Evanson column: Ducks still not great, but good and getting better
Don't listen to what I say, listen to what I mean.
Deep, but shallow enough to make my point as simply as possible.
Six weeks ago I tried to tell you that Oregon wasn't THAT good. It wasn't a knock on the team or program, but merely my opinion of where they stood relative to the nation's elite.
We knew they could beat also-rans like Montana, Nevada and even Colorado. Middle-tier teams like USC and Cal. And even good programs like Washington and yes, Auburn, who despite losing to them in the season opener back in August, the Ducks dominated the Tigers for the bulk of the contest and proved worthy against the type of team that's given them problems in the past. But against teams like, LSU, Clemson and Ohio State, as examples, this version of Oregon football wasn't quite on the level necessary to win on the biggest stage — and nothing's changed.
Even after winning 11 games. Even after winning a Pac-12 title. And even still after dominating a No. 5-ranked Utah team last Friday night in Santa Clara, the Ducks haven't shown me anything beyond what I already knew: that they are a really good team that could hang with 98 percent of the country's college football teams ... just not the 2 percenters. And that's fine.
If you're an Oregon Duck fan, you should be proud. These are the types of seasons that don't come around often enough to take for granted. While things were crazy good for an unprecedented stretch from 2009-14, a six-season stretch that resulted in a 70-11 record, four conference championships, two Rose Bowl trophies, a Fiesta Bowl championship, two trips to the national title game and a Heisman Trophy, that's not the status quo in Eugene, nor really anywhere.
Alabama? Sure, they're in the midst of a ridiculous run right now, having won five national titles in the last 10 years. But prior to Nick Saban's arrival in 2007, they'd won just one in the previous 28 years and over the prior 11 accrued a 74-61 record, not counting the 23 wins they later had vacated as the result of NCAA infractions.
Ohio State? Again, hot as a pistol now, going 204-33 since the turn of the century. But the three seasons prior they were a combined 21-15, and over a six-year stretch before that, tallied a 41-25-1 record without a bowl win.
And Clemson? Two national titles in the last three years, but never won more than nine games in a season between 1990 and 2010, amassing a 133-97 overall record.
And those are the game's cream of the proverbial crop.
It's not easy to sustain success. There are too many variables. Players come and go, opposition gets better and assistant and head coaches typically leave after a handful of years in search of a higher level challenge. So while it's OK to want more, it's important to appreciate where you are while you're on the road to where you're going.
If the Ducks manage a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, they will have won 12 games in 14 tries, with their two losses being a Week 1, "neutral site," late-game-fizzle over the No. 12-ranked team in the country and a late season three-point road loss to a team full of NFL coaches. They'll finish in the top-5 nationally, likely be back in that top-5 to start next season and even likelier be on the heels of a second straight record-setting recruiting class that's laying the foundation for even greater things to come.
Oregon is a damn good team. Good enough to win a league title; good enough to be in the conversation for the College Football Playoff; and good enough to dream bigger. But they're not good enough to be great just yet — and there's no shame in that.
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