Slammed, Closed, Finished? Oregon’s Window Problem

window

The Ducks were be back on the field Tuesday for the first time since their humbling loss in the National Championship Game on January 12th. Following that loss, many writers proclaimed Oregon’s chances at a future national title in the future dead, or at least significantly diminished.

From Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

“…in terms of winning a national championship, it does feel like the Ducks’ window may have closed for the time being.

Or from Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder…

After Oregon's national championship appearance, pundits speculated on whether Oregon's window had "closed."

From Video

After Oregon’s national championship appearance, some speculated that Oregon’s window had “closed.”

Sallee: “Michael Felder, did Oregon miss its national championship window?
Felder: “Yeah, I absolutely think that window is closed, slammed.

And those were just the responses that came after the game, which doesn’t even include the speculation of said window closing before the championship game was even played.

With all due respect to the (popular) opinion that Oregon’s championship window closed in January, here’s why Oregon’s championship window isn’t closed for 2015 (and beyond):

Quarterback Factory

Joey Harrington, Dennis Dixon, Marcus Mariota all finished as top five Heisman finalists.

From Video

Joey Harrington, Dennis Dixon, Marcus Mariota all finished in the top five of Heisman Trophy voting.

The player whose on-field absence was most visible on Tuesday is the same one whose departure has fueled most of the assumption that Oregon’s window has closed: Marcus Mariota.

While Mariota was a once-in-a-generation star, the prevailing mindset has become that his mere absence will precipitate Oregon’s freefall from national relevance. While there is no doubting Mariota’s place in the team’s history — any question about his status as the greatest player ever to play for Oregon ends by pointing to his Heisman Trophy — he is far from the only great quarterback to play for the Ducks.

Of Oregon’s four top-five Heisman finishers, three were at quarterback, all since 2001. Three Ducks have been top-three NFL draft picks over the last 17 years, including two quarterbacks; Mariota could be the fourth and third, respectively. And that just describes what the Ducks has done with marquee talent; in 2008 they won ten games using their fifth-string quarterback. The Ducks hasn’t won fewer than ten games in a season since.

Now that the Ducks find themselves facing a season of transition, how does Oregon fill the greatest void in team history? They start by landing the nation’s most high profile transfer, Vernon Adams, a graduate transfer quarterback from Eastern Washington, who chose Oregon despite overtures from his hometown program (UCLA) and the second-winningest team (Texas) in college football history. That is a solid option in Oregon’s desire to reload instead of rebuild.

Mark Helfrich

The future is looking up for coach Mark Helfrich.

Craig Strobeck

The future is looking up for coach Mark Helfrich.

During the 2014 offseason, questioning Helfrich’s coaching acumen had some traction, but by this offseason, those concerns have been silenced for all but his most ardent critics. Not only has he matched every one of Chip Kelly’s achievements at Oregon, he did so in a season with a roster depleted by injuries, an issue which only caught up with the Ducks in the season’s final game.

Those with lingering questions about Helfrich will point to Oregon’s performance in the title game against Ohio State while ignoring the wins the Ducks strung together to get there, most notably their blowout of the defending national champions in the Rose Bowl,ending their 29-game win streak eleven days prior to the championship game. Urban Meyer may have gotten the best of Helfrich in their matchup in January, but Meyer has done the same to national championship-winning coaches like Jim Tressel, Bob Stoops, and Nick Saban (twice), who likewise found themselves on the wrong end of a score in a postseason game against Meyer.

The opinions on Helfrich may vary, but his resume is impressive: His career winning percentage at the FBS level is the best of any current FBS coach. He’s the second youngest coach ever to lead his team to a National Championship Game (Only Bob Stoops at 40 was younger.), and he’s eight years younger than any other current coach at the FBS level to have achieved that mark.

Yet no matter how much success Helfrich has, there will be critics who won’t be silenced until the Ducks win a title. If it takes a few years, get ready for the “closed window” topic to be one of annual discussion for Oregon. Oh wait, it already is…

Oregon’s Title Window “Closes” Every Year

Oregon's chances at a championship in 2014 closed on them, but what about the future?

John Giustina

Some have speculated whether Oregon’s title window has closed, but what about its doors?

