It was hardly pretty. It was a snapshot of a season.
But it was never in doubt for the Oregon Ducks.
This year Oregon clearly was not the same as the team that came just short of a national championship. Chip Kelly's offense was innovative and overwhelming in 2009, then matured and became mostly unstoppable in 2010. But in 2011, they sputtered and bumbled in most of their games, only to show flashes of those previous two incarnations. And they pulled away from a conference still trying their best to catch up to them.
That'll be the story of Oregon 2011. A good team that showcased flashes of a great team, but was a step below their previous incarnations. It was a team that was penalized too much, missed too many blocks, dropped too many passes, saw their quarterback misconnect on too many throws, saw their defense miss assignments, etc, etc. Oregon fans were left griping as much as they were praising, something that didn't happen much the first two seasons of the Kelly era. They were blitzed by LSU and blew another title shot against USC, as they weren't good enough to beat the best of the best.
Yet at the end of the season, they stand conference champions three years running.
You could argue it would be different if Stanford holds onto the football in Palo Alto, or if Reggie Bush didn't buy his family a house. But the Ducks were deserving of representing the Pac-12 North, and they're deserving of another Pac-12 title. Oregon's offense was just too much to handle for almost every team, as the speed and skill of their backfield proved to be enough to eventually pile up the points again. Their defense pulled out the stops with their pressure to eventually hold the majority of the opposing offenses down, particularly to strip the Cardinal of their national title shot.
Oregon's Pac-12 Championship game was in many ways a microcosm of their season. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball (how do you give up 31 to UCLA?) and sloppy mistakes everywhere, but they took advantage of the weaknesses of their opponent to pick up the win. Oregon was better than every probation-less conference foe they faced, and they did what they needed to get back to the title game.
And it was LaMichael James being the difference-maker once again, piling up another 200 yard, three touchdown game (a performance that assures victory nearly everytime for the Ducks). James keeps on proving that despite all the talent coming back, he'll be hard for the Ducks to replace. His durability and his versatility have turned concerning contests for Oregon into routs, and it happened again on Friday night as he kept coming and running past UCLA defenders. James was unstoppable in pushing Oregon to another 40+ point effort through three quarters, and it was a pace that the Bruins (and few other teams) just couldn't keep up with.
Oregon still will have a lot to prove; they have yet to win a marquee non-conference contest, and they figure to get another chance when they play the winner of Wisconsin/Michigan State in Pasadena. The Ducks will have to start correcting all the errors that have plagued their units if they plan on reversing that trend.
But when it comes to the Pac-12, it's still all Ducks. Another year, another championship.