While the Ducks may be in Arizona this weekend, my mind is venturing back. Back to a time of involuntary summer workouts, pre-season training camps, and media extravaganzas. A time of hope, excitement, and anticipation for an upcoming season fraught with "ifs," "ands," and "buts." Since however, there have been injuries, disappointments and in some cases surprise. There have been upsets…both good and bad, routs…both expected and unexpected, and performances…both positive and negative, so where and with what have we been left?
In familiar territory, with a familiar cast of characters.
Oregon's been here before. The Ducks' late-season-fades have been beaten to death by local media, both on print and through the talk radio airwaves. While the reason for such has and could be argued by me, my kids, their kids, and their kids' kids, I'd prefer to merely acknowledge its existence and move on. Yes Oregon has struggled late in recent years, and yes such a trend is worthy of concern, but as much as things stay the same, they equally change.
Remember the "D-Boys?" An overhyped defensive backfield worthy of discussion, but questionably anointed by talking heads and writers alike. Relax, I'm not disparaging the effort by Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond III, and Jairus Byrd. All of which have played hard, battled through injury, and in most cases made their appearance felt, but like many who came before them, their presumed impact was inflated based solely on their experience. Their talent is not in question, but talent is irrelevant if not positioned properly by scheme and coaching, both of which have arguably failed the aforementioned and left the "D-Boys" dangling in the Fall breeze.
How about Jeremiah Johnson? His season began with a bang, impressing versus Washington to start the season, but left as an after-thought since. Johnson's 125 yards against the Huskies left us wanting more, but his 69 yards-per-game since has left us asking what's wrong? Certainly, JJ was and may still be slowed by the shoulder injury which occurred week 2 versus Utah State, but for various reasons including a hamstrung passing game, he's not been what some thought he'd be.
Don't forget Nathan Costa, Justin Roper and the heated preseason battle for the starting quarterback position? The friendly competition which seemed to turn day-to-day, but would surely result in a fearless, battle-tested signal caller ready and willing to lead his troops? I did't. Sadly it seems like an eternity ago. Costa was done before taking a snap and Roper has started just three games and hasn't seen action since the 13th of September. The Ducks were left with two true freshmen and a JC Transfer with a month of experience in the system.
Such scenarios have not been limited to Oregon either; Washington lost starting quarterback and preseason Heisman Candidate Jake Locker for much of the season, UCLA's first and second string QB's were lost prior to the 2008 campaign, and USC's Mark Sanchez was slowed by a training camp knee injury a week before their opening game versus Virginia. In addition, Cal's Jahvid Best has missed time with a dislocated elbow, and ASU's Rudy Carpenter and Keegan Herring have been hampered by ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. All of which have wrecked havoc on individual teams, as well as the Pac-10 Conference as a whole.
My point is this; where we are today has little to do with where we thought we'd be two months ago. One can always speculate based on history, past performance and talent, but injury and circumstance are unforeseeable and without question unpredictable. No rational human being foresaw Oregon at 7-0 to this point, but 5-2 was pretty likely. Sure, you would've liked to have beaten Boise State, but road games at Purdue and USC were likely losses, the latter coming to fruition.
The Ducks can still have a successful season. While many have written Oregon off in the race for a conference championship, it's not an impossibility, nor is a 10-win season and prominent bowl game. With the return of Roper tonight at Arizona State, the quarterback position can only be strengthened, consequently the running game can only benefit from such. In addition, the bye week allowed for injured defensive players such as Thurmond to heal not only physically, but refresh themselves mentally in preparation for the second-half-push.
Yes, things have changed, and many for the worse, but Oregon has an opportunity to right some of their wrongs, disprove their doubters, and reverse a trend which gains momentum by the year…and it starts tonight.
Game Day: Boy Have Things Changed
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