Which college football team should Duck fans be rooting for now?

Which college football team should Duck fans be rooting for now?

The Oregon Ducks may hold their College Football Playoff fate in their own hands right now. A lot of people believe if they win out, whip Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, they will punch their ticket to the national playoff.

But I’m not sure Auburn – the only team to have beaten the Ducks this season -- doesn’t still own a big piece of Oregon’s postseason fate. That’s because the Tigers meet Alabama on 11/30 in a crucial SEC game. The Crimson Tide, of course, will be playing without its All-America quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is out for the season. If ‘Bama can somehow figure out a way to win at Auburn without Tagovailoa, I would guess it has a real shot at finishing ahead of the Ducks in the rankings.

Oregon lost 29-21 to Auburn on a neutral field with nine seconds to go, after leading all the way. But the Ducks had an edge in that game, playing the Tigers in the very first college game for Auburn’s true-freshman  starting quarterback Bo Nix. And although Nix was terrific late in the game, he was shaky early and Oregon didn’t take full advantage of that. If Alabama can beat the Tigers on the road, that would certainly make it easier for the committee to pick the Tide over the Ducks.

And I think the big problem for the Ducks is that Alabama is, well, Alabama. That game a week ago vs. LSU drew a terrific television rating and that counts for something, I would guess. Even though it’s not supposed to count.

Oregon must overcome the Alabama aura and also hope that Georgia doesn’t knock off LSU in the SEC championship game, which would probably push both those teams into the final four. along with Clemson and Ohio State.

Can the Ducks get into the final four? Yes, I think so. But remember, the final four is a football’s version of a dog show. It’s all about appearances. You better be ready to look charming, cute, adorable, etc. when the judges are looking.

You must not only be the best team, you have to look good doing it. And that’s not going to be easy, especially coming out of the Pac-12, where I believe it’s difficult for teams to improve throughout the long season because the caliber of opposition is often not going to be challenging. Just last week, Oregon wasn’t at its best but Arizona wasn’t good enough to even make the game close.

A lot still has to go Oregon’s way -- including Auburn putting a good beating on Alabama next week.

Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity

Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s middle name might as well be “genuine”... it's how his team refers to him over and over again.

Cristobal came to Oregon in 2016 with a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country, an instrumental piece to Alabama hauling in top prospects year after year. Oregon promoted Cristobal in 2017 to head coach with large recruiting expectations… and the 2015 National Recruiter of the Year has delivered.

UO has landed the program's highest-rated recruit in program history and highest-rated class ever AFTER a predictable 8-4 season, finishing 4th in the Pac-12 North, and winding at the Redbox Bowl… How?

Yes, Oregon is considered to be Nike University and has been for the last decade. Certainly, high schoolers love the Oregon Football brand and its facilities, but it’s Cristobal’s honest and welcoming approach that has made the difference.

Senior defensive end and first team All-Pac-12 selection Jalen Jelks has three head coaches during his time at Oregon. He recounts why Cristobal is special.

“He will text you in the middle of the day, ‘Hey how is it going? What’s your class schedule like?’ and then he will pop by and see you,” Jelks said. “Little stuff like that shows the kind of person he is and how much he really cares about you… He’s just a real genuine guy.”

While many draft-eligible players are deciding to forgo bowl games to focus on the 2019 NFL Draft, not only does Jelks want to play as a Duck one last time on December 31, he wishes he could return for another season under Cristobal.

Sophomore nose tackle Jordon Scott agreed that one of the biggest reasons recruits gravitate towards Cristobal is how much he cares about his players’ well-being off the field. Scott, who has started 22 consecutive games, told a story about the week leading up to Oregon’s upset victory over rival Washington.

“I had gotten a real bad stinger in practice and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play because I couldn’t really life my arm up,” Scott said.  “(Cristobal) texted me, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine’. I think that’s the biggest thing about him, he’s genuine and he knows that little things like that can really help us mentally.”

The Ducks expect their commitments to put ink to paper on during early signing period, which begins Wednesday. Oregon has never finished with a class ranked in the top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings. Currently, the Ducks have 20 commitments that have bought into Cristobal’s vision and shaped the No. 5 ranked 2019 class.

The top-rated high school player in the country, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, is proof that Cristobal and his staff can compete against the top programs in the country. Thibodeaux passed over Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Cristobal, the coach that Thibodeaux’s mom liked.

“Mario Cristobal is a great guy, my mom loves him, and he’s a God-fearing man,” Thibodeaux said during his selection. “He can take my game to the next level.”

The five-star recruit also said Cristobal talked to him about more than just football, expressing an enthusiasm in his other interests, which include journalism.

Mario “genuine” Cristobal, has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Chip Kelly to Alabama as OC under Nick Saban makes zero sense

Chip Kelly to Alabama as OC under Nick Saban makes zero sense

Chip Kelly doesn't have a job.

Alabama has a vacancy at offensive coordinator.

