Sports

Oregon vs. Auburn, Part II

You can talk about offensive schemes and stopping Cam Newton and the power of the SEC, but for Oregon fans, I think this should be their biggest concern entering the BCS championship game:

The Ducks haven’t played a good team, at least not a really good team, in a long, long, long time. Since beating Stanford on Oct. 2, Oregon has played (with final record in parentheses): Washington State (2-10), UCLA (4-8), USC (8-5), Washington (6-6), California (5-7), Arizona (7-5), and Oregon State (5-7).

The 52-31 win over Stanford was impressive, and it turned out to be the most significant game of the regular season in college football; it determined a spot in the title game. But since then, Oregon’s schedule has been woefully thin.

Now, you might say that’s because the Pac-10 is so tough that they beat each other up. That might or might not be true. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings have the Pac-10 as the toughest conference in the country, but that is skewed by the fact that he has Stanford and Oregon as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country — in that order, if you go by his “predictor” rankings. Here’s where the Ducks’ most recent opponents stand in those ratings: WSU 81, UCLA 66, USC 25, Washington 53, Cal 29, Arizona 16, OSU 31.

That’s a lot of mediocrity Oregon has faced, through no fault of its own.

For comparison’s sake, here are Auburn’s opponents since Oct. 2, with their Sagarin “predictor” rankings: Kentucky 61, Arkansas 12, Louisiana State 15, Mississippi 78, Chattanooga 99, Georgia 30, Alabama 4, South Carolina 17. If you take the rankings seriously, on average Auburn’s schedule over the past two months hasn’t been much more difficult than Oregon’s. But the Tigers have defeated three teams ranked higher than Oregon’s toughest opponent during that time, and another ranked 17th.

And it’s a fact that the way you improve is by facing strong opposition.

Don’t know whether any of this means anything. But it seems that if you suddenly are thrown into a game against a tough, physical, fast opponent, especially when you haven’t seen one in a long time and especially when you haven’t played any games in five weeks, it can be a bit of a surprise. You can say all the right things and practice as hard as you want, but there’s no way to be prepared until you get on the field. By the same token, there’s no way Auburn can prepare for Oregon’s offense until it faces it on the field.

Last year, I thought the Ducks — and particularly Chip Kelly — were a bit shell-shocked by Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The result was 260 yards of total offense and a 2-for-11 performance on third down.

But that might have been the best thing that could have happened to Oregon. I think the Ducks learned their lesson, and I think the experience of playing a top team in a major bowl game — while Auburn faced a mediocre Northwestern team — will pay dividends this year.