With signing day less than a week away, Mark Helfrich has a chance to ace his first test as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks. When Helfrich took over for Chip in mid-January, things didn’t look particularly good on the recruiting front. For a couple of days, it looked like things could really fall apart.
Fast forward to today and it looks like Helfrich and his staff have a chance to do more than just salvage the recruiting class that had come together under Chip Kelly. That would be seen as a huge win for Helfrich and would help solidify his status as a competent head coach both locally and nationally.
Now, there’s still so much that can happen in the next six days; nothing is official. Dontre Wilson, Darren Carrington and the Robinson twins could all still end up elsewhere. And let’s be honest, Oregon’s 2013 class will be judged based on whether or not the aforementioned players sign with the Ducks. Don’t get me wrong, there will be those fans who praise Helrich and the class no matter what happens, but the majority of fans who understand the impact of recruiting, and the national media, will take a more realistic approach to assessing the class.
Should a worst-case scenario unfold, no one is going to hold it against Helfrich. No one is going to damn his career based on a three week scramble to save a recruiting class. Unfortunately, a down year in recruiting could absolutely impact future on-field results. And no one associated with the program wants that, especially not the new head coach.
Helfrich and his staff have made it clear, judging by their efforts, that they’re doing everything possible to not only salvage this class, but improve upon it.
So far, Helfrich looks like a slam dunk hire. An Oregon guy who called the Oregon head coaching job “the pinnacle”, he’s calm and confident in front of the press, and a natural when answering questions. He seems like a genuinely nice person whom players and staff members love. He’s a guy who Chip Kelly referred to as a genius when he brought him in as the offensive coordinator back in 2009. While it’s unclear how involved Helfrich was when it came to play-calling, he clearly had a hand in building one of the best offenses in college football history. He’s had a chance to learn under Kelly and now steps into a job that many other elite coaches coveted. By all accounts, he has full player support. It was reported that when Helfrich was announced as the head coach in a private team meeting, he got a standing ovation and the team meeting took a rowdy, energetic turn. He’s already made two great hires, bringing in Matt Lubick, the 2012 WR Coach of the Year, to be the new WR coach and Ron Aiken to be the new defensive line coach after holding the same position with the Arizona Cardinals for the last six years. If Helrich can manage to keep the class together and avoid any high-profile de-commitments, he’ll have exceeded all expectations and passed all of the significant tests that awaited him during the first month of his tenure.
How likely is it that Helrich and Co. can hang on to all of their commits? No one really seems to know. Dontre Wilson said he was “50-50″ between Ohio State and Oregon, and is now taking a surprise official visit to Texas on the last weekend before national signing day. It’s hard to see that as a promising sign. Darren Carrington has taken visits to Arizona and Arizona State, and the latter seems to have caught his attention. It’s clear that many people are in his ear using some negative recruiting tactics and it might be working. He’s a tough guy to get a read on but it’s almost like he’s been looking for a reason to de-commit. Meanwhile, the Robinson twins, who solidified their commitments after a USC visit, are now visiting Washington this weekend, and apparently have an open mind about it. That is not good, especially considering the fact that the Husky recruiter, Tosh Lupoi, is one of the best in all of football. There is a troubling rumor that the majority of UW commits will also be visiting the university unofficially. There can be no doubt that they might feel a special chemistry and flip.
So how does it all play out? Who flips and who stays? What other uncommitted targets pick the Ducks? Well, here is my final prediction for the 2013 class:
Tier E: Thomas Tyner RB
Tier 1: Dontre Wilson RB
Tier 1: Darren Carrington WR
Tier 1: Devon Allen WR
Tier 1: Cameron Hunt OL
Tier 1: Evan Voeller OL
Tier 1: Danny Mattingly LB
Tier 1: Tyrell Robinson LB
Tier 1: Tyree Robinson DB
Tier 2: Johnny Mundt TE
Tier 2: Johnny Ragin LB
Tier 2: Chris Seisay DB
Tier 3: Damion Hobbs QB
Tier 3: Doug Brenner OL
Tier 3: Jake Picarsik OL
Tier 3: Elijah George OL
Tier 3: Joe Walker LB
Tier 3: Juwaan Williams DB
Tier 3: Matt Wogan K
= 19 commits
*Want a darkhorse to watch for? Look out for Tier 1 DE Davin Bellamy, a recent Florida State de-commit who’s visiting this weekend but will be difficult to pull out of the south. An elite defensive end would be a welcome addition to the class. Notice that I expect Wilson, Carrington and the Robinson’s to all sign with Oregon. It will come down to the wire with each, but call me optimistic. I think the staff has done a great job of communicating with each; and remember, they all committed to Oregon for a reason. Chip Kelly’s departure allowed others to get back in the game, but it’ll be too little too late.
This would be a great class given the circumstances. Oregon would likely finish between 15th and 20th in the team rankings on all four major recruiting websites. Additionally, Oregon would save five scholarships which could be given to deserving walk-ons this year and carried over to next year. Since there are only expected to be 13 seniors on next year’s team, five additional scholarships will be a welcome addition to the 2014 class. Helfrich must like the idea of carrying those scholarships over since it will be his first full class, with what looks to be a more aggressive recruiting strategy than Chip employed.
The next week will be a bumpy ride for Oregon’s staff and fans. Regardless of how the class turns out, though, the near-future is bright with Helfrich at the helm.