Ducks need to erase past November nightmares

The march toward the College Football Playoff begins on Saturday for Oregon. But can they escape past November nightmares during the stretch run?

November has not been kind to the Oregon Ducks as of late.

Since their undefeated regular season run in 2010 to the BCS National Championship game, Oregon has seen its title hopes dashed in November in each of the past three years: USC in 2011, and Stanford in 2012 and 2013.

This season, the Ducks find themselves in a similar position and they are hungry to prove doubters wrong. Fittingly enough, when the calendar turns over to a new month tomorrow, the Stanford Cardinal will be waiting for them inside Autzen Stadium.

It’s fair to question whether the Ducks can knock off the Cardinal, let alone make it through the entire month and a possible Pac-12 Championship game undefeated. It seemed like each of the past three seasons, they were primed to make the jump back toward the top of the national landscape only to be cut down by a foe, twice at home.

This year, the Ducks are poised once again with Utah, Colorado and Oregon State remaining after the Cardinal. And right now, things appear to be somewhat different than in years past.

They’re physically bigger where they need to be after being overpowered by the Cardinal the last two seasons. They have quite possibly more offensive weapons than they’ve ever had. They have arguably the top quarterback in the country. They have a bulldozer freshman at running back who is in the midst of a hot streak. The offensive line is getting healthier and more experienced and they have no shortage of weapons on the receiving end.

The defense remains suspect against high-powered offenses, but each of their remaining opponents except Utah (fifth) rank in the bottom half of scoring offense in the conference.

On paper, this plays into the Ducks favor. But none of this matters if they don’t execute.

There’s no question that November is a proving ground. It’s a proving ground for the juniors and sophomores who have yet to win a Pac-12 title. It’s a proving ground for Marcus Mariota, who has yet to vanquish the Cardinal in his storied Oregon career that has seen him shatter several school records.

It’s a proving ground for head coach Mark Helfrich who, with a perfect month, can continue to assert himself as the right man for the job at Oregon and move further away from the shadow left behind by former head coach Chip Kelly.

It’s a proving ground for defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who can erase memories of last season’s defensive debacle against the Cardinal by getting the most out of his players on Saturday and subsequently setting the wheels in motion for a more consistent finish in his first year in charge.

Oregon needs to prove it can leave the late-season nightmares of the past behind. If they can, they're one step closer to making November a little kinder.

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