No. 12: Oregon Ducks

Oregon has culturally changed the way college football looks and is played. The only thing missing is still missing.

No one should hold vigil for a football program with an athletic complex, backed by footwear millions, that features “O” embossed Ferrari leather seats in the film room.

Or, feel sorry for any player associated with an individual ventilated machine designed to suck the locker-room sweat out of his shoulder pads.

That said, no power 5 school in history has contributed more to college football, without a championship, than Oregon.

The only school that compares this century might be Georgia, which has averaged 9.7 wins per season since 1999 with only a series of nervous breakdowns to show for it.

Bulldog fans don’t have to be reminded: coming up a few yards short of stunning Alabama in 2012 SEC title game and then, of course, losing the 2017 season title-game to Alabama on an overtime bomb.

Yet, not even Georgia can match Oregon’s litany of heartbreak plus culture contribution.

Oregon has not only averaged 9.263 wins a year since 1999, it has radically changed two things: the way college football looked and the way it was played.

The Ducks made neon and mustard a uniform color combination and forced everyone to adjust their sets. The parents hated it but the kids loved it and this revolution has proven to be one of the few workers’ rights wins for NCAA players.

Oregon, under Chip Kelly, took the modern “Air Raid” and\or “No-Huddle” and sped it up like a dime-store pocket watch.

Oregon’s “tempo” became so influential it shook conservatives like Nick Saban into saying it was dangerous for the game. It wasn’t and now everyone, including Saban, has embraced it.

What did Oregon get for this? The Ducks finished No. 2 in both regular season polls in 2001 and finished fourth in the BCS standings. In 2007, the Ducks lost quarterback Dennis Dixon to an ACL tear as he was racing his team to the promised land.

In 2010, Oregon lost the title game to Auburn on a last-second field goal and, in 2014, lost the first CFP championship game to Ohio State.

So, wait, I’m picking Oregon to win it all this year. Ah, no, but second-year coach Mario Cristobal has brought a grit and toughness to a program that needed it.

And the Ducks do return Justin Herbert, the Pac 12’s best quarterback, and recruited the top defensive end in the nation (Kayvon Thibodeaux).

If Oregon can play enough defense to beat its weak-lily reputation, well, the schedule gives Cristobal’s team a puncher’s chance.

The Aug. 31 opener against Auburn in Arlington provides the Pac 12 another chance to make an early statement.

Oregon misses South-favorite Utah but plays at Stanford, at Washington, at USC and at Arizona State.

That’s a lot to ask for a program that hasn’t always shone a lot of spine, but we must say Cristobal’s tough-guy approach could be the difference.

Maybe. Cristobal has already proven capable of recruiting the kind of California players required to compete against with the big-body Clemsons. But can he get enough of them?

Landing Thibodeaux, on defense, was a conversation starter.

“The most impressive part about Kayvon is not the five stars that sit beside his name, it’s his five-star attitude and work ethic,” Cristobal said.

Maybe some century all this hard work will pay off. For the first time…ever.

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