Oregon Football: How long will Ducks have to wait for next title shot? – FOXSports.com
Editor’s note: To submit Mailbag questions, email Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.
The playoff was a brave new world for everybody, including those of us who cover the sport. Because Bruce Feldman covered the Rose Bowl and I covered the Sugar Bowl, he ended up the de facto Oregon writer and me the Ohio State guy from about Dec. 27 through the end of Monday night’s game.
Since I’ve already dedicated a whole lot of words to Urban Meyer, Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, let’s start this post-title game Mailbag with some thoughts on the other team.
Stewart: Oregon came up with four turnovers and still lost 42-20? I thought all the turnovers from the Florida State game hid the deficiencies of Oregon’s defense, as FSU had little problem moving the ball. But OSU doubled that effort. Just how overrated was Oregon’s D?
— Kevin Nickodem, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Where does Oregon go from here? They always had speed and seemed to shed the “soft” label but after Monday night . . .
— Jeff Hostetler, Gainesville, Fla.
I’m not sure Oregon’s defense was “rated.” We all knew it was of the bend-but-don’t-break variety that gives up yards but tries to compensate by creating turnovers. (It finished the season No. 1 in the country in turnover margin.) Oregon has had some decent defenses in recent years, but this was not one of them. Granted, they did seem to get better over the second half of the season, including a fantastic performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game. But Florida State running back Dalvin Cook’s success against the Ducks in the semifinal, at least when he wasn’t fumbling, was one of the main reasons I wound up picking Ohio State. I had a feeling Ezekiel Elliott and that Ohio State offensive line might shred the Ducks, though not quite to that extent.
But what’s so astounding about Monday night’s game is that Oregon got those turnovers — some of them, like Jones’ Jameis Winston falling backward impression — gift-wrapped and still couldn’t take advantage. It’s a testament to Marcus Mariota that the Ducks got as far as they did, but he had no help Monday night, either from his depleted receiving corps that had those crucial drops, but moreso from his running backs. Ohio State completely shut them down.
So while I’m sure many will view Monday night’s game as yet another referendum on Oregon’s physicality, I look at it more so as the umpteenth reminder that defense still wins championships. Add Oregon to the long list of teams whose prolific offenses eventually ran into a defense that proved it mortal. Mind you, the Ducks had success earlier this season against two indisputably talented and physical defenses in Michigan State and Stanford. But Ohio State was too good up front.
As for where Oregon goes from here . . . not very far, I would imagine. The program wins more consistently than nearly anyone else out there. They’ve long proven an ability to reload from year to year. Their unique system — not just the offense, mind you, but the entire operation — is still the envy of the sport. But in terms of winning a national championship, it does feel like the Ducks’ window may have closed for the time being. It takes a perfect storm for any team to make a national-title run, even moreso now that you have to win an extra game, but Ohio State and Alabama are doing it with annual top-three recruiting classes.
That’s not Oregon’s formula. They came as close as they did in large part due to a transcendent quarterback who won’t easily be replaced. And the gap between Oregon and the rest of the Pac-12 has closed considerably. I wouldn’t expect an opportunity like this year’s to present itself regularly.
After watching the CFP these last couple of weeks I am struck with one very strong impression, and being an Oklahoma State fan, a very disturbing one. What in the world is it going to take for an upstart program to win a national championship? Calling Oregon an upstart might be a stretch, but they are not a blue blood. It has now been nearly 20 years since a school has claimed its first national championship (Florida, 1996). Who do you think it will be and what will it take to have some new blood win it all?
— Josh, Oklahoma City, Okla.
That’s a great point. The more teams you add to the field, the harder it becomes for a party crasher to take home the trophy. For one thing, the stars have to align just right for an Oklahoma State to even make the playoff, much less win one. Plus, the bluebloods generally recruit the best players, so obviously if you put them in a four-team field they’ve got a better chance of winning two games than someone less talented. The Brandon Weeden–Justin Blackmon Cowboys would have deservedly made a four-team playoff in 2011, but I doubt they would have beaten LSU or Alabama, for the same reason Oregon didn’t beat Ohio State. Those two SEC teams that year were more talented and had fantastic defenses.
Looking back, the best opportunity for someone to pull off the feat was 2010. An Oregon team with mostly ordinary talent lost on a last-second field goal to an Auburn team with mostly ordinary talent but one spectacular quarterback, Cam Newton. TCU, which finished No. 3, could have beaten both teams. Boise State, had it not lost to Nevada, possibly could have, too. TCU technically doesn’t qualify for your list because it won a pair of national titles in the 1930s, but I don’t think anyone would call the Horned Frogs bluebloods. As long as Gary Patterson’s there, they may have the best shot, because they, unlike most less-prestigious programs, do play defense. And that shot may come as soon as next season.
Stewart: If you were Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer, what do you do? Who transfers? Who stays? Who goes pro? What does Meyer tell them to get them to stay and who is his first choice?
— Justin, New Bern, N.C.
It’s going to be the story of the offseason, that’s for sure. First of all, it makes no sense for either Jones or Barrett to transfer since they’d have to sit out a year. And while the Jones-NFL possibility is not as absurd as it might have seemed not long ago — his size and arm strength alone would undoubtedly tempt a few GMs — no one could reasonably say that’s his smartest option. The guy’s started three games. He may turn around and prove me wrong later this week, but I see both these guys coming back to Columbus.
But I’ll reiterate what I’ve been saying since August: I simply can’t imagine Miller coming back for a fifth year, despite everyone in the Ohio State camp maintaining otherwise. Initially I thought he might turn pro, but his shoulder injury has rendered that possibility moot. He won’t likely be able to resume throwing until this summer. But we all know there are any number of schools out there that would line up for his services. While Oregon is often mentioned as the most enticing possibility, it might behoove him to go somewhere with a pro-style offense to ramp up for next year’s draft. Florida State and LSU come to mind.
If Miller does leave, now it’s a two-man race instead of one. I don’t know what the heck Meyer does. Either you send a national championship winner or a Heisman top-five finisher back to the bench. Unless, of course . . .
True or False: Ohio State could run the most ridiculous, unpredictable triple option offense in football history by playing Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, and Cardale Jones at the same time?
— Matt Levitt, location unknown
Remember the Tim Tebow jump pass? Meet the Cardale Jones 50-yard, pop pass off a toss from Barrett.
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Stewart: Let me start off by saying I think the BCS was better than what the general public gives it credit for. But with Ohio State winning the first playoff as a No. 4 seed, it got me thinking: What results in the BCS era do you think might changed in regards to the national championship if there were four teams?
— Bryan A., Eden Prairie, Minn.
It’s a fascinating question. Obviously an Ohio State-like run could have happened just about any season if someone got hot. The most likely candidates: Butch Davis’ 2000 Miami team, which was essentially the 2001 championship team in waiting; 2003 USC, which won the AP title; and 2007 USC, one of a jumble of two-loss teams at the end of that season but probably the best equipped to beat LSU. There were plenty of other good candidates, too. The fact is there are very few seasons where the final No. 1 team truly separates itself from everyone else — last year’s Florida State team being a notable exception. And even those ‘Noles needed a last-minute touchdown to fend off Auburn in the championship game.
Long story short: You might have had a radically different list of national champs. Upsets happen in all tournaments, but in college football in particular, the seeds in a four-team tournament are basically meaningless. The far more important part is getting in.
Hey Stewart. With Bob Stoops making so many changes at OU, what time frame do you give him to be successful with these changes before the natives get restless again and want change at the top? What would you consider “good enough” for Bob’s changes to be deemed successful?
— Isaiah, location unknown
The natives aren’t already restless?
Stoops’ job is in no jeopardy next season. He’s built up too much mileage in Norman, and AD Joe Castiglione, who’s been with him for all 16 years, is going to have his back barring a complete collapse. But the next act of Stoops’ tenure could play out one of two ways. In the best case, new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley — a no-brainer No. 1 choice by the way — does for Stoops what a couple of other Air Raid disciples, Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, did for TCU’s Gary Patterson this season. Riley overhauls the Sooners’ offense, reinvents Trevor Knight the way Cumbie did Trevone Boykin and OU immediately returns to national prominence. If not that, the Sooners at least take considerable strides next season and set up a run the following year.
In the opposite scenario, Stoops’ latest coaching shuffle proves another futile maneuver and delays the inevitable, much like his former rival Mack Brown spent his last three seasons at Texas hiring and firing in a desperate attempt to recapture his former glory. Texas eventually had no choice but to part ways with Brown because the program had sunk to such mediocrity. Oklahoma is not there yet. It had one bad season. It won 11 games just a year earlier. What’s troubling, though, is that Baylor and TCU have seemingly lapped the Sooners in the Big 12. Stoop needs to show that’s not the case and beat at least one of them next season.
