Oregon enters conference play with more questions than answers, and a whole lot of injuries.
Last week's tussle with Nebraska was supposed to set up the shape of the Oregon Ducks season, but all we got out of it were some rotten injuries and the bitter feeling that the better team lost because it couldn't get out of its own way. If it wasn't the constant barrage of the penalties, it was the refusal of head coach Mark Helfrich to use the kicking game in spite of the fact that it's probably one of the best in the nation. In a back and forth battle of touchdowns, the Ducks went for a two-point conversion after every touchdown score and failed every single time but the first. They lost 35-32 despite reaching the end zone the same number of times as their opponents, and the sad thing is that they shouldn't have even been in that position in the first place.
There's been some grousing among the fan base that Ducks fans don't know how good they have had it and that many people have been unnecessarily harsh towards the coaching staff when it comes to the team's performances. I can't see myself joining the talk show listening crazies any time soon, but I do find myself increasingly having a hard time believing in what Helfrich is doing with this group. They were clearly due for a step backwards last season after losing Marcus Mariota to the NFL and no definitive long term help at the QB position, not to mention that it's nearly impossible to remain a championship contender for more than a couple of years. Still, it's very baffling and disconcerting to see a team that clearly still has a good measure of talent lose games they way they did in the Alamo Bowl and again this past Saturday. Nebraska didn't mount a 31 point halftime comeback, but they got to mostly sit back and make the easy decisions when all (football) logic would have had them playing from behind the entire game and pondering desperate decisions.
The Ducks are back at home and crack open their conference schedule against the Colorado Buffaloes in Eugene. Colorado's football team has been horrid since the Great Conference Migration of Ought-Ten, which must make Pac-12 officials wondering if they could've possibly held out for a better Big 12 team to call their own. That being said, Colorado held their own against Michigan for a spell last week until their quarterback was knocked out of the game and has certainly shown recent signs of improvement. Colorado also has the same record as Oregon currently, for what it's worth.
The Ducks lost Olympic hurdler and wide receiver Devon Allen for the season, but that wasn't the biggest blow. Tyrell Crosby, one of the stalwarts of the offensive line, is also done for the season, leaving an already thin group even thinner. And with star running back Royce Freeman's status up in the air for this game as well, Oregon could be in for a lot of trouble. Thankfully, the Ducks are very deep at Royce's position, and Dakota Prukop seems to have plenty of tricks up his sleeve. While this won't be the most highly anticipated game of the conference schedule, it should go along way to sorting out what kind of season the Ducks are going to have. With zero games in the book, Oregon still can't be counted out as a conference contender.
Game time is 2:30 PDT with national coverage on the Pac-12 Network. Go Ducks!