1+1 in the sports world of connect the dots = Kelly to Alabama.

However: reality + logic = no way in hell that happens.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has been left with a huge job opening after former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who held the job for all of one game, accepted the newly vacated job of offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.

While a Saban-Kelly marriage would be as entertaining as all get out, it would appear to be far more likely that the vacancy would be filled by Oregon offensive coordinator and former Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal, who was Alabama's offensive line coach before joining the Ducks. Even former UO coach Mark Helfrich seems like a more viable candidate for Alabama than Kelly.  

Still, the immediate hot rumor is that Kelly could become a candidate in Tuscaloosa. 

But that makes about as much sense as Kelly returning to Oregon as OC. Here are the reasons why:

  • Kelly has made it clear he wants to stay in the NFL. To do so, he must stay in the NFL, even if it's as an assistant or a consultant for his good pal, Bill Belichik at New England. Coaching at Alabama would do nothing to improve Kelly's chances of remaining in the league. He must reinvent himself as an NFL coach. He can't do that in college. 
  • Kelly runs what was a revolutionary and up-tempo offense that made Oregon a national power. Although Kelly didn't win big in the NFL, his offenses were typically quite productive both in Philadelphia and San Francisco despite having limitations at quarterback. But his style wouldn't play well with Alabama's defensive-minded philosophies.In the past, Saban has complained about the impact no-huddle offenses have had on college football, particularly his defenses, which dominate conventional offenses but have struggled against no-huddle teams with dynamic quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Deshaun Watson).  The last thing Saban wants is to see his defense on the field for 35 minutes while Kelly is calling a play every 15 seconds.  This reason also makes Helfrich appear to be an unlikely candidate, although he does have a pro-style background he could lean on. 
  • If Kelly wants to return to college he would do so as a head coach. If nothing materializes in the NFL, Kelly would become a hot head coaching in the college ranks when jobs come open next season. He could use coaching a year at Alabama as a springboard to a college head coaching job. But, again, he wants to remain in the NFL and he wouldn't need a boost of any kind to land a big time job in college. So, coaching at Alabama for one season doesn't help him at all. 
  • Speaking of being one-and-done, why would Saban want Kelly as a rent-a-coach for a year? It wouldn't benefit Saban to have Kelly waltz in, reinvent the offense and then leave after one season. Again, Cristobal would be a better choice than Kelly would be for one year. 
  • Kelly could possibly adapt his offensive style, but why would he want to do that for a season? Plus, for all we know Kelly would be an average coordinator of a conventional offense. His calling card is a spread, up-tempo offense, not pro-style attacks. 
  • Could you imagine this clash of egos? Think Godzilla vs. King Kong. Saban is a bully. He intimidated and verbally abused Lane Kiffin to the point where he left Alabama to take the head job at Florida Atlantic. Nobody leaves Alabama for Florida Atlantic. But Kiffin did. Saban couldn't bully Kelly like that. Kelly wouldn't take it. And Saban likely wouldn't want someone that strong working under him, potentially undermining his authority, and that works both ways. Kelly taking orders from Saban on how to run the offense probably wouldn't go over very well. I don't care how good of pals they are. 

To be fair here, maybe this is all too negative. Maybe Saban wants to get some of that spread attack philosophy into his system to see how it meshes with his defense. Maybe their friendship would derail any potential clashes. Maybe, just maybe, it would be a match made in heaven.

Or, maybe math doesn't lies and this coaching equation is a non-starter. 

I'm betting on the latter. 

Unsportsmanlike conduct? What about those raging coaches?

Unsportsmanlike conduct? What about those raging coaches?

The cameras Monday night at the College Football Championship Game were constantly drawn to the head coaches of the teams. Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban were certainly an attraction, for sure -- especially when a call went against them.

We watched them both screaming at officials with very animated, ferocious and even threatening displeasure. It was stuff you'd never see on the sidelines of a college basketball game or on the field of a college baseball game without some sort of punishment or ejection. Why football? Why are football officials so reluctant to throw a flag on a coach who is so obviously showing them up, impugning their integrity or just plain using them as an emotional punching bag?

I have no idea. But with all the lip service the NCAA pays to "student-athletes" and all the lessons they learn from college football, that's not exactly the behavior you'd wish to be projected by high-profile people in a leadership position. I was embarrassed for those guys in stripes, having to stand there and take that guff without any penalty.

But I will say that the astute observer I was watching the game with had the line of the night on Clemson's last drive. It was when an Alabama lineman was caught doing something illegal to a Clemson player.

"Unsportsmanlike conduct..." the referee began.

To which my friend added, "... it couldn't be worse than what we've seen the coaches doing."

And I agree. On college football's biggest stage, you don't need to showcase a couple of psycho adults blowing up on the sidelines without any punishment. And in the days of young players being penalized for merely celebrating their success, I would suggest that misbehavior by their coaches should be severely punished.