Can the Ducks overcome the cover jinx? Are they ready for Arizona and the PAC-12?

DATsiEven without John Boyett and Carson York, the Ducks have enough talent and experience to compete for a national championship this season. They have the nation’s attention with a top 3 ranking and De’Anthony Thomas on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If they keep winning, they’ll be invited to Miami, and Thomas to New York.

But right now they have a lot more to overcome than the SI cover jinx. They have the national exposure, but do they have the will, focus and commitment?

 If the Ducks play their PAC-12 schedule the way they played Tennessee Tech, Fresno State and Arkansas State, they’ll lose at least three games this season, including a very disappointing bowl.

Sure, they racked up three big wins against soft competition. But watch those games closely, and you’ll see a litany of self-inflicted wounds and unforced errors, glaring signs of inattention, hot dogging and overconfidence.

photo right: College football’s most rock-and-roll team makes the cover of the football version of The Rolling Stone. But the cover that really matters comes in January.

Against the Golden Eagles alone, there were these:

  • DAT wanders up to a punt he has no business returning, lets it hit him on the hand, and TT gets a gift possession at the 23.
  • Thomas races 49 yards with a swing pass, starts slowboating at the three yard line (was he going to go into a Heisman Pose?) and a Golden Eagle player strips the ball. Luckily it bounces to Jake Fisher in the end zone and the Ducks get a td instead instead of a touchback.
  • Marcus Mariota fires an interception throwing to a double-covered receiver. The previous week, he had two fumbles. Duck radio color analyst Mike Jorgensen (himself no stranger to fumbles) says on the air that Mariota was  “carrying the ball like a loaf of bread.”
  • A ball bounces off the back of a Tech player into the arms of Kiko Alonso. He has a convoy of five blockers, but no one blocks the quarterback, who makes a one-on-five tackle.
  • Dior Mathis makes a nifty interception, and untouched, steps out at the four yard line.
  • On his first pass, backup quarterback Bryan Bennett heaves it fives yards over the head of his receiver. His second is right in the chest–of an opposing linebacker.
  • For the game, against an opponent they beat by 49, the Ducks commit three turnovers and 105 yards in penalties, including four late hits and roughing-the-passers

These were enough unforced errors to lose a game against a better opponent. And they are all signs of a team that has been reading its own magazine articles.

That’s the real power of the Sports Illustrated Cover jinx. Players start believing their own hype. They soak up the praise and forget the hard work and effort that made it possible.

Like the USC Trojans, for instance. Stanford’s physical beatdown and domination of SC should be a wake-up call for the Oregon Ducks.

Chip Kelly doesn’t believe in circling games, but you’d better believe the Ducks are circled 9 times in opponents’ locker rooms this year. Everybody wants to knock them off. They’re tired of the praise, the uniforms and the big reputation. They want a piece of that for themselves. They keep hearing how great Oregon is.

Just this week, Arizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight told the Oregonian’s Aaron Fentress, “They are always exciting to watch on TV because of the type of offense they run but their team can be beat,” he said. “We just have to play really hard against them.” 

Every team remaining on Oregon’s schedule will play hard against them, and if the Ducks display the same casualness and entitlement they brought to their marshmallow-soft nonconference schedule, they’re in for a shock.

Bet that every team on the schedule is devoting at least two practice periods to the rip-and-strip drill. Thomas and Mariota are going to get a steady diet of forearm clubs across the football until they prove they can hold on to it.

If The Black Momba makes two costly, boneheaded errors like those against Arizona, Washington, USC or Stanford, that’s the clip they’ll play leading up to the Heisman balloting. And Oregon will lose a game they should have won, in an agonizing fashion.

Across the country, Alabama has dominated Michigan and Arkansas this year. In their 52-0 win over the Razorbacks, they allowed just 137 yards of offense, had no turnovers, and committed 7 penalties for 74 yards. In the season opener they held Heisman trophy hopeful Denard Robinson to 27 yards on 10 carries while limiting the Wolverines to 11 first downs in a 49-14 drubbing. The Crimson Tide had only one fumble and 55 yards in penalties.

While the Ducks and their fans are busy congratulating themselves on a 3-0 record versus a Pillsbury Doughboy schedule, the Tide is dominating a Top 25 schedule with discipline and ferocity.

Oregon isn’t even close to ready for that kind of competition. Right now, their record and their ranking is as airbrushed as a magazine cover.