

Oregon recruiting: Quick hitters 

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
7:00
AM ET
With their 48-24 victory in the "Civil War" on Saturday, the Ducks capped off another regular season that gave fans and the rest of the country plenty of reasons to believe Oregon isn't going anywhere.

The Ducks lost game-breakers LaMichael James and Darron Thomas without losing a step. In fact, they may be even better. With another strong close to a recruiting cycle, the Ducks should be able to stay at the top of college football.

[+] EnlargeThomas Duarte
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comOregon TE target Thomas Duarte is hoping to lead Mater Dei to a CIF Southern Section Pac-5 title this weekend.
While many fans are still upset about the Stanford loss, it hasn't had any effect on recruits who are considering the Ducks. Two of Oregon's remaining targets were visiting Oregon State over the weekend. What they saw was the Ducks win their third straight game in Corvallis.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Could Conley be the next Ducks flip? 

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
7:30
AM ET
Under Chip Kelly, the Oregon Ducks have arguably become the hottest program in college football, both on the field and in recruiting.

Since Kelly first arrived in 2007, the Ducks have flipped LaGarrette Blount (Florida State) Darron Thomas (LSU), De'Anthony Thomas (USC) and Bralon Addison (Texas A&M) in recent years, proving they can go against the best and convince some of their top prospects to switch their commitments and ultimately sign with the Ducks.

Gareon Conley
Courtesy Conley FamilyCould Ohio cornerback Gareon Conley decommit from Michigan and sign with Oregon?
The Ducks have become the trendy program out West, if not the entire country. By playing hard to get, or as Kelly calls it, "doing our due diligence," the Ducks leave kids yearning for an offer and a visit to campus.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Oregon recruiting by state: Texas 

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
5:00
AM ET
Oregon DucksHarry How/Getty ImagesFormer Houston Aldine star Darron Thomas, whose 66 TD passes are an Oregon record, was a spark for the Ducks' offense as a two-year starter before opting to go pro at the end of last season.

The Ducks have never had the benefit of loading up on local players who grew up dreaming of playing for the them. The talent level just isn't there. The truth is, it likely never will be. The Ducks have always recruited California as well as they can be expected to. In recent years, the Ducks have done a great job of going into states such as Texas to secure commitments from some top players.

The Oregon football program is basically the exact opposite of the Texas Longhorns' program. Texas has tradition, Heisman Trophies, national championships and dozens of recruits who come knocking at their door, begging to play for one of the most iconic college football programs in history. Oregon has no national championships, no Heisman Trophies and less than a handful of in-state recruits to choose from each year.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

There was so much anticipation for Nov. 3, which was circled in red as soon as the 2012 schedules came out: Oregon at USC. "That," everyone said, "is going to be big."

It's two days after. While Ducks coach Chip Kelly won't pause and reflect, we can. And here's where we are: It feels like Oregon has its best team ... ever.

While the defense didn't walk away from a 62-51 win over USC feeling great about itself, the Ducks offense reached a new level of ludicrous speed against a quality Trojans defense that was simply extraordinary. Don't gloss over this: A USC defense had never given up so many points. Never. Nor had it ever given up 730 yards. Never! Heck, that was 107 yards more than a legendary Notre Dame squad piled up in 1946 while setting the mark that lasted 66 years.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Charles Baus/Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesQuarterback Marcus Mariota has helped Oregon average over 54 points per game in 2012.
This Oregon offense, with a redshirt freshman quarterback, has significantly better numbers than the 2010 squad that played for the national title.

The Ducks rushed for 286.2 yards per game in 2010. They are rushing for 341.2 this season. They averaged 530.65 yards in 2010. They average 561.2 yards this season. They averaged 47 points per game in 2010. They average 54.33 this season. Their passing efficiency number in 2010 was 151.72. It's 159.94 this season.

This squad is younger on the offensive line than the 2010 crew, but it's far more physically gifted. And Marcus Mariota is a better passer and runner than Darron Thomas, notably more consistent and accurate. Thomas completed 61.5 percent of his passes in 2010. Mariota is completing 70.5 percent of his throws.

In fact, Mariota now ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 7 in the nation in passing efficiency. The Pac-12 blog is officially retiring the word "test" from further stories on Mariota.

The one area where the 2010 Ducks looked superior was at receiver, but one of the overlooked revelations from the USC game was how well the receivers played. Josh Huff turned in perhaps his best game, catching six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Seven different players caught passes.

Of course, it's slightly bogus to compare the 2010 and 2012 numbers at this point. There's a lot of football left. In fact, there might be the toughest football ahead, particularly the next three -- or four -- opposing defenses.

