Oregon's Kenny Dillingham views Ducks as 'only real college town' out West that can win titles
Oregon won’t play USC in the 2022 regular-season. If we were to see a clash between first-year head coaches Dan Lanning and Lincoln Riley, it’d be with a Pac-12 championship on the line for the victor.
It might also include a spot in the College Football Playoff. Though the Pac-12 hasn’t been to college football’s invitational since Washington’s surprise run in 2016, the Ducks have come close in the years since. They’ve been sixth in the final CFP poll twice. USC closed the 2017 season eighth. No one else has been closer. If the Ducks and Trojans were regularly meeting in the title fight for a spot in the CFP, the Pac-12 would be in a much better spot than it is now.
That’s part of the reason why Lanning and Riley are in their new respective homes. Win championships. For these two specific programs, the bar is as high as it gets. It has to be given the resources and institutional support at both schools.
For more selfish reasons, here’s hoping we see Oregon-USC sooner rather than later.
Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham recently dropped a line that’s sure to have made the rounds down in Southern California.
“This place cares about football,” Dillingham told reporters on Saturday. “I’d say this is the only place west of Texas that has a mindset of the South when it comes to football.”
Dillingham wasn’t done.
“This is a southern school. When it comes to football and when it comes to sports, it’s a true college town that can win championships,” he continued. “And if you’re out west, this is the only real college town that can win championships. It’s pretty cool.”
Maybe the “college town” qualifier is serving some strategic purpose there. In Los Angeles, USC finds itself in an entertainment and sports-crazed town, but not necessarily a college sports town. Great USC football attracts great fan support. Mediocre football makes the buffet-style offering of other options look more appetizing. Eugene is wonderful in its own right, but for different reasons. Oregon is in a college town. USC isn’t, by definition.
Or maybe Dillingham meant it as every bit the coded shot at the team down south that it initially appears to be. These two programs, if things go according to plan, will clash often. On the field, on the recruiting trail, in Las Vegas, for awards, you name it.
USC went 4-8 last season, but it’s a sleeping blue blood Riley hopes to awaken. If USC starts posting the same kinds of results Oklahoma did when Riley was the Sooners’ coach, the question will become “how often” not “if” with regards to the Trojans and the CFP.
But if Lanning is every bit the coach people expect, USC will regularly have to go through Oregon to get there. Call the Ducks a New Blood or whatever else you want to use it to convey this has been one of college football’s most consistent and powerful programs over the last two decades.
Oregon has the fan support and level of investment in the program necessary to compete for titles. This is a program with the brand recognition to attract elite talent in the offseason and build the kind of in-season narrative necessary to get a shot at chasing titles. And it has a coaching staff that knows what it takes to win them when that shot comes.
Lanning just won a title as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. New Oregon DC Tosh Lupoi won multiple with Alabama. Several other members of the staff have spent quite a bit of collective time coaching in the SEC’s footprint.
Dillingham spent two seasons at Florida State and the 2019 season at Auburn before coming West to Oregon. That 2019 Tigers team won nine games in a rugged SEC West and beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl, 48-45. There’s some power behind those words.
Plus, Dillingham isn’t the only Oregon assistant evoking the SEC.
“We kind of think of this as the SEC on the West,” cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin said on Tuesday. “This is my sixth year in the Pac-12, I’ve always wanted the opportunity to get here and coach. The opportunity came and I took it and ran with it.
“I played here a lot as an opponent, so you love the atmosphere, the stadium, how rowdy the crowd gets, and all that kind of stuff. You love that. To be able to be part of it is great. This is a college town. (It’s) awesome. I went to a college town school when I went to college. Coming here, I’m kind of re-enacting that kind of thing. It’s awesome.”
In a championship-starved conference, Oregon sure isn’t shying away from championship expectations.
That’s what this kind of talk brings.
Come the fall, the Ducks will look to back it up.
And, somehow, a potential Oregon-USC Pac-12 championship game just got even more interesting.