It’s the story written about Oregon every offseason. Following Oregon’s first title appearance in 2010, many speculated that Oregon was an interloper who had missed its shot. In 2011, a late season loss to USC triggered speculation that the Trojans’ pending ascent spelled the end of Oregon’s run. Chip Kelly left the Ducks following the 2012 season, a move certain to spell Oregon’s downfall. Hiccups during 2013 season only intensified the “closed window” argument, which peaked in its believability by the start of the 2014 season. Yet in 2014, instead of being the beginning of the end, the Ducks ran off one of the greatest years in school history.

The “closed window” argument is one that will be made every year until Oregon wins a title, and possibly even after that. It is understandable why Oregon’s presence as a national contender is viewed an outlier against the landscape of college football: Programs don’t just join national relevance at that level. The Ducks first became ranked number one only five years ago, the first program in two decades to achieve a first-time top ranking, and programs without tradition don’t have a history of sustainability in college football. Because everything that has come before tells us that Oregon’s run should have ended by now, it’s tempting to predict its end at any moment. But until there’s evidence that Oregon will fall off beyond “it hasn’t been done before”, expect the Ducks to contend again until further notice.

Top image by Steve Francis.

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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to nroholtfd@gmail.com.

  • Matthew Montgomery

    I understand the argument (by those who make it), that the window is closed, but I think it is short-sighted and foolish. Pretty much all of the United States is moving in a realm lacking any critical thinking skills and therefore, we have to listen to people make off the cuff remarks that really have not basis in reality. Oregon has a relatively easy schedule this year, with only Michigan State and USC being the only roadblocks to a Natty. Even if they lose against USC, they will still most likely end up winning the North (take a look at Stanford’s schedule and tell me they will make it out of it, alive). If they dominate their opponents this season, they can make the Natty again. I may be biased, but I think Oregon has filled its holes and ready to compete for the Natty, again.

  • hokieduck

    Here comes the grammar Nazi, sorry.

    I understand your viewing the term “Ducks” as a singular concept of a “team” thus twice using the singular rather than plural “Ducks has” rather than “have”” in paragraph eight(ish). But using it thus is just jarring IMO.

    Further, if you are going to use it there then you need to be consistent, The “Ducks find themselves” would become the “Ducks finds itself” and “the Ducks win a title” becomes the “Ducks wins a title”. Ick.

    Nazi out. Go Ducks. Plural and singular.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Felder are you kidding me if that guy had any credibility after saying that he’s an” IDIOT ” Oregon has bar none the best offense in all College Football and VA will come in June and win the job for the fall! On the Defensive side they are getting top players and whats sad about that is we need a great DC because Pellum in his 2nd year will have NO EXCUSES if he doesn’t get this D in the TOP of the PAC 12 or nation. Even with Marcus gone and Adams coming in this Offense could be better than last years team W/O a doubt. Closing that’s just real dereliction from a nobody and Felder has always hated the Ducks and has always picked against the Ducks in Big games only to look foolish afterwards. Its really about time for the Defensive side to start being as good as the other side no matter what offense we run. TCU runs a spread offense but their Defense is always in the top 10 because Gary Patterson is a great mind about Defense and their guys are not even close to the recruiting rankings we get and that’s on the Defensive side. If DP cannot get this Defense playing with their hair on fire in his 2nd year then Oregon needs to go out and pay Big Bucks for 1 of the top DC’s in the country! Oregon is so far from being done it’s ridiculous to even make a story about this because they been saying this SHIT and excuse my french for over 10 years and Oregon has been the best and most winningest program in College Football ! No these are just Oregon HATERS and these guys are mainly Flunkys that never made it playing any brand of Football, Just like Skip Bayliss the guy is usually wrong half the time but yet ESPN keeps him on the air year after year! Nathan take it with a grain of salt but next time write about this Ducks probably getting right back in the playoff next year!

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Oh yeah we had 6 starters that did not play against OS and if we would of had them then it would of been a shoot out and I’d take Oregon over anyone in those games! Carrington was just coming into his own and Addison makes plays then there’s Pharoah Brown who would have torched OS’s Defense and it’s really not fair. The injury’s this team had were like no year ever in oregon’s history but yet we still made it to the NATTY with the players that replaced the others and there all young! I myself look forward to Oregon hosting that NATTY TROPHY in 2016 and I’m really hoping OS is in there to because we owe them a beat down! There is no way Oregon probably ever has that many injuries to that many players again ever and some of the Coach’s even said so as Greatwood said he never ever remembered a year like last year! Oregon’s loaded to the hilt and it’s obscene for any sports writer to even write such crap with no evidence to back this up!