After losing to Michigan State we all had excuses — Vernon Adams was playing with a broken finger, and if it wasn’t for that, Oregon would have beaten a very good college team.
But now, just a week removed from an absolute thrashing at the hands of Utah, there is a lack of hope in Eugene. The Ducks are unranked for the first time since 2009 and their chances of making a second consecutive playoff bid are all but gone. The question now becomes, “Are the Ducks done as a perennial powerhouse?”
It seems like Oregon has been on top of, or near the top of, the college football world forever — in reality it’s only been about 5 or 6 years.
While Oregon did have moderate success prior to 2010, under both Mike Belotti and Chip Kelly, the 2010 season was the moment the Ducks exploded onto the national scene as a team that wasn’t going away.
Lots of fans were concerned after Kelly left for the NFL. After all, Kelly was the genius behind the Oregon program — Eugene’s very own Bill Walsh.
Nonetheless, Mark Helfrich led the Ducks to a strong season in 2013 and to a second National Championship game appearance last season. But to say Helfrich led the Ducks is a bit of an overstatement; it’s more accurate to say Marcus Mariota led the Ducks.
Now, in the first season almost fully removed from the influence of Chip Kelly, we are seeing Helfrich’s recruiting and coaching stand on its own.
Without Mariota to cover for the rest of the team, we’re seeing Oregon’s smallish O-Line get dominated by opponents who no longer fear the Ducks passing game.
Likewise, Oregon’s defense is playing without the benefit of a lead, allowing them to sell out for the pass.
Given all of these negatives hitting the team, many pundits, both local and national, are saying the Ducks winning ