The Oregon Ducks open the 2018 NCAA football season against Auburn in a neutral-site (road) game at AT&T Stadium. And while this is obviously huge for Ducks fans and their hopes at a potential College Football Playoff berth, this game is equally if not more important for the entire Pac-12 Conference.
This article is going to examine why Oregon needs to win this game to gain credibility for the Conference of Champions.
As a Pac-12 writer and a graduate from a school in the conference myself, I love Pac-12 football. In my opinion, many east coast pollsters think of us as a 2nd-tier conference compared to other major leagues around the country.
If you take a look at teams like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State, they get immediate respect from sports networks and analysts alike. And while these elite programs do deserve recognition, our powerhouse teams are not offered the same love.
Do we deserve respect? Of course!
But to be fair, no team in the conference has won a National Championship since 2004; the last team to do it was the Pete Carroll led USC Trojans.
Carroll’s teams were part of a true dynasty, and one of the few teams to garner respect nationwide.
Since then, the west coast’s elite conference has nothing that can be considered a dominant football powerhouse. Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams were the closest thing to a perennial national championship contender, but they never captured their title, falling to Auburn (and then again to Ohio State under Mark Helfrich).
If the Ducks had beaten Auburn, they would have an exclamation point attached to their name, but sadly for the Conference of Champions, they didn’t get it done.
After Kelly left and Helfrich’s short run ran its course, the squad that burst through that entrance was the Washington Huskies, led by suave Chris Peterson. The squad that burst through that entrance is the Washington Huskies, led by suave Chris Peterson.
Peterson has built the Huskies into a defensive monster and a force to be reckoned with in-conference. But much like Oregon, they haven’t yet reached the peak of the college football world. They had an opportunity in the 2016 College Football Playoff Semifinal against Alabama. But the young pups didn’t have experience and let a few mistakes derail their chances. They ended up losing the game by 17 points.
Last year, the Dawgs won the conference title, but they had a down season finishing 10-4 overall.
In no light can 10-4 be considered an appropriate record for a league champion.
The Cougars had a chance to put the Pac-12 on the map, but they lost the Apple Cup, which seems to be the narrative under Mike Leach. The Cougs ended with an impressive 11-2 record, but the loss to their cross-town rivals rendered them a forgettable team on the national scale.
If we hop over to the South division, the Utes won the title with a 9-5 record. Utah is a solid team, but five losses is nothing to brag about, even if they captured a division title in the process.
From an outside perspective, the Conference of Champions had an embarrassingly bad season last year. There was not one team that could be considered a real threat in a BCS Bowl game, let alone the College Football Playoff.
This is why Oregon’s trip down to Arlington, TX is paramount to restore the image of the Pac-12.
The Ducks have a real chance to make a name for themselves this year, but losing the opener may prove impossible to bounce back from. If they stumble against Auburn, and run the table after that, chances are they still wouldn’t make the College Football Playoff.
Teams like Washington, Washington State, Utah, and even Oregon State should be cheering for the Ducks to knock the snot out of the Tigers. Every team in-conference will benefit from an Oregon win to kick off the season.
A Ducks victory will allow other Conference of Champions teams to slip-up and lose a game, and still have BCS Bowl eligibility. A loss will send the Pac-12’s finest to the “West Cheetoh community college bowl.” Obviously one team will receive the automatic bid, but we need more than that. It’s time to escape the shadows of the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC.
Last season, the Huskies had the same opportunity to knock off Auburn in the first game of the year, but they lost, pathing the way for our conference to capture an impressive zero BCS Bowl wins.
So, c’mon Ducks, get err done. There are roses waiting on the other side.