Inflated expectations for Oregon’s season make loss feel like dreaded return to reality

·5 min read

Any loss late in November with postseason expectations on the line is going to hurt quite a bit.

Losing by 31 points on the road to a lesser-ranked team when much of the nation was predicting you’d do just that has to be among the worst ways for that to happen, though, right?

That’s what happened for the No. 3 Oregon Ducks on Saturday night, as they fell to the No. 23 Utah Utes, 38-7, in a game that seemed like it could have been a whole lot worse.

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While it’s embarrassing and disappointing, and frustrating that the Ducks laid a dud on one of the bigger stages of the season with their College Football Playoff dreams on the line, what makes it the most aggravating, for me at least, is that we all saw it coming. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I knew that this Oregon team wasn’t worthy of being ranked No. 3 in the nation. I knew that if they ended up getting matched up with Georgia, or Alabama, or Ohio State in the CFP, they would likely be sent packing with their tails between their legs. This team had some fatal flaws, but they’ve managed to work around them all season.

While the hurt is very real in the moment, the Ducks still have a lot to play for. Their game against Oregon State next week will be to decide the Pac-12 North, and there is still a good chance they can make it back to the Rose Bowl this season. If you were to tell any Oregon fan at the start of the season that this is where things were heading, I’d expect most would happily accept the outcome.

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But it was that Week 2 victory over Ohio State that changed the game. It flipped the season on its heels and inflated expectations higher than they ever should have gotten. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the upset victory over the No. 3 Buckeyes is at all a negative, but rather just pointing out the effect it had on Oregon’s season. While it will long stand as one of the defining moments in program history, it also gave this Ducks roster a set of expectations that they were never likely to achieve.

Beating Ohio State made it seem like the Ducks were one of the best teams in the nation, capable of beating anyone anywhere.

We now know that not to be true. Be it due to injuries, execution, or coaching, the Ducks aren’t as good as the Georgia’s, or Alabama’s of the world. If they played again today, they wouldn’t be as good as the Buckeyes either, to be completely honest.

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The fact is that on one day in September, Oregon dug down deep and found the strength to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year, creating a program-defining win that will keep the Ducks in the conversation of national powers over the next decade.

It also created unrealistic expectations for the remainder of the season.

Anthony Brown isn’t a quarterback who can compete in the College Football Playoff. That’s not meant to be as harsh as it sounds, but it’s an honest assessment of his talents. Without his ability to routinely throw the ball down the field with success, the Ducks were cutting out a large part of their roster talent in the receiving corps, and the offense was never able to reach full potential. We looked past that initially, because, well, Brown led the Ducks to a victory over Ohio State. In the end, though, I think a lot of us knew that this team was always vulnerable to defeat.

That’s why I’m frustrated after this loss to Utah. I’m not frustrated because the Ducks now enter a game against the rival Beavers with a lot on the line, but because I allowed myself to be convinced that they really could play on the same level as the big boys in college football. I’m frustrated because we all saw this coming, but ignored it anyway.

I’m frustrated because the Ducks have a really good chance to win a third-straight Pac-12 Championship, make it back to the Rose Bowl, and I still feel like that’s a disappointment.

As the loss starts to sting a little bit less over the next few days, I’m sure we will collectively shift and start to look forward once again. We’ll get up for a game against OSU and start thinking about a potential New Years’ Eve in Pasadena. Right now, though, it’s okay to feel down.

For whatever reasons, we had some inflated expectations for this Oregon Ducks team, and we allowed ourselves to get our hopes up that this season would end differently than those from the past after that dreamy win over Ohio State.

It all explains why this loss to Utah feels like a dreaded return to reality.

List

Everything we know following No. 3 Oregon's 38-7 loss to No. 23 Utah