Dope Walker snub points to larger issue with Oregon Ducks

Handsome, articulate, well-educated, athletically gifted and soon to be rich, a consensus All-American and the second-leading running back in school history, Kenjon Barner got snubbed in the balloting for the Doak Walker Award, just as Marcus Mariota will have a difficult time winning a Heisman Trophy. KB will probably get over it, and Oregon fans have to hope he’ll console himself by earning the MVP Trophy in the Fiesta Bowl.

Johnny Manziel is a system quarterback. Montee Ball and Johnathan Franklin are system running backs. That’s not a knock; it’s simply the reality that every great college football player is in place because coaches felt that player fit their system and style of play, surround him with complementary players and offensive looks that enhance what they do best.

Manziel wouldn’t be the same quarterback in a pro-style offense. Franklin and Ball don’t belong in a four and five-wide vertical passing set. They thrive with a big fullback and ginormous linemen blocking downhill. Optimus Klein succeeds as his own lead blocker running right and left, while a quarterback like Matt Barkely would look ridiculous trying to do the same.

And what works in the college game, what makes a great college football football player, isn’t necessarily the same combination of talent and scheme that dictates success in the pros. NFL potential and perception shouldn’t be a remote consideration when awarding and evaluating a college team or players. It’s a different game, and thank god.

When it comes to the polls and awards, the Ducks have become victims of their own success. A parade of wildly differing athletes have been successful in the Oregon system, Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, Mariota; Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarette Blount, LaMichael James and Barner, so much so that the pundits and columnists and analysts presume it’s the system that creates them, rather than the gifts and dedication of the individual players. Similarly, because the Oregon team runs roughshod over its schedule, dominating opponents with a three-touchdown margin of victory and playing the reserves for much of the second half, the stars don’t pad their stats. Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner played little more than two quarters in five of Oregon’s games.

Take another look at their season stat lines, and also consider the fact the Ducks played 12 rather than 13 games this year. Barner and Mariota’s statistical accomplishments stack up very well with the finalists in New York and Florida.

Stuff like this matters, because the perception of Oregon as a system football team skews poll results, award recognition, and gets used in a negative way by opponents on the recruiting trail.

“Our school has had 12 Heisman Trophy Winners.”

“They won’t prepare you for the NFL.”

“Oregon can’t feature you like we can. You’re a better fit in what we do.”

 

The hurry-up tempo and finely crafted x’s and o’s absolutely contribute to the Webfoots’ success. But Barner’s 321 yard rushing day against USC remains one of the great offensive performances in college football history. He was brilliant that day and outstanding all season.

But Kenjon needed a 100-yard day and a win over Stanford to nab the Walker Award, and 1800-2000 yards to punch a ticket to New York.

In the same way, an Oregon team has to go undefeated to make the BCS Championship, and an Oregon quarterback would have to be undefeated, pass for 3500 yards and 35 touchdowns while running for 500, to win a Heisman Trophy.

Oregon’s run of team success over the last five years has become so routine that great numbers and lopsided scores get routinely discounted by the national media. It’s become expected.

How to dispel the system label and the diminishment? A great start would be a dominating win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Beating the best in a big game with a national audience would reinforce the point made at last year’s Rose Bowl.

Oregon is a good team with some great players. It’s not the system; it’s the effort and commitment they put into it.

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