Steve Jackson: Waiting for the season to begin.

Every year about this time I break with my customary pattern of linger-and-absorb and throw out some thoughts, many of which sound ill advised as soon as I hit the "post" button. The reason is simple - I just can't stand it any more. The season is crawling to the start line. In just a few weeks we can talk about what did happen, rather than what might happen.

My first observation is that we may well have a split national championship again this year. Split about fifty ways. A cruise around the abundant web pages reveals the almost every team is poised for a break-through, dominant season. The freshmen are arriving ready-to-play, last years back-ups are really probably better than last years starters (never mind they were high NFL draft picks), and those lingering injuries are now fully healed and the player is a monster. The weak links and under-achievers from last years disappointing season have moved on or corrected their deficiencies. A possible exception to this general observation is Indiana, who thus far have been unable to force the football rules committee to move the game indoors and play on hardwood.

How many players are on those award watch lists, anyway?

Why not just forfeit the Oklahoma game and treat it like a "bye" week to heal up for a game the Ducks might have a chance to win? After all, their quarterback is Heisman Trophy winner, their defensive line top-five-in-the-nation, their linebackers top-five-in-the-nation, and so on and so on.

Of course, we know that, as the season progresses, teams will learn that new weak links have emerged, freshmen will make freshmen mistakes, and untimely injuries will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. By November the true list of contenders for the national title will be fairly short.

The truth is, imperfect evaluation of high school talent, the unpredictability of injuries, personality imperfections and individual work ethic make for subtle shifts in college football powers, thus insuring that Notre Dame does not win the national championship year after year, in spite of the best efforts of the bowl coalition. These same factors can shift the probabilities to give teams like the Ducks an opportunity to overcome the inevitable failures predicted by the pundits and rise up to be a national contender. Or Cal. Or UCLA. Or ASU. Or even Oregon State.

Ultimately, it is the teams that elevate their play to a higher level and win the games they are supposed to lose that rise to the top. In Oregon's greatest moments of glory they have had new heroes emerge to push them over the top and win the key games. The games nobody thought they could or should win. An impartial observer might contend that the Ducks have been a mid-tier team the last couple of years, and that the reason for that is a poorly thrown pass here, a poor block there, and so on. Mistakes. Lack of effort. Failure to make the big play at the key moment.

So now we prepare for the onset of a new season. Once again we feel the Ducks have the potential for greatness. I just hope the coaches and players understand that almost every team in the country has that same sense. When the season starts success and failure will be decided by those who rise above their potential and deliver the exceptional play. Play after play.

Many years ago Duck fans echoed the "no respect" mantra, and for good reason. In recent years the Oregon football teams have not received a lot of respect, because they did not perform, week in and week out, in a way that would earn it. Consequently, I believe that the motto of the team this year should be:

Respect - earn it. THEN demand it.

Go Ducks!

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