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Stewart. How often do you think the CFB Playoff will be half-filled with Urban Meyer and Nick Saban over the next few years?
— Rick, Orlando, Florida
That’s asking a lot. I’ll go with once over the next five years. But one of the two will be there more often than not, provided they both remain where they are for the duration — which may be the most unrealistic part.
Stewart, Now that the coaching carousel is groaning to a halt and the various coaching hire grades are being posted, is there a larger variance in opinion than that of Nebraska’s Mike Riley? The national media seems to have utmost respect for his abilities, yet there are still a number of pundits scoffing at the choice. It may be that the Husker faithful just have to wait until the rubber meets the road next season, but which pole do you favor?
— Joel, Madison, Wisc.
The more time has passed and the shock has worn off, the more I’ve soured on Nebraska’s hire. And that’s coming from someone who’s long had the utmost respect for what Riley’s accomplished at Oregon State. I know that program and its challenges well enough not to make the simple-minded comparisons between Bo Pelini’s Nebraska record (67-27) and Riley’s Oregon State record (93-80). They’re not remotely the same job. Riley is a fantastic quarterback mentor, recruiting evaluator and talent developer. He’s put a whole lot of former no-star recruits into the NFL. And that’s one of his bigger plusses walking into a school and a state where recruiting is less difficult than at Oregon State but more difficult than the typical top-25 program.
But when I really think about Riley’s charge to elevate Nebraska from a nine-to-10 win team into a Big Ten championship and playoff contender, I don’t like his chances. Is Riley, 61 and as bland (in a good way) as they come, really the guy to stare down and take down Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio? Sure, he stacks up with anyone in the Big Ten West, where his direct competitors are Paul Chryst and Kirk Ferentz, but to get Nebraska to elite status he’s going to have to take on and beat someone from that murderer’s row in the East. And I just don’t see it. I see a nicer, more-disciplined version of Pelini’s Huskers. It may be that AD Shawn Eichorst, so put off by Pelini’s theatrics, put a little too much emphasis on personality and not enough on competition.
Hi Stewart. With the committee’s emphasis on strength of schedule, do you think conferences should consider a more structured form of non-conference scheduling? What I mean is scheduling conference “challenges” similar to the ACC-Big Ten challenge in basketball that could rotate among the conferences every two to three years.
— Apoorva Kapadia, Clemson, S.C.
I’d love it. I don’t know if it’s realistic, at least not yet. You may recall that the Big Ten and Pac-12 initially agreed to a scheduling concept just like this in 2011 before a few Pac-12 schools balked and the proposal never came to fruition. The difficulty in any such wide-ranging arrangements is that schools within the same conference don’t necessarily share the same scheduling priorities. Some are trying to impress the selection committee while others are just trying to get to six wins. Some already have longstanding non-conference rivalries, like USC’s and Stanford’s with Notre Dame, and don’t want to add another Power 5 opponent. And in football, unlike basketball, schools only get so many chances to play home games. An ACC-Big Ten Challenge would necessitate half the schools in each league go on the road.
However, I do think we’re at the very beginning of what will eventually be a broader movement to create more compelling non-conference matchups. The committee sent a message this year with its treatment of Baylor. Whether or not the Big 12 chooses to add a championship game, it should at the very least impose a rule like the ACC and SEC did last year requiring its schools to schedule at least one Power 5 foe. But even putting aside selection committee concerns, with the amount of money TV networks are paying these conferences to show their games, and with the general downward trend of in-stadium attendance, schools are going to face increased pressure to move away from the cupcake model. The playoff is already turning the sport more national, and it’s only going to increase fans’ appetite for more intersectional matchups. Coaches won’t like it, but hey, Ohio State showed this year the reward outweighs the risk.
The BCS would have given us FSU and Alabama. They both went down in the semifinals. One year does not make a trend, but if in the coming years the SEC doesn’t consistently make the title game, doesn’t that prove much of the final years of the BCS fell prey to a significant amount of SEC bias?
— David Anderson, location unknown
I don’t know. !!!SEC BIAS!!! beat a lot of good teams in those championship games. But maybe we’re about to find out once and for all what happens when !!!SEC BIAS!!! and “college football is cyclical” finally collide.
Well, I had more fun covering the 2014-15 season than any in recent memory, both because of the playoff’s debut and because of all the new experiences in my first season working for FOX Sports. Thanks to all of you for following along and reading.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff,” is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.