Those coming into the conference are generally a valid measure of outside perception. Listen to first year Arizona coach, Mike Stoops, as told to the online edition of the Arizona Daily Wildcat: ""I probably never gave it (the Pac-10) the respect that it deserved," Stoops said. "These are as well-coached teams as I've played anywhere I've been, especially offensively. There are some very talented coaches and very talented players." Having played at Iowa in the Big Ten, and then coached at Kansas State and Oklahoma in the Big 12, Stoops has a position of credibility on the matter, though it is certainly true that now as a coach in the Pac-10 there is a self-serving component to his remark.
Further evidence can be seen at Auburn University where long time Pac-10 offensive coordinator Al Borges has engineered a complete overhaul of the offense, developing a screen passing game, stretching the field with deep throws, running hard inside and running fast to the corners. Exactly what everyone else in the Pac-10 does to each other all season long. This balanced offense has shredded the SEC to the tune of a number two conference ranking in scoring and rushing, and number three in passing. Perhaps, the perception about the tougher defenses found in the SEC is an inappropriate perception as well.
Thinking Out Loud
How about having a double header added to the schedule each season? Arrange with one or two of the state's smaller schools to host one of their home games after a Ducks home game. For example, after an Oregon vs. Idaho game, schedule Western Oregon vs. Southern Oregon at Autzen. Perhaps establish a sponsorship, or just let them play for a portion of the concessions purchased after the game kicks-off plus the ticket revenues they would generate from their sales of the event. For an NAIA kid to play in Autzen would surely draw a number of friends and family beyond those who normally attend, so a boost in revenue may be available for the participants. Scheduling two in state schools would double the revenue opportunity. Accommodating time changes for television games represents a real concern, but with a bit of common sense about which games are likely to be broadcast each season, those concerns should not be insurmountable.
Let each team's supporters into the stadium once the Duck game had finished and Autzen Stadium was sufficiently vacated to keep some semblance of control to the facility. Oregon ticket holders would just sit tight… with 30 – 45 minutes for the two teams to warm up, there should not be too much congestion or confusion. One might think parking would be an issue, but as I attend games this year I notice there is a surplus of parking, particularly along Centennial to the east of Autzen. The later arriving fans would have no trouble getting near the stadium, arriving well after the normal traffic had arrived and all the exiting Duck traffic will have cleared by the end of the second game.
With the exception of Portland State, any of the states smaller programs could be scheduled every two or three years, meaning that most local kids - who are a larger portion of the smaller school's roster - would then have the opportunity to play in the bigger house at least once in his college career.
The Oregon athletic department has gained some reputation for their marketing of the university's athletic programs. In that vein, consider a suggestion: have the Ducks schedule a series of football games, home and home with the University of Connecticut. In the revamped Big East conference, the Huskies are strong candidates to develop into one of the stronger programs. UConn is also the only major football program near the NYC market likely to enjoy consistent success (sorry, Rutgers – you've had your opportunity – move on down to I-AA). Combined with the Ducks current television package that includes broadcasts into that market via the YES network, such a match up would attract significant interest from the Big Apple media machine. An ongoing relationship, perhaps three games in each location over a 10 year period year period would build the long-term presence of the Ducks on that media distribution channel.
Every player walks away from his last game with more than a few life-long memories – plays made or missed, games won and games lost, certainly. The things remembered the most quickly, I tend to think, are of the "not-necessarily-a-part-of-the-game" variety. To wit:
During Coach Mike Bellotti's weekly press conference, streamed on OregonLive.com, conversation turned toward DL Devan Long. After a quick summary of recent performance and another word or two about Devan's work ethic and dedication, the conversation took a twist. "Great motor, great athleticism… and has enough of a different personality that's really enjoyable to be around. He brings a fun element to the game – he brings a lot of work on the field and he brings a lot of fun off the field. His perspective on life is different than some peoples but that's great, that's awesome" Bellotti said. When asked "how different (a perspective)", Bellotti's response was a chuckle and then "I can't tell you… I wish I could…. But some of the pre-game warm-up conversations I've had with Devon are some of the most entertaining conversations I've ever had in my life".
OK… about UCLA….
Saved the difficult discussion for last this week, or maybe no. Another that was expected to be in the "W" column at season's beginning is not. Such changes of fortune should not be a hidden danger to all of us who held those expectations, but we often act as though it is… unexpected danger, perhaps, but a hidden danger… that would stretch the definition. In his press conference, Coach Bellotti offered his assessment that "I don't think we are performing at the level we're capable of… bottom line." Then, "expectations always affect your judgment on how things went… if we play a complete game on offense, defense and special teams we can not only be a good football team, but a special football team."
As the Duck program grew in stature over the past decade - winning as many, or more, games against the Huskies than were lost was a significant benchmark of progress. So it was with the Los Angeles schools, though perhaps less vociferously cherished. Carson Palmer's first victory against the Ducks two seasons ago was his only victory in four tries Adding to the indignity, he lost most of one season with a broken collarbone after a sideline collision with Oregon's Michael Fletcher. Last Saturday's victory by UCLA was the first for the Bruins since 1999. As this season winds down, as last weekend's insufficiency soaks deeper into the rain of a Civil War weekend, it would be wise to refocus the benchmark south.
Corvallis is north… certainly a win on Saturday is by no means a given. However, Oregon is more balanced offensively and the defense should keep enough pressure on Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson to prevent the kind of scorching he applied the last time the Ducks came calling to Salsa… uh, Reser Stadium. The greater point, however, is the future of the Ducks – whatever this season has detailed, the pieces remain in place for continued opportunities for success. In Corvallis, that is not so certain. And that disparity will be evident in Saturday's 108th match-up. Oregon by a touchdown, 23-16.