Arguably the most telling sign of the state of the Oregon football team is that its 45-38 double-overtime loss to Washington State was hardly news at all.
For the past three years, this would have been unthinkable, inconceivable, downright lunacy. The Cougars gave the Ducks a game last year, sure, but few, if any, actually thought Washington State had a chance to do anything but keep it close this time around.
These are strange times, indeed, for the Oregon program. On Saturday, it was bigger news that Baylor had a 400-plus pound lineman catch a touchdown and Dabo Swinney really, really doesn’t like the word “Clemsoning.” Also, don’t ask Maryland coach – and quite possibly former Maryland coach – Randy Edsall about shaking his players’ hands. He doesn’t like that question.
But seriously, those three stories – a fat guy touchdown, a coach ripping apart a vocabulary word in the college football lexicon, and a coach angrily talking about shaking hands – were bigger stories than Oregon losing to Washington State.
Not Utah. Not UCLA. Not USC – Washington State!
This is the world we’re living in right now, one with no clear-cut contender out of the Pac-12, and one with no clear cut contender out of anywhere. Let’s take a look at last year’s final four and see how they’re doing.
Alabama has been blown out by Ole Miss, at home, and struggled to beat an underwhelming Arkansas team.
Florida State is mostly useless and silly when it’s not giving the ball to Dalvin Cook at every possible moment.
Ohio State was tied with Maryland deep in the third quarter on Saturday. I went to Maryland, so let me tell you one thing: That is not a good sign.
And then there’s Oregon.
The difference between everybody else and the Ducks, though, is that the other three all retain bona fide shots at returning to the playoff. The Ducks, considering the way they’re playing at the moment, would be lucky to make a bowl game.
The reason I pointed out the struggles of the other three, however, is for the benefit of Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. He lost a lot from last year, with the obvious void being left by Marcus Mariota. But what many forgot about was the depleted secondary that Utah was far too happy to expose in its 62-27 obliteration of Oregon a few weeks ago. Well, Washington State took note, and Luke Falk threw for half a thousand yards and five touchdowns, and now every team has the formula for how to beat Oregon: just throw the ball.
These kinds of things happen to every college football program not named Alabama. Auburn has its ups and downs. Texas has been miserable of late. Miami is so bad that rival teams are campaigning for Al Golden NOT to be fired. USC can’t beat Washington.
Michigan has disappeared and is in the process of remaking itself. Oregon isn’t immune, either. The only coach who has seemed to discover the antidote to college football mortality is Nick Saban, and even his Tide no longer appear as invincible as they once were.
Consider what Oregon has. It has Nike. It has annually one of the most consistent recruiting systems in the country. It has success. It has Heisman winners and national prestige. This year is a speed bump. It’s odd to say, but Oregon will from here on out be relegated to the role of spoiler, for its still far too talented not to be considered a threat in any game. It’s no longer news when the Ducks lose. Strangely, it’s news when they win.