Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Golden Age of Oregon Football

The biggest news in the young college football off season: Pete Carroll is leaving USC and taking his mock turtle necks to the NFL. No debate there, but what does it mean for the Pac-10? To this Homer it means that we are entering what the history books will remember as the "Golden Age of Oregon Football."

Let's start with the known. Pete Carroll was 97-19 during his 9 years at USC which included a record seven straight Pac-10 championships; a record 6 BCS bowl victories; a record 33 straight weeks atop the AP poll; and two national championships. Pete Carroll was the master architect of this success. When he arrived in Los Angeles USC was mired in mediocrity. His recruiting ability and ability to assemble a staff elevated USC to the pinnacle of college football.

No matter the reason you assign to Pete Carroll's departure--jumping ship from a ticking bomb of recruiting violations, or the ability to oversee an entire NFL system--there is no debate that his departure leaves a gaping void in the Pac-10. Anyone who thinks Lane Kiffin is going to fill that void with his 12-21 record as a head coach (and without the help of Norm Chow) needs to have their head checked. Ergo, enter the Golden Age of Oregon Football.

To begin, Oregon is bringing back many of their key players from last year's Rose Bowl team. Quarterback/escape artist extraordinaire Jeremiah Masoli will be back. Plus, Masoli will take snaps from an O-Line that loses no one and have the luxury of handing the ball to Pac-10 Freshman of the Year LaMichael James. The defense returns nine starters including defensive end Kenny Rowe and a healthy secondary that was riddled with injuries last year. Not to mention Oregon returns Chip Kelly, the first coach to win the conference title outright in his first season as head coach.

That said, it takes more than one good team to sustain success similar to that of recent UCS squads. However, before Oregon won the Pac-10 this past year, they had been playing second fiddle to USC for some time. Since 2003 Oregon has finished 2nd or 3rd in the conference three times and was poised to win the conference and play for the National Championship in 2007 before star quarterback Dennis Dixon injured his knee. Furthermore, since Chip Kelly arrived in 2007 as an offensive coordinator with his spread offense, Oregon has led the league in touchdowns scored and total offense.

That high powered spread offense attracts top level recruits and media attention. College Gameday has covered Oregon football games four times in the past three years--which does not go unnoticed by high school football players. Every young, athletic, running minded quarterback in the country knows they will be given the green light to run when they come to play for Oregon. Not to mention Oregon has 160 possible combinations of new age Nike pants, shoes, helmets and jerseys. However, none of these recruiting tools carry more cache than Uncle Phil.

Uncle Phil is the endearing nickname bestowed upon Phil Knight, founder of Nike and U of O alum. Needless to say, Oregon's favorite uncle has not forgotten about his alma mater. Uncle Phil has his own customized locker in the football locker room and buildings named after him, his parents, and his son. He has donated over 230 million dollars to the University including a 100 million dollar donation ear marked almost exclusively for athletics. His finger prints are so evident at the University it is commonly referred to as Nike University--a fact not lost on recruits. One need not suspend reality to imagine a recruit being told that if his football career doesn't work out he has an excellent opportunity to work at Nike.

Not only is Nike a gravy train for Oregon, but that gravy doesn't just sit in the coffers. Nestled beside Autzen Stadium is the 14.6 million dollar Moshofsky Center ("the Mo") which houses the only indoor, full length, artificial turf practice field in the Pac-10. The Mo also houses beer and food vendors during every home football game.

Next door to the Mo is the bran new 14,580-square-foot Athletic Medicine Center. The facility includes physician space for daily clinics and pre-participation physicals, nutritional education areas for student-athletes, vision and dental screening, body composition testing and a pharmacy. The center also features digital x-ray technology which doctors can instantly view. Additional features include three therapeutic pools equipped with underwater treadmills and video systems that aid in rehabilitation and training as well as a hot plunge pool and a cold plunge pool. Not to mention the fact that the architecture and design make the place look like a new age healing center for A-list celebrities (see below).

Although the personnel, facilities, and donors are key elements of any prominent college program, football fans and the University of Oregon are second to none. Though there is no one-hundred-thousand person Coliseum in Eugene there is an Autzen Stadium that boasts 66 straight sell outs dating back to 1999 and is more raucous and boisterous than any football stadium in the country. There is no track so the fans are on top of the field and the stands rise steeply up so the noise pours down on the field. It is an outrageous football environment that makes time stand still on Saturdays in Eugene.

The bottom line is that Oregon has an established program with almost limitless financial support. That combination makes it tough for most schools in the Pac-10 to compete with Oregon year in and year out. One of the only schools that has comparable financial resources is USC, but that ship is now being sailed by a man (Kiffin) who once told a recruit from South Carolina that "if you go to South Carolina you will end up pumping gas for the rest of your life like all the other players who went to South Carolina." Nice.

Enter the Duck.

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