With a record of 6-0, the program’s very first #1 ranking unveiled in the AP/Coaches, and at #2 in the BCS rankings, the University of Oregon Ducks find themselves at the halfway point of the season, and with a very real chance at competing for their first national championship in their soon-to-be one hundred and seventeen year existence.
The Ducks have knocked on this door before, and have been turned away like some sort of sad door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. In 2001, the Joey Harrington led team managed to eek out 11 wins with only 1 loss that left the team ranked #3 in the polls before the bowl game, but their dominant victory over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and some technicalities in the BCS rules gave the Ducks a final finish of the season with a #2 ranking, no chance for the national title, and a bad taste in their mouth. It was the closest the program had ever come, but it wouldn’t be much longer before it looked like the team might do it again.
Another opportunity arose in during the 2007-2008 season when the Ducks stormed out to a 6-1 record and a #2 ranking in the polls before an ACL injury to quarterback Dennis Dixon’s knee sent the team into a tailspin forcing them to crash land during the rest of season, going 3-3, to end up in the nobody Sun Bowl.
So, it is with baited breath this week that Ducks fans cautiously look forward to the six games remaining in the second half of the schedule. While every team in the Pac 10 is a legitimate threat on any given Saturday, the Ducks still have particularly interesting challenges ahead with with an away game against a USC team that in over the past ten years has always been a threat, as well as a home game against a currently 5-1 Arizona that should prove tricky, as well as a Civil War game against the Oregon State Beavers whose 3-3 record doesn’t indicate how much they have scared at least three ranked opponents this year, who only won by the smallest of margins.
The Beavers and Ducks have a long history of spoiling the bowl aspirations of one another. Even with the season ending knee injury to all purpose Beavers wide receiver James Rodgers, the challenge should be no less difficult this year for the Ducks than any other. No matter how bad the Oregon State Beavers have been over the years, they have often found a way to turn up the heat on the Ducks, and make the Civil War a very competitive game. The last two years the Ducks have ruined good bids by the Beavers to return to the Rose Bowl since 1965 with a 65-38 drubbing in 2008, and with a more tightly contested game that resulted in a 37-33 score. Unfortunately for the Ducks, the Civil War is on the campus of the Oregon State Beavers this year. History has shown that the home team was the winner through the 1997 to 2006 seasons.
Before we can get to far ahead of ourselves, the team of course has to play out the games and answer some questions. A lot of questions that we just don’t have answers for yet. Such as, can the Ducks flourish under the pressure of a national title hunt? Can they stay healthy enough when injury to key positions has been a problem the last three years?
Can LaMichael James, who is currently averaging the most number of rushing yards per game in I-A Division football in the country, keep his game going at this pace? If James can stay healthy he figures to easily threaten the University of Oregon single season rushing record of 1,722 yards set by Jonathan Stewart in 2007. In fact, going into Thursday night’s game against the weak rushing defense of UCLA, ranked a lowly #8 in the Pac-10, that has been giving up an average of 182.3 yards per game all season, he only needs 877 yards over the next six games in order to eclipse that team record mark. That would be a rushing average of 146 yards per game, which is 23.6 yards fewer than his current pace of 169.6 yards per game. It is unlikely that James will be able to reach the Pac 10 single season rushing record of 2,342 held by Marcus Allen who played at the University of Southern California in 1981 or the even more mind boggling NCAA Division I-A record of 2,628 yards held by Barry Sanders while he played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 1988. To reach that mark James would have to amp up his pace to that of 254.7 yards for the remaining six games during the regular college schedule and in whatever bowl game the Ducks end up playing. At his current pace he would approximately have 2,035 total yards for the 2010 season, and when added to his 2009 total of 1,546 total yards, would give him the the all-time career rushing mark at Oregon with 3,581 yards, eclipsing Derek Loville’s mark by 285 yards. All this before his junior season?! Should he not opt for the NFL, Oregon could conceivably have him for another two seasons. And what about the future of the Ducks? Is this just a magical year that is an anomaly?
The future of the Ducks football program, as it turns out, looks like it couldn’t get much brighter, as Lindsay Schnell of The Oregonian reported that there are plenty of the Duck recruits that are on their way to bolster a Duck team that has 23 seniors, which is more that are on pace to graduate at one time than in recent memory. Plus, with the recent #1 ranking, and even if it does not last, that cannot hurt the recruiting efforts for next season! The next few years look to be awfully interesting stuff if you are a University of Oregon Ducks football fan!
Perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that ’10 is definitely the year of the “O”. Go Ducks!