Offensive Linemen Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James on the WKU win
Butch Jones' opening statements following win against WKU
The advantages of playing football in the SEC are obvious. But there’s at least one disadvantage worth mentioning in Tennessee’s case.
Its conference affiliation won’t work in its favor this Saturday at Oregon, which has national title aspirations. Again.
Contending for national championships is nothing new for Oregon. But the SEC keeps getting in the way.
Auburn rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat the Ducks for the 2010 national championship.
Oregon opened the following season with a 40-27 loss at LSU. The game wasn’t as close as the score.
The Ducks’ only recent success against the SEC came at Neyland Stadium in 2010 when it overwhelmed the Vols in the second half of a 48-13 victory.
It would be wishful thinking on UT’s behalf to believe that outcome would make Oregon overconfident when the teams meet Saturday afternoon in Eugene, Ore.
The second-ranked Ducks likely won’t look at the Vols as 48-13 pushovers. Instead, they’re more apt to regard them as a representative of a conference that has caused Oregon so much big-game misery in the past three years.
Wonder how many times the Ducks have heard something like, “You have a great thing going as long as you stay away from the Big Boys of the SEC?”
As if they needed it, they will have more incentive to hang a huge score on Tennessee, which has lost 21 games the past three seasons (Oregon has lost four).
Chip Kelly, the coaching force behind Oregon’s recent success, left for the NFL. In his place is Oregon’s former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Think he doesn’t have something to prove — especially on offense?
Kelly actually seemed intent on holding down the score last season. Helfrich might not be so inclined — at least, not against an SEC team.
His team has something to prove against the SEC. As a first-time college head coach, he has something to prove against everybody.
And he will have plenty of firepower at his command, including a couple of Heisman Trophy candidates — quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas. There’s also versatile tight end Colt Lyerla, who gives the speedy Ducks a power-running alternative in the Wildcat package and an offensive line that features three all-conference candidates.
As if they needed another boost, the NCAA provided it this summer. The popular take was that the Ducks could get hammered for NCAA violations.
The popular take was wrong.
Oregon was cleared for postseason play and a shot at a national championship. And it hasn’t done anything so far to change that.
The Ducks rushed for 500 yards in a 66-3 victory over Nicholls State in the season opener. In their second game, at Virginia on Saturday, they amassed 557 yards in a 59-10 victory.
Nicholls is a lower-classification program. Virginia is an ACC team coming off a 4-8 season.
So even though the Vols weren’t much better than the Cavaliers last season, they will provide Oregon with a greater opportunity.
That has nothing to do with the “Power T.” It’s all about the SEC logo.
It will give the Ducks their biggest non-conference target of the season.