Lots to be thankful for in potential sixth straight 10-win season

by Jeff Newcomb

Let’s all take a deep breath. Repeat after me: 10-2 is a good season. 10-2 is a good season.There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? There is a lot to be thankful for this season, and no Duck fan should be without his or her pride as the team heads into bowl season.

Think not? Fine, let’s get a grip and see just what we have to be thankful for…

Taylor, swift: Oregon’s nonstop motor man Taylor Hart pressures quarterback Justin Worley in the Ducks 59-14 victory over SEC foe Tennessee this September. Friday night Duck fans have the opportunity to pay tribute to Hart and 18 other seniors that played a part in Oregon’s three PAC-12 championships and four BCS bowls. With a win over the Beavers, they will have engineered the Ducks’ sixth-straight season of 10 or more wins (Gary Breedlove, Eugene Daily News photo).

 

There is much a true fan can say, and we all know how much has been said about this Oregon Ducks football team right now, but it’s what people say about them next January that will matter most. Cuss and rant and rave; you know this is true.

When that time comes, I wonder if we’ll have the answers we seek as the fans and friends and family of this team. Maybe we’ll just have more questions?

There are no guarantees at this point. It’s been a strange year.

We’ve seen the highs (Cal) and lows (Stanford) and even lowers (Arizona) of this season and still have our dignity intact, but we’re still not quite sure what’s going on inside those flashy helmets…

Yes, the Arizona loss stings, and stands out as a major breakdown in team cohesion. That game will either be a wakeup call for Friday’s game against little brother or a requiem for the season that almost was, for if there ever was a year to win it all, this surely had to be it. Alas, it was not meant to be.

It is not the end of the world. We’ve known worse. We’ve seen better. These are still the best of times by any stretch of the imagination, even though there are lingering doubts about the heart and soul of the Oregon Ducks football team.

Right now, there is plenty we do not know about the character of this team, though some have speculated heavily in this regard. Let’s ask those questions for our own sanity, and for the sake of argument:

Was it the transition from one coach to another? Chip was a machine. He said little and asked a lot. Oregon’s record under Kelly stands by itself, and he was a great coach. His talent was apparent, and he was called away by the siren song that lures all great football minds. The Helf has replaced Kelly, and that is our reality now.

Did the shift from a heavily shielded biosphere of faceless opponents and weekly rivalry games to a team-driven commune that allows players more freedom and a voice of their own break the spell of inevitability these proud young men once thrived upon?

Maybe. We know that new leadership brings change. Everyone has had a new boss at work come in and change the way things “have always been done,” and you’ve all seen the results. Resistance. Anger. Sabotage. Low morale. Change is never easy. Rivalries never change. Champions do. It is too soon to say that the Helfrich era is a failure.

Was it the pressure of high expectations? Not that any of the fans put pressure on the team to perform miracles or anything… Expecting to blow out Stanford by 40 was a stretch, but based upon performances from years past, it wasn’t that far out of line. It just didn’t happen.

That some of the players thought it would happen wasn’t completely out of line either. When Josh Huff said playing in Pasadena wouldn’t be as special if it wasn’t for the national championship, could you really blame him? Did you not feel the same, Duck fan? You know you did. We all did! This was a special year, but something went wrong along the way and blaming it on one thing or another isn’t really going to help at this point. Those kids are human, just like you and I, and humans are fallible.

There were signs of trouble all along. Slow starts, mental lapses like the one that allowed Colorado to score on the long ball, and a well-played game that still allowed Cal to plink and plunk their way to phenomenal numbers against the Ducks D…

In the grand scheme of things, it was nothing terrible. Colorado State gave Alabama a scare, too. Clemson lost a winnable game. Johnny Football lost two. Georgia lost three. Little brother got punked by an FCS team in week 1. Florida, once ranked #7, got punked by an FCS team just last week…

Good teams fall every year. Great teams lose games they shouldn’t lose. Some of them rise to the challenge and still play in significant games. And win. That’s what champions do with adversity. They internalize the lesson and move on. Will Oregon do that? We hope so. We’ll find out Friday night.
The anguish among Oregon fans is understandable. You’re used to much better than this. You thought Oregon had transcended the mediocre football of years gone by and would bring you endless amounts of joy and a national championship or two. Oregon deserves it, right? After all those years of 2-9 mediocrity, this was finally the pinnacle of success that you’ve waited all your life for, right?

It still is. Mariota and DAT will probably be back next year. Despite what you hear in the news, their prospects in the NFL have dwindled with these last two losses and they can only help themselves by sticking around for another year. It is Frost and The Helf whose stock has plummeted the most, however, and they’ll also get another year to work on things.

Oregon is bowl bound for the umpteenth year in a row. If you don’t remember all those endless years where the Ducks did not play in a bowl, when you had to watch USC or UCLA on New Years Day and wish upon a star that someday, somehow, the Ducks just might possibly bring you some holiday cheer, then you might not realize just how special this run of greatness really is.

If you don’t remember those miserable days, and if you think this is the worst Duck season in your life, do the rest of us old timers a favor and just be quiet for a few months. You’re spoiled. You haven’t paid your dues. You really don’t know just how much you have to be thankful for. Then again, maybe you do? Maybe you’re right and the rest of us are wrong, and Oregon needs to fire all of the coaches, hire Nick Saban away from Alabama, and chuck the blur offense for something more traditional. We wouldn’t be the first team to do so. Won’t be the last.

I’m thankful for this Duck team and all that they do. I love the style and grace and poise they exude when they win, and I love the humility they have when they lose. They are me, and I am a fan. Happy Thanksgiving, and…