Duck Talk

What a difference a weekend makes in the fickle, fanatical world of college football, where the panic and pandemonium of winning and losing wreck havoc with all cool reckonings. It’s all so hard to grasp, much less parse and parlay. A single game can overthrow the whole shebang, sending the number-crunchers scrambling for a new paradigm.

Not all that far back, for instance, the wily bookmakers in Vegas suddenly scooted the Oregon Ducks to odds-on favorites for a national title, deeming UO’s chances at 9-2 (22 percent), just above Alabama’s 5-1 (20 percent).

A week later, on Nov. 10, Sporting News reported that the linemakers had given the edge back to Alabama, putting the Tide at 3-1 to the Ducks’ 4-1. If such voodoo economics make your head hurt, you’re not alone; this quackhead hates math. In the swoon of competition, where that bouncing oblong ball creates chaos of bodies acting on muscle-memory alone, numbers don’t mean jack. Intuition is everything.

Intuitively, Ducks fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Behind the triumphalism of immediate victory hides a suspicion of impending defeat — a sense that, when we get to that final red-zone run, something will go disastrously wrong. Quackheads are a nervous lot, reared on a history of almost but not quite.

Marcus Mariota, UO’s preternaturally gifted quarterback and current Heisman frontrunner, has put forth a glorious season thus far, breaking team records left and right in just his junior year. During several games this season it seems he’s taken the whole team on his back and carried the Ducks to victory. The guy is a marvel.

And therein, perhaps, lies the rub. Because Mariota’s Christ-like shine and the salvational glory he basks in tends to obscure a handful of gridiron sins: A porous offensive line, decimated by injuries and addled by inexperience; a defense with a weak pass rush that lacks a big stopper in the middle; and, finally, a team-wide tendency to idle until the second half.

That won’t fly in a title game. Recall Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants defensive line endlessly harangued quarterback Tom Brady, thereby upsetting the undefeated Patriots. Make no mistake that going after Mariota, early and often, will be the game plan of any team the Ducks take on for the title, should they make it to Texas on Jan. 12. And if that team is Alabama, watch out.

Of course, any talk of national titles is irrelevant until the Ducks make it through their Civil War with the Beavers, which, despite being on OSU’s home turf at Reser Stadium, they probably will. Then it’s on to the PAC-12 championship game Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, most likely against UCLA.