Oregon visits California on Saturday. You might recall that the only team to shut the Ducks offense down in 2010 was the Golden Bears playing at home. Further, Stanford and Oregon State are ranked Nos. 1 & 2 in both scoring and rushing defense in the Pac-12. In fact, Stanford is No. 1 and Oregon State No. 5 in the nation in run defense, and both are ranked in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense.

The odds are against the Ducks rolling up 730 yards against either. But, of course, we would have typed the same about the Trojans.

And then there could be a Pac-12 title game. At this moment, the favorite to win the South Division figures to be the winner of the USC-UCLA game on Nov. 17, but predicting how the South might go feels like a week-to-week thing.

It's easy to begin salivating over the idea of this Chip Kelly Oregon offense facing a Nick Saban Alabama defense for the national title. I will admit that among a gaggle of sportswriters in L.A. for the game, it came up more than once.

Still, Nov. 3 didn't set up like most expected. The Trojans failed to live up to their preseason projections. Nov. 3 was a measuring stick, a significant one, but not one that provides a decisive verdict.

What the Pac-12 became this year was deep, not top-heavy, as expected. Seven different teams have been ranked this season, and five are ranked in the latest BCS standings. No one saw the Beavers' rise coming, nor were Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA expected to be such tough outs.

So these Ducks only can be evaluated on the totality of the season, which probably is as it should be. Their ultimate achievement won't be owning Nov. 3. It will be running the table in a deep Pac-12.

Best Oregon team ever? That's my impression. But let's wait and answer that on Nov. 30.

Or on Jan. 7.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
10:43
AM ET
Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"

What Oregon could have looked like 

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
5:17
PM ET
Marqise LeeCal Sport Media/AP ImagesYeah, Oregon's offense is elite already, but how good would it be if it had gotten Marqise Lee to sign in 2011? Pac-12 defenses shudder at the thought.
Under Chip Kelly, the Oregon football program has risen to a level few ever thought it could reach. His coaching style and aggressive schemes have led the Ducks to become a powerhouse program. While they are still far from a recruiting powerhouse, the influx of elite talent is one of the biggest reasons for their recent success. On Kelly's watch, the Ducks have secured a number of top prospects, including one of the biggest recruiting coups ever when they flipped De'Anthony Thomas after a long commitment to USC. Thomas has been brilliant in his time with the Ducks. Even with the Ducks' new recruiting prowess, taking a local legend out from under the thumb of a school like USC is the exception more than the rule.

There have been a few notable misses and some heated recruiting battles in the Kelly era that could have made this season's Ducks -- one of the best teams in school history -- nearly unbeatable. With some members of the Class of 2008 still in college, we'll look at what the Ducks could have looked like had they landed a few more of their key recruits.

2008

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Kelly's culture: Ducks are all for one 

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
6:30
AM ET
Oregon FootballSteve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon coach Chip Kelly commands instant respect from players -- and recruits often feel it so keenly they commit rather quickly.

EUGENE, Ore. -- "Family atmosphere" is a term commonly used by recruits when discussing the feeling they get while visiting a college campus. While nearly every program has it to some degree, some programs take it to a whole new level.

The Oregon Ducks have done just that during Chip Kelly's tenure. The special thing about the Ducks is that, for them, it's not just about the family atmosphere -- it's the overall attitude that permeates the football program that makes them tick.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Player of the Week: Pac-12

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
4:00
PM ET
Lots of great choices this week, but one stood out in the mind of the Pac-12 blog: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

What makes Mariota's debut so impressive wasn't the three touchdown passes or the 200 yards on 18 of 22 passing. Or even the fact that his Ducks dropped 50 in the first half on Arkansas State.

Most impressive was the way he handled his business; cool, patient and collected. There was almost no indication that it was his first collegiate start. He was poised and dangerously efficient with no interceptions and a sparkling 81.8 completion percentage.

As we all know, Mariota was involved in a very private, very intense quarterback competition with Bryan Bennett -- last year's backup and a lot of people's pick as the presumptive starter following the departure of Darron Thomas.

But Mariota won the job and showed why he's Chip Kelly's guy Saturday night, carving up Arkansas State (with a little help from his friends) and calling it a night before the halftime festivities. For anyone who might have been on the fence following Kelly's decision, it's time to get off. Mariota's performance left little room for second guessing.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Kanell's College Football Playoff Teams
Danny Kanell discusses which teams he would pick for the College Football Playoff and predicts the winner.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video