Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 12/3/11

Following their demolishing of UCLA in the first ever Pac-12 title game, the greatest compliment you can give Oregon coach Chip Kelly and his program is this: Nobody is surprised. Not by the ease of the Ducks 49-31 beat down of UCLA at Autzen Stadium Friday night. Not by their second Rose Bowl in three years. And not by their third straight Pac-12 title and BCS bowl appearance. Above all, it is impossible to argue this: Oregon has arrived. As a college football super-power, and king of the Pac-12.

Friday night’s Pac-12 Championship game really proved to be nothing more than a formality, a crowning of the team that we as college football fans already knew to be the best in the conference (well, the best team that was eligible for postseason play anyway). The opponent was an overmatched UCLA Bruins squad, which proved pretty quickly to be no match for the Ducks, when LaMichael James scored on a 30-yard run less than two minutes into the game. Oregon never stopped scoring from there, with 35 points before halftime, before they used a ball-control offense in the second half to win a game that was never in doubt.

Looking at the stats proves the absurd dominance of Oregon, who ran over UCLA like they did just about overmatched Pac-12 opponent this year. The Ducks had an unconscionable 571 yards of total offense Friday night (which incredibly was only their fourth highest total of the year), with 352 of them coming on the ground. James was the star of the show, totaling 219 yards, putting him second nationally in that category (at least until Montee Ball plays tonight for Wisconsin), adding three more touchdowns to his resume as well. Quarterback Darron Thomas threw for three scores himself.


As for Oregon’s opponents on Friday night, well, as you all know by now, UCLA back-doored their way into a Pac-12 South Championship, as nothing more than a de-facto division champion. USC proved to be the best team in the South, but despite being 10-2, were ineligible for postseason play. And when the rest of the division proved to be a hodgepodge of teams ranging from “ok” to “unwatchable,” it was UCLA who got the invitation to Autzen Stadium Friday night. If only by default.


Still, many thought UCLA might be able to hang tough, and to a degree they did. As 31-point underdogs they easily covered the spread, and kept things closer than many expected. At the same time, don’t let the 18-point margin of victory fool you; this game being nowhere as close as the final score might’ve indicated. The Bruins turned the ball over four times (they’re ranked just 83rd nationally in turnover margin), and by the time the final whistle of the game blew, starting quarterback Kevin Prince was on the sideline with injury. That above all seems the perfect end to the Rick Neuheisel era; it seemed like more than anything, UCLA’s players could never stay on the field and out of the trainer’s room under Neuheisel’s watch. Granted, that wasn’t the coach’s fault, but it also wasn’t the sole reason the team went 21-29 under his watch either.

Now- with the announcement earlier this week that Neuiheisel has been fired effective following this game- UCLA travels forward into the great unknown, with bowl eligibility (they were granted a waiver by the NCAA allowing them into the postseason after finishing 6-7 with Friday night’s loss), but without a head coach. No one is quite sure where UCLA will look for their next head man, but it seems like for the first time in a long time, they are willing to spend the money that it takes to compete as a major FBS power conference team. Helped by money guaranteed by the next Pac-12 TV deal, UCLA could make their next coach one of the richest on the West Coast, reportedly even offering Boise’s Chris Petersen a package close to $4 million a year (plus $3 million for assistants). Unfortunately for Bruins fans, Petersen has reportedly turned it down, and no one is quite sure who is next on Athletic Director Dan Guerrero’s list. To Neuheisel’s credit though, whoever his successor is, will be given a lot of the financial advantages he never was.

But back to Oregon. Because Friday night really was about them. And really, it’s a testament to Chip Kelly.

Just three years ago Kelly took over a solid program, but one which is hardly the power that he’s built it into in such a short time. Despite no inherent recruiting advantages in the Pacific Northwest and despite Kelly’s sparse coaching resume himself (he was never a head coach prior to the stint at Oregon, and had been a coordinator at New Hampshire as recently as half a decade ago), he has turned the Ducks into a perennial Top 10 team. And despite losing quite a bit of talent of last year’s team (including basically both the entire offensive and defensive lines), Kelly led Oregon to another 11-win season, with both losses (to LSU and USC) becoming more excusable by the week. He is also three for three with Pac-12 titles.

And ultimately, doesn’t that just about say it all with where Kelly has this program? The idea that Oregon and its fans had to “settle” for an 11-2 season, with a Pac-12 Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl?

It certainly does show you just far this program has come, in such a short amount of time.

There’s no doubt that Oregon has arrived as a college football super-power. There's also no doubt Kelly as arrived as one of the sport’s top coaches.

For all his insight, opinion, analysis and more, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter, @Aaron_Torres.


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