What a difference a week makes.
Last Sunday, some Oregon fans wondered nervously about the future of the football program. Scenes similar to the photo below were a common sight just a week ago.
Fast forward one week, and things are looking as bright as ever for the Ducks.
This past weekend, the feeling among Duck fans was more like this:
On Sunday, the mood in Eugene was tempered slightly by a 76-71 loss at Matthew Knight Arena in the Civil War. The basketball Ducks had been winning despite some inconsistent play, but this time the inconsistency finally caught up with them. At least in basketball, you are allowed a conference mulligan now and again. We’ll see what happens down the road in Corvallis for episode #337 of the most played rivalry in college basketball.
Almost regardless of the outcome on the hardwood on Sunday, many were able to find solace in the BIG news on the recruiting front that was cause for some serious celebration just before tip-off.
The Ducks landed a verbal commitment from a 6’8” 295lb high school senior Arik Armstead. The 5-star prospect is among the highest rated prospects to ever commit to the Ducks. Some recruiting experts rank the player as the #1 overall recruit, though as an offensive tackle. When he chose the Oregon hat over the 5 others on the table, his decision instantly bolstered an already impressive class that looks primed to contribute next season and beyond.
Armstead is also 3-star Power Forward prospect, and has said he will play basketball for Dana Altman. In doing so, he would become the first Oregon athlete to compete in both sports since Jordan Kent. If you watch some of his high school football highlights, his size, speed, and power jump off the screen.
Experts agree that his skills on the court may need more refining than his play on the field. In his high school basketball highlights, he shows a decent jump shot, and has enough athletic ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shots. His fearless rebounding and put back game might remind you a little of Joevan Catron.
Anybody want to try and fight him for a rebound or try and drive the lane with him clogging the middle? Who wants to stand in and take a charge? Anyone??
Long time Duck fans will have a special appreciation for the simple fact that not only has Oregon become a consideration for such players, but also a realistic and worthy destination. It has become a place where the very elite players in the country believe will give them the best chance to win in college.
To the rest of the Pac-12: Watch out, because these Ducks are reloading in a big way.
Prior to the National Championship game between LSU and Alabama, Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw was asked about his thoughts on the Oregon Ducks. In his reply, he did mention that “Nobody wants to play them (Oregon)”. But, he also was quoted as saying “If they got a little more size, they could really be something”.
I mention that quote, because it would be hard to imagine a football player with much more size than Armstead.
Not since Haloti Ngata have the Ducks landed such a big (literally) talent to play on either line. Fast-typing fans have been littering the message boards over the last few years longing for this exact type of player. Now, this commitment alone will not signal an end of the need for more gigantic players with freakish athleticism. But, it is a solid step in the right direction. If nothing else, there is a chance commitments from players like these might help the national image of the Ducks, although mostly for those that don’t pay much attention to the team but are still paid to talk about them on TV.
Across the country, many have chimed in with similar comments to the ones that the Alabama linebacker expressed. You certainly have read the comments before; and it usually goes something like this:
“The Ducks are exciting to watch, and have those crazy Nike uniforms. On defense, they are too small to stop an elite run team, and they lack the size up front on offense for their “trick” plays to work against a “real” team with big, physical, future NFL lineman. Especially, when the opponent has had extra time to prepare.”
For a time, it could have been argued that comments like this held a little water. That is, until the Ducks laid a Rose Bowl beat-down on the very biggest of the big, a team who also had plenty of time to prepare, and whose roster contained many players that will be moving on to the pros.
The Rose bowl win was a great and important step forward. Looking ahead, if the Ducks can begin to consistently close the deal with more of the highly rated big bodies, it will be a very long next few years for the rest of the conference.
As for the news of Chip leaving last weekend?
Well, so much for that being a concern for recruits. Some might wonder if his consideration for the Tampa Bay job may have actually strengthened his and Oregon’s recruiting position. Coach Kelly will be in his 4th year as head coach, and will be shooting for a 4th straight conference championship and 4th straight BCS bowl. Next season, the Ducks can also win their 5th straight over the Beavers and 9th straight over the Huskies.
The roster next season will be largely compiled of players he and his coaching staff have recruited and hand-selected specifically to fit into their system and style of play. While Kelly has been intricately involved since 2007, next season could in some ways be looked at as the true beginning of the Chip Kelly era. If he has some “unfinished business” with this group, then teams across the country had better brace themselves.
Today, on the eve of National Signing Day, the Ducks could be in position to add even more depth to an already very deep class. Oregon is reportedly in the mix for a few more highly rated players that could make this class one of the very elite in all of the country in the eyes of SCOUT, RIVALS, and ESPN.
What do recruiting ranking and “stars” mean? Nothing really, except it heaps some promise and lofty expectations on the young athletes. It gives fans more time to talk college football, and route for their teams. History is riddled with many talented 5-star players who don’t pan out for one reason or another. Notre Dame, for example, posts top rated recruiting classes each season and still loses to service academies. Or just ask Tennessee how the “can’t miss” 5-star Bryce Brown worked out?
This is why to be successful as a program; you can’t put too much stock in any one individual player. No recruit comes with a guarantee. Sometimes a 2 star like a Spencer Paysinger, or Patrick Chung will step up and play like a 5 star. Simply put, you don’t know what your team has until you see them on the field.
Last week, Kurt mentioned in his vlog about certain fans needing to take a step back from trying to influence, contact, or “help” recruit prospects. Whether it be via Twitter, Facebook, unexpected and/or creepy front lawn visits, homing pigeons, or however. And he was 100% right. If anyone reading this is or was doing that, PLEASE STOP IT. Let the coaches do their jobs. Turns out, they are pretty good at what they do.
Along those lines, Congratulations are in order for Coach Kelly and his staff for a job well done in recruiting. And a big congratulations to all of the former players, whose successes both on the field and after graduation have inspired others to do the same.
The last few recruiting classes have been phenomenal by historical Oregon standards. While every player on the team did not garner 5 or even 4 stars, the coaches have been able to maximize the abilities of each player. As a result, the team has been able to rotate 25 or more players EACH GAME on defense over the past couple of seasons.
For the Ducks, developing depth has been a major focus. It has been the unsung weapon and strength of the team. Even more so for the defense, given the amount of plays they are asked to defend. Quality depth across the roster is what has set the Ducks apart. It is the quality and also the quantity of depth Oregon has been stockpiling that has been striking fear into the hearts of Huskies, Trojans, and Beavers for years now.
Late last night while editing this column, the Ducks received another verbal commitment from a top level recruit. Dylan Ausherman, the #2 rated JC punter in the country, who looks to be a suitable replacement for Jackson Rice after next season. Everywhere you look, even at punter, these Ducks are loaded.
And they aren’t done this year with recruiting, not just yet. The Oregon Ducks may still add a variety of very highly rated players at various positions to the depth chart on Signing Day tomorrow.
Who will be next?