By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Yes, it was tremendously disappointing. Oregon felt like they were a team bound to make the 4-team CFP and give winning the whole thing a real shot. Aside from kicking field goals, the Ducks seemed to have everything they needed to compete on college football’s biggest stage.
Instead, Dan Lanning’s team will face #23 Liberty (13-0, C-USA) in the Fiesta Bowl. There was a time when Oregon fans would have been excited at the prospect of playing in a major bowl game on New Year’s Day with a chance to win 12 games. Seasons that yield 12+ total wins have only come to pass a handful of times in the rich history of Duck football. 12 is the most games that Oregon can win this season thanks entirely to the Washington Huskies.
It’s a disappointment, but not a failure.
When your kid gets a C- on a test he studied hard for, that’s a disappointment . If he has to repeat the class because he didn’t give it his best effort, that’s a failure.
Yes, I recognize the irony of that line being written by a single 26-year old with no kids. But I think you get my point–not every negative outcome is the same.
College Football is the greatest sport in the world. It is immensely difficult to win at a high level consistently. Oregon has done that since the turn of the century, and really since 1994. The reason Duck fans are waking up searching for positive feelings right now is because they will not have a chance to win a national championship. I think this team is good enough to do that, with an experienced and talented roster led by a Heisman-caliber QB in Bo Nix.
Unfortunately for the Ducks and those fans who will have to wait (again) for that first truly magical season, they came up short. Washington was just better this year, no matter what the sportsbooks and media pundits said.
Oregon had one of their best defensive seasons in recent memory, and Lanning seems to have a clear plan for how to churn out units like that on an annual basis. Offensive coordinator Will Stein didn’t have his best day, beginning the game with back-to-back three and outs. That put the defense on the field a lot against an elite Husky offense led by Michael Penix and some outstanding wideouts. But he’s a finalist for the Broyles Award (given to the nation’s top assistant/coordinator) for a reason. He’s really good.
I like the foundation that Lanning has built in his 2nd season at the helm. If the Ducks beat the Flames in the Fiesta Bowl, he will have won 2 more games in his second season than he did in his first. I think this year’s team is better than 2022 on multiple fronts, and I like what that means in the future for the Ducks.
It’s hard to tell Oregon fans to be patient for that first national championship, but recognize how difficult it is. Dabo Swinney was hired at Clemson in 2009 and won his first championship in 2016. Kirby Smart was hired at Georgia in 2016, and won his first of two titles in 2021.
Lanning hadn’t been a head coach before he got to Oregon, and so far his nemesis is a guy who’s career head coaching record is 103-11. That’ll need to change, obviously, for a number of reasons. But it’s not like Oregon is getting blown out in their 3 straight losses to the Huskies and Lanning needs to completely rework his philosophy on football.
He might just need some more time to learn, I think he can and will. It is certainly disappointing to have a team of this caliber and come up short of making the College Football Playoff. I said before the season it could only be a “failure” for the Ducks if they failed to make the Pac-12 title game.
In the big picture, there are more positives than negatives for Duck fans to appreciate. It’s just really, really hard to see that right now after the sting of the loss.
I just don’t anticipate this being the last time Oregon Football under Dan Lanning has a chance to compete for a national championship.
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.