4-down zone: Are the Ducks destined for another BCS screw job?

1. For all its flaws and detractors, the BCS has succeeded marvelously in one respect: it’s created the most debated, closely-watched and compelling regular season in sports. Fans start scoreboard watching in September. Panels and analysts engage in spit-flying, finger-pointing shouting matches over the contenders from the time they are 3-0.

Most years, the BCS gets lucky and the thing shakes itself out on the field, but there are some notable exceptions, like Oregon in 2001, or an undefeated TCU team in 2010. It could happen again, easily, and painfully, the Ducks could again be the victim:

The SEC Champion, likely to be an undefeated Alabama team with a fearsome defense, is a lock for the title game. The SEC runnerup can’t be ruled out either.

Notre Dame, if they survive Oklahoma and USC, is a glamour candidate with money, tradition and a huge national following. A 12-0 Irish squad won’t be kept out of the national title game.

Kansas State widens their lead on the Ducks if Oklahoma beats the Irish, as their marquee win is an upset over the Sooners in Norman.

Meanwhile, the Ducks have to get past USC in Los Angeles, Stanford, and Oregon State in Corvallis. If they survive, unlike KSU or ND, they have the extra hurdle of a conference championship game, probably against the Trojans again.

2. Is this Chip Kelly’s last year as Oregon coach?

The Kelly buzz is growing among the columnists and list makers, and NFL sources are quoted widely naming Oregon’s 41-6 head man as a hot commodity for open NFL jobs with the Cowboys, Browns and elsewhere. He’d be a great fit in Philadelphia with his no-nonsense style with the media. Eagle fans would love him.

Whether or not he runs a version of his up-tempo spread offense, Kelly is a certain success in the NFL, because he’s driven, innovative and smart. He’s a brilliant communicator and delegates extremely well to his staff. He has the gift of focusing on what’s important and blocking out everything else. He’d win in the no-fun league, and make a pile of money, but the prospect brings to mind a classic quote from a now-old football movie:

“Every time I call it a business you call it a game, and every time I call it a game you call it a business.”

Here’s hoping Kelly has an epiphany, maybe in a raucous locker room after a great, satisfying win over USC or Alabama. He looks around the room at a group of young men who love and trust him, that have accomplished so much together and sacrificed so greatly. He’ll realize how much fun it is to share in their joy and shape their lives.

And he’ll realize that nothing he could accomplish in the NFL would mean as much, last so long, or touch so many lives so deeply. Kelly could stay at Oregon and retire as one of the legendary figures in college coaching, working in a great community where he’s respected and revered.

Or, he’ll be so driven by the money and the competitive challenge he’ll move on to a league where he’s just another coach sleeping in his office.

3.What’s the next great challenge in the development of Marcus Mariota?

Mariota passed every test so far and performed wonderfully as a first-year starter, showing flashes of play-making brilliance that make him a future Heisman hopeful. But there are two things he may have to do in the coming weeks that he hasn’t had to do yet this season, challenges Oregon quarterbacks haven’t faced often in the last four years:

A. Win a game with a critical drive in the fourth quarter

B. Win a game against a team with equal or better talent and athletic ability, a stout defense capable of disrupting and shutting down Oregon’s running game, forcing him to beat them with the pass. 

4. Can Kenjon Barner win the Heisman?

Probably not. Only three running backs have won in the last 15 years: Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams and Mark Ingram.      Barner would need 150 to 200-yard games against USC, Stanford and Oregon State to steal the trophy from Collin Klein, A.J. McCarron or Matt Barkley. The Ducks defense can eliminate one candidate by sacking and intercepting Barkley three times each in another three-touchdown Trojan loss, but Barner would need three big days and at least three highlight-film runs to overcome the built-in advantage that quarterbacks have:

They touch the ball on every play.

But Barner has an excellent opportunity to earn an invite to New York as a finalist, and the Duck’s charismatic and telegenic tailback would be another great spokesman for the Oregon story in the Big Apple. His presence there would also make a nice impression on some of the great running back prospects that Oregon is recruiting this season, including verbal commits Thomas Tyner and Dontre Wilson, and highly sought after Derrick Green of Richmond, Virginia.