Coaches across the country spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to stop top-ranked Oregon's bullet-train offense. No matter what they've tried, no one's been able to do it.
A new tactic may be emerging: faking injuries.
Outlandish as it may seem, speculation over fake injuries has been rising over the past few weeks as seemingly healthy players fall to the ground, howling in pain, their season apparently over, only to be back on the field the next play.
Ducks fans have been screaming about this unusual human-speedbumping method almost since the season started, often booing opposing players they believe to be Meryl Streep-ing it up.
Opposing coaches deny it's happening.
Pac-10 officials say not much can be done about it.
This is a gray area hovering out there between the lines of ethics and the rules.
"Obviously, you don't know when a player is really injured and not injured," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "I don't know really what can be done about it."
The NCAA rulebook frowns upon faking injuries, calling the practice unethical. There are no specific rules to prevent it, though. Officials can't call delay of game or unsportsmanlike conduct if a player claims to be injured. The only recourse is that an injured player has to sit out the next play.
Whether injury faking is actually happening is up for debate.
Oregon fans first raised the issue the second week of the season, when a few Tennessee players suffered what they saw as questionable injuries.
Kelly broached the was-he-really-injured topic Sept. 25 at Arizona State, saying it reminded him of a World Cup game with the atmosphere and the injuries, an apparent intimation that some Sun Devils players were flopping.
The most glaring instance of the fall-down, slowdown -- at least to injury faking theorists -- came last Saturday against Cal.
A few times during the game, Cal players went down with injuries, only to return shortly after, if not the next play. The most notable of these injuries came early in the game, when Bears defensive lineman Aaron Tipoti got up from making a tackle, went up to the line, looked to the sideline, then fell to the ground holding his leg, just before Oregon could snap the ball.
Tipoti's seemingly orchestrated collapse made the rounds on YouTube -- with look-what-he-did graphics -- further fueling the fake-injury speculation, though Cal coach Jeff Tedford said that wasn't the case.
"People get hurt during games and in fast-tempo stuff, there's cramps," he said. "That's not the deal. I know that anytime anybody goes down against Oregon, they always think that's the case. But it's not the case."
Whether it was a rhythm-breaking ploy or not, Cal was one of the few teams able to slow the speeding Ducks.
Oregon entered the game with the nation's best offense, averaging 54.7 points and 567 yards per game. Using a variety of defensive fronts and man-to-man coverage in the secondary, the Bears held the Ducks to a season-low 317 yards and a single touchdown.
Oregon managed to pull out a 15-13 win to keep its national-title hopes alive, but fans in Eugene were outraged by Cal's perceived cry wolf tactics.
Kelly tried to stay out of the debate, saying he's usually busy calling a play and often doesn't know what the fans are booing about. Still, he couldn't help taking a swipe.
"I know what our fans' reaction is when someone's carted off the field that looks like he's going to surgery and is back immediately the next play," Kelly said. "I think we've got pretty intelligent fans here at the University of Oregon, but there's nothing that can really be done about it. Our fans are allowed to do whatever they want to do."
In a way, it may actually work in Oregon's favor.
If teams are faking injuries it's essentially an admission that they can't beat the Ducks straight up and have to resort to schemes to have a chance, kind of like a kid tripping the race leader because he can't keep up.
"If teams are doing that -- and I don't know that they are -- you have basically thrown up the white flag and said you can't play at our pace," Kelly said. "I don't know if you really want to say that you can't play the style of football that we're playing."
They might be better off trying a fake field goal or a fake punt.