Tuesday, November 2, 2010
What's up with the #1 Oregon Ducks?
The Oregon Ducks football team is going to win the national championship this year. For the first time. . Even though it's best to never mention the no-hitter while it's in progress, I am not entirely convinced that it applies to the Ducks football program this year. I don't see any team coming within 20 points of them. Am I confident? Yup. Over confident? Depends on one's perspective and insight into what sets the Ducks apart this year. . Of course, Fredd is a fiercely loyal Duck fan and alumnus who is optimistic about his teams' chances this year, but that doesn't necessarily diminish what the Ducks are doing differently than every other team in the NCAA the last few years. . And yes: the Ducks are doing something differently than the rest of the college ranks. What's that, Fredd, you say. Well, I'll be glad to tell you. Read on, please...... . Many chalk the relatively recent success to their skills at implementing the 'West Coast no huddle Offense.' While this is certainly a big factor in their hugely productive offense, this is not the sole, nor even primary reason why they win football games by large margins. Lots of teams are using the West coast offense. Most of the Pac 10, frankly, so what is different about the Ducks? . In the past, the paradigm of recruiting has changed a few times. In the olden days, it was seen that physical size vs fitness and/or athletic ability on the offensive and defensive line was paramount, and was much more effective in using very large men, often of dubious physical conditioning. Great big fat guys on both sides of the line won the day against smaller but more athletic and well conditioned athletes. This was the case up until perhaps the mid 1950's, when a different type of athlete was seen: Ed "Big Daddy" Lipscomb of the LA Rams was not only a huge man physically, at 6'4" and 220, but he was exceptionally quick, and would blow by the slightly larger but much slower and fatter offensive linemen of the day. . Then began the era of ever increasing size and more importantly, speed of linemen, both offense and defense. Mark Gastineau of the Jets and Reggie White of the Packers epitomized the evolution of this strategy in winning football games: get great big fast guys, don't worry about their conditioning a great deal, as long as they can go at it for 4 seconds out of every 35. . While offensively, this strategy is still sound, as the defensive tackle or end must spend much more energy each play to prevail. Accordingly, size , a modicum of speed, but not necessarily conditioning, is still the formula for success on offense. This is no longer the case on defense. Smaller, faster and better conditioning on defense is what we see today. . But wait.....the Oregon Ducks have taken yet another step in recruiting defensive athletes. Up until the last few years, collegiate recruiting focused on talent emanating from high school football programs. While this is still a lucrative pool, Oregon recruiters are focusing on elite track and field athletes, many of whom have never set foot on a gridiron. Speed is what wins the day. Speed and size. The Ducks look for world class sprinters in superb physical condition first, size second and football moves and savvy last. This is new and effective: they sign Olympic class sprinters, keep their conditioning regimens in place, and start to teach them the subtleties of playing defense. . And where do these Oregon recruiters find these elite athletes? They simply need only to walk out of their office doors and see them everywhere: Eugene, Oregon is also called 'Track Town, U.S.A.': this campus is where the Olympic tryouts for track and field are held every four years, and where some of the world's elite athletes train. This is where Phil Knight invented his track shoe with a waffle iron (which later became 'Nike', perhaps you've heard of them). These football coaches have long been wondering what it would be like to have a safety with the kind of speed that they see at lunch working out at Heyward Field. Well, now they know. . Speed and conditioning, when added with a modicum of size, is winning the day now. While during their redshirt year, these elite athletes are easily fooled by simple misdirection plays that most high school football players are wise to, but they learn quickly and are relatively up to speed when it comes time for them to start at the red-shirt freshman varsity level. They will make more mistakes than typical of freshmen who have been playing football since Pop Warner days, but will have the blinding speed to often overcome them, and given their second and third years, become fearsome defenders. . Speed, speed speed. The Oregon Ducks, man for man, have the fastest - by far - and best conditioned defense in college football. They are not necessarily the smallest by any means, but are smaller than any of the elite teams in the Top 25 today. . The Ducks are the only team in Division One NCAA football who have perfected this concept. And it is paying off. In the first half of any football game, they give up yards and points to physically larger but slower teams, but in the second half, those larger legs are tired, where the speedy, Olympic class smaller athletes are still fresh, and have the stamina, strength and most importantly, blazing speed to stymie even the most experienced, talented offense in the third and especially the fourth quarter of play. . The Ducks did not invent this method of recruiting. The Dallas Cowboys toyed with this concept in the mid1960s, but abandoned it after awhile by signing Olympic Gold medal winning sprinter Bob Hayes, who although played back up half back on his high school football team, never really had a basis in football. Bob Hayes was successful with the Cowboys because of his blazing speed, but was often criticized for consistently dropping easy passes while wide open. This strategy has not been pursued with vigor by any organization since....except the Oregon Ducks. . So we have a new paradigm: rather than recruit talented football players from high school and start building them up in the gym, recruit elite sprinters and teach them the game of football, while keeping them in the gym. Nobody is doing that except the Ducks. But the cat is now out of the bag, teams will start doing this in full force in the next few years, after the Ducks win a national championship or two in the meantime. . Go Ducks.