Year after year, it seems like the Pac-12 loves to do a little cannibalism on itself. Yes, you read that correctly. The Pac-12 always seems to know how to hurt themselves and shoot themselves in the foot and ruin each other’s chances at greatness in the season. In a typical year, this occurs when a team like unranked Arizona State beats #5 Oregon to crush their hopes of playing in the College Football Playoff.
This time around, Oregon State stopped Oregon dead in its tracks and upset them in the yearly rivalry game. The Oregon defense couldn’t make a stop when they needed to and allowed 41 points to an Oregon State squad that is just 2-2 on the season and has been a perennial loser.
“We’re going to take it and learn from it,” Tyler Shough said. “We’ve got to be better, and we all know it. It hurts for sure. One of the worst feelings on earth is losing. We’re just going to take it and learn from it.”
This year, it was unrealistic to think that a Pac-12 team had a legitimate chance to play in the CFP but that doesn’t mean a Pac-12 team won’t be playing in a major Bowl game. Because the NCAA is kind of rigged, Power 5 conferences have affiliations and tie-ins to the big bowl games. A Pac-12 team will be guaranteed to play in either the Fiesta, Chick-Fil-A, Cotton or Fiesta Bowl this year. That team probably won’t be Oregon, although just about everyone would have pegged them as the favorites just a few weeks ago.
Now it looks like Oregon will be playing in the RedBox Bowl or some other pointless bowl game against someone in the Mountain West, playing for a trophy that will be forgotten about in two weeks or so. This loss to Oregon State wasn’t exactly shocking as Tyler Shough is a first-year starter and Oregon wasn’t what it was in 2019 but it still stings.
“I don’t think you lean on any kind of excuse,” head coach Mario Cristobal said after the loss. “We could talk about the pandemic and all the other stuff. We can’t. The bottom line is there has to be improvement in everything we do. We got to coach (turnovers) better. We got to give our guys a chance to make plays. Because they competed – they competed to the very end. (I) told them that’s something that real deal competitors will let this sit in there and burn and drive ya and pull a team together. That’s the only kind of guy that we can have in this organization. That’s the expectation. The expectation is to come in and get ready to improve and get prepared for our game next week.”
Oregon State has done this before to a Pac-12 team on the brink of something great. They defeated Arizona State in 2015 when they were ranked sixth in the nation and looked like they would have a shot at the CFP and then Oregon State pulled off an odd Thursday night upset.
But this seems like it happens all too often to the Oregon Ducks. They are bound for a great season and then it all comes crashing down in one game. We saw it last year against Arizona State and we have seen it time and time again in the past few years. The Ducks are consistently in the top 10 or top 15 in college football recruiting rankings and they have been able to attract top talent to come play in Eugene. They’ve won the Pac-12 four times since 2010 and have played in the final game of the season twice in that same span yet they haven’t brought home a National Championship.
Is Oregon a team whose culture is to play great in their division (sometimes, at least) and then blank when it comes to winning in the games that really matter because it is starting to feel like that. Maybe they are just the team with the fast players in the bright uniforms that change every week but not much more than that.
If you’re an Oregon Ducks fan, it’s time to start asking for more from Oregon. Coming up short in a conference that hasn’t produced a National Championship winner since 2004 is unacceptable. That’s right, if you forgot, the last time a team from the Pac-12 won a National Championship was 2004. Since that time, the SEC has won 10 National Championships, the ACC has won three, Big 12 has won one and the Big 10 has won one. In the last 15 years, the one conference to not win a National Championship is the Pac-12 and somehow Oregon still isn’t a consistent winner there.
Mario Cristobal is the coach of the future for the Ducks and he is not going anywhere. He has experienced some sobering losses in his first two full years as the Duck permanent head coach but he is one of the top recruiters in the country and the university recently inked him to an extension through 2024.
“I think they were motivated at the close of the Redbox Bowl. I do,” Cristobal said of his players. “I think everyone felt we’ve proven that we could compete and beat a top-10 team. We’ve proven that we can go on the road and get it done in a rivalry game. Now we’ve proven we can go against a Big Ten team, a tough team, and win at a foreign place, like being on the road.”
It is clear that Cristobal thinks his program is aware that it can be a top-10 team but needs to consistently play like it. It is time that Oregon finally takes a step towards being a national powerhouse. We have recently seen Clemson take that stand towards a potential dynasty run and we have seen Alabama do it over the last 12 years, but why not Oregon? They have the facilities, they have the recruiter, they have the swag factor and they have the tools to dominate in the west.
Cristobal is a coach who has SEC experience. To be specific, he has Alabama experience. And those guys typically end up back in the SEC or in the NFL before too long. Oregon could have a limited window to win the big one with Cristobal and they need to put their foot on the pedal now. If the Ducks want to be a national name and not just the “jersey team” it’s time that the culture changes so that they can finally win the big game.