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Oregon's Pac-12 supremacy faces many threats in 2015

You know what would have been great back in 2009 when Pete Carroll asked Jim Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" It would have been great if Harbaugh had said, "Isaac Newton, Pete. That's my deal. Or, in this case, your deal."

Carroll's and USC's dynastic run from 2002-08 was at an end. Stanford's rapacious 55-21 dismantling of the once-fearsome Trojans merely served as the moment when ripe cardinal and gold tomato met unforgiving concrete.

While most know Newton for his three laws of motion and universal gravitation and all that science dreck, the best application for his ideas is in college football, which produces its own sort of gravity that inexorably demands that what goes up must come down, no matter the gnashing of teeth it produces among an obsessive fan base that hopes against all hope Newton will give it a pass.

Oregon fans already know where we are going. They instinctually felt it the moment eye met pixel here. They hate us for reading their own thoughts. Just about every Ducks adherent has entertained the idea that it goes against reason their team will continue to win 86 percent of its games over the next three seasons, as it has done in the previous six. Not with QB Marcus Mariota in the NFL. Not with the Pac-12's unabated rise in the West as the nation's deepest conference.

By no means are we casting Oregon into the slag heap, where it spent most of its 119 years of football, by the way. We expect Oregon to continue to compete for Pac-12 titles, which automatically puts it in the discussion for a perch in the College Football Playoff.

It's only that there figures to be more 2013 (11-2 record, No. 9 finish in AP poll) over the next three years than 2010 and 2014 (playing for the national title). We see this perspective in our experts' takes in ESPN.com's Future College Football Rankings.

USC is climbing back to full strength. More than a few folks believe the Trojans will return to the national picture this fall, displacing the Oregon/Stanford domination of the conference that began when Carroll bolted to the NFL after the 2009 downturn. USC remains USC. At full strength and well-coached, the Trojans are perennial national contenders, a combination of tradition, geography and wherewithal.

Yet neither should USC fans believe the good old days are coming back, unless they mean the good old 1990s, a decade in which seven different teams won the Pac-10.

UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Utah all have traction in the South as nationally ranked teams, at least as long as they hold on to present head coaches. Speaking of the 1990s, Oregon's good friend to the North, the Washington Huskies, also should be on the uptick under Chris Petersen. The Huskies, Stanford and a rising California program should provide a challenge in the North over the next three seasons.

In other words, if Oregon football takes a step back, it could mean that its rivals took two steps forward.

Yes, we know the counterarguments. Oregon is entrenched with its "win the day" system and unmatched facilities. It bounced back immediately upon the departures of QBs Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas.

But those two are false comparisons to Mariota, one of the best players in Pac-8/10/12 history. A better comparison for Ducks fans might be what happened after Joey Harrington led the Ducks to a 30-6 mark as a three-year starter (mostly, since he shared the job with A.J. Feeley in 1999). Post-Harrington, the Ducks went 7-6 and 8-5, and then bottomed out at 5-6 in 2004.

Oregon will not tumble that far in the P.M. -- Post-Mariota -- years. But Newton is probably casting a smug look at Eugene as you read this, expecting Ducks fans to be struck by some gravity-compelled apples on their unhappy, feathered heads over the next three years.