Last January, Chip Kelly walked away from an NFL position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers citing “unfinished business” as his reason for doing so. Despite rumors to the contrary, I did and will continue to take the Coach at his word regarding his motivation for staying put, and due to such am left with but one thought regarding Saturday night’s game at the L.A. Coliseum: It’s time to get to work.
Yes, I’ve heard those stories too. You know, the one about Chip seeking compensation assurances in the wake of potential NCAA sanctions, the one about him wanting to hand pick his successor, and the one about the alumni’s elder statesmen putting a verbal smack-down on the coach for the mere contemplation of an “exit stage left.” However, much like with E.F. Hutton, when Coach Kelly talks…I listen, and due to such am expecting a truly great performance from this team. Why? Because Chip Kelly’s Ducks have won the conference championship (specifically, three of them), had an undefeated regular season, and have a Rose Bowl trophy to their name; what they don’t have? The crystal ball awarded to college football’s BCS National Champion, and I have to think said trophy is the “business” he wants to put to bed.
There are potentially 5 games standing between Oregon and a shot at that trophy, and the first cent of the nickel’s worth of games might be the trickiest of them all.
The USC Trojans are good. I know they’ve lost 2 games and I know they’ve looked porous defensively in that process, but I also know that few teams in the college game can boast the level of talent they’ll put on the field Saturday night, and due to such they are and always will be a scary team to face. But you know what beats talent? Coaching and cohesiveness; something the Trojans seem to lack.
I believe this is Oregon’s best team. Defensively, they bring more to the table than 2010. Offensively, they’re far more versatile at the quarterback position. And from a depth standpoint it’s night and day. They’ve got the speed, the experience and if you buy what the coaching staff is selling, the work ethic to put it to anyone in the nation on a given day. And that’s what’s going to make the difference if this team is going to do something special, and they haven’t to this point. 8-0 is great and it’s what’s put them in this position, but anyone who knows anything about college football in 2012 knows the heavy lifting starts Saturday night, and it starts against an underachieving team capable of beating you if you give them the chance.
If Oregon plays dumb, they’ll likely lose. If Oregon turns it over multiple times, they’ll likely lose. And if this Oregon team strays from their game and allows Barkley, Lee and Woods to play theirs, they’ll likely find themselves in a similar position to last year; on the wrong end of a game and against a team they should by all rights put to bed by the fourth quarter. But championship teams don’t do those things in big games, and I think this has the makings of a championship team…and I think Chip does too. After-all, why would he make a statement regarding resolving unfinished business if he didn’t think it was a real possibility to do just that? Why would he continually remark about this team’s fortitude and work ethic if he didn’t see it firsthand? And why would he have returned to a school and a group of players he lacked confidence in, when he so confidently stated his sole goal for returning? Because he didn’t get compensation assurances from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Because he couldn’t hand pick his successor? Or because a group of powerful alumni sent him to his room without supper? Puleez, I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but I think people might be complicating a relatively simple scenario: The dude wants to win before he moves on and he feels this team has a chance to do it.
So it is time to get to work. Oregon’s first 8 games offered them little to no resistance, some due to an inability to do so, others due to an inability to do so against them. Fresno State, Washington, and Washington State didn’t stand a chance. Arkansas State, Colorado and Tennessee Tech…less than that. And the Arizona schools…well…they would’ve needed a lot of help, but USC, Stanford and likely Oregon State won’t step to the side for the Ducks, it’ll be up to them to move them out of the way.
Nobody outside of South Central Los Angeles, not wearing a gold and cardinal cashmere sweater, or without one of Southern California’s many bandwagon ticket stubs will be rooting for the Trojans Saturday night (with the slight exception of Notre Dame and Kansas State Wildcat fans.) From their blonde, blue-eyed quarterback, infinite 5-star recruits, snot-nosed-entitled-head-coach, and stadium full of nose jobs, frosted tips and frontal enhancements, they encompass all that isn’t regarding doing it the right way.” They have every advantage when it comes to the college game, and they’re not afraid to describe in detail every…single…one.
“Ever heard of the beach?”
“Ever worn flip-flops Christmas morning?”
“How many Heisman’s do we have?”
“We’ve been stripped of more National Titles than you’ve got!”
Humility is a virtue lost on the men and women of Troy, and I for one hope it’s a lesson the Oregon Ducks treat them to in no small dosage 4 p.m. PST, Saturday night. It’s time to punch the clock Oregon, and I’m anxious to see what you can do on the job.