I was 14 years old when the Oregon Ducks made a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. In fact, it was the first time that either Oregon or Oregon State had done anything worth talking about on the football field in my lifetime. Bill Musgrave had taken over at quarterback for Chris Miller, whose promising NFL career was cut short by concussion-seeking missiles full of concussions, and all of a sudden Oregon was in a bowl game. It was 1989. Head coach Rich Brooks would eventually lead the underdog, defensive minded Ducks team all the way to the Rose Bowl and the cusp of national respectability on New Year's Day in 1995. The Ducks were stomped by Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions' perfect season.
The following season, a new head coach brought new bowl game experiences and the expectation of winning season to the program. Year after year, Oregon was picked to finish in the upper crust of the Pac-10 Conference, and usually did. But there were many setbacks along the way. Seasons were derailed by the inability to defend a pass. Larger programs had their way with the Ducks. Simply making it to a bowl game was hardly enough anymore, and it often showed in the players performances under Mike Bellotti's watch if Oregon found itself in a lower-tiered bowl. Ever since Chip Kelly arrived in 2007, however, things have been remarkably different. Only a horrific knee injury to Dennis Dixon kept the Ducks out of the national title picture in Kelly's first season as offensive coordinator. Kelly's offense was able to take a 5th string QB to the Holiday Bowl in 2008, capped off by a victory over Oklahoma State. And when Kelly fully took over the program last season, Oregon found itself back in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 15 years.
And now, they stand as the #1 team in the country, unless you don't have a pulse. Tonight they face USC, who are underdogs at home for the first time since 2001. Every game will be nerve-wracking from here on out, but Oregon faces a Trojans team that realizes they are playing the best team they will face all season. There is no bowl game for USC this year. However, every team Oregon will face from here on out will be saying the same thing. This is the premiere team in the conference and one of the best - if not the best - in the entire country. Every opponent should be bringing everything they've got to these games.
Game time is 5:00 PDT at the LA Coliseum. ABC is providing regional coverage, because apparently teams on probation these days are still allowed on TV.