An Outsider No Longer, Oregon Wins a Big One and Will Win the Next Big One … – Bleacher Report
PASADENA, Calif. — Oregon football isn’t a gimmick anymore. Until now, the Ducks were some far-out team from a far-out part of the country doing crazy things in uniforms that were, well, far out there. There was still no final proof, really, that this could work against the nation’s blue bloods or against real football at the highest level.
Well, that’s gone now. Oregon clobbered defending national champ Florida State 59-20 Thursday in the Rose Bowl to advance to the national championship game against Ohio State. And afterward, several Ducks players and some Oregon celebs were saying that they still aren’t sure people will believe.
But forget that. Oregon is going to win the national championship. This beatdown was just too meaningful, too reshaping.
“We still have to win the big game next week to prove that we can be part of the big club, anyway,” Ty Burrell of Modern Family told Bleacher Report as he walked off.
I disagree. Proof of admittance into the club is that they will be the favorites in the championship game against a longtime member of the national elite.
Ohio State is meat and potatoes. It is a typical, tough Big Ten team, only with more speed, thanks to Urban Meyer‘s national recruiting. Meyer showed again Thursday that he’s a football genius, finding a way to beat Nick Saban and Alabama with a third-string quarterback, 42-35.
And Ohio State would be the favorite over Oregon if not for the way the Ducks changed things Thursday. The knock on the Ducks had been that in the end, smashmouth football could slow them down. They were seen as soft. Stanford, last year anyway, had been the proof.
This year, Oregon beat Stanford and, maybe more importantly, beat Michigan State. The only team it lost to was Arizona, led by the inventor of the modern offense, Rich Rodriguez. Florida State plays defense, but that didn’t matter.
No, Thursday’s win was a statement game for Oregon, though the players had clearly been coached to not agree with that.
“That’s up to you guys,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “All we wanted to do is come in and win and get ready for hopefully playing in the national championship.”
Or as coach Mark Helfrich, who just moved into the country’s coaching elite, said, “I don’t know. … You guys are the geniuses in the media. We believe a ton in our deal, and we believe a ton in who we are.”
It’s just that when college football’s world changed, Oregon’s did, too. Until now, the hurry-up, no-huddle spread offenses have clearly been the trend. But in the end, they hadn’t been able to win in the biggest moments.
Now, the established dominant conference, the SEC, has lost all its big bowl games. When Georgia Tech hung 49 points on Mississippi State in a 15-point win, coach Paul Johnson said on ESPN, “For at least a week or two, we don’t have to hear about the SEC.”
The ground shifted. But Oregon has been used to life as an outsider. It has been outside the big-boys club for so long that it’s going to feel a little uncomfortable, now that its lot in life just changed. Eugene, Oregon, is a hippie town where a track legend—Steve Prefontaine—is the biggest sports hero.
Burrell described Oregon as believing in “this idea that we celebrate the fact we don’t have tradition, in a way. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves. It’s kind of cool.”
Thursday’s game was close through halftime and was setting up perfectly for the way Florida State had won all year: stay close enough early, then pull it out in the end with Jameis Winston’s heroics.
This was also supposed to be the start of the next great American quarterback rivalry, between Winston and Mariota. And the truth is, while Mariota is the big winner, he wasn’t that much better than Winston. In some ways, Winston looked like the better NFL prospect, doing his best work in the pocket, where you have to be good in the NFL, and hitting those timing windows better than Mariota did.
But Winston had his comeuppance in the third quarter when he scrambled around, started falling down and then fumbled backward. Oregon ran it back for a touchdown. It was slapstick comedy, which means you’ll see it on highlights for a while.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Winston said. “I should have gotten the ball in my hands earlier. It was just an unfortunate play, man. I never thought that I would slip, throw the ball backwards.”
Oregon just kept coming at Florida State. And if the image of Oregon is a super-speedy team that runs around everyone, that was only half true. It also kept running off-tackle, drawing defenses inside. Then it would go outside. The Ducks were too fast and just as strong.
Ahmad Rashad, NBC Sports guy and former Minnesota Vikings receiver, played for the Ducks. He stood on the sideline after the game, in bright yellow Ducks pants, telling me that even he needed to see this to believe that Oregon was truly for real.
Despite going to four BCS bowl games in the previous five years, Oregon hadn’t beaten one of the nation’s traditional powers in any of those games. With the chance, it lost to Ohio State and also, in the title game, to Auburn.
“Yes, I needed to see that. Yes, I did,” Rashad said. “When we played Auburn a few years ago, I think there was a little difference there. I think it was a little like big brother, like (Auburn) bullied them up a little bit. That didn’t happen today.”
It won’t happen against Ohio State in the championship game, either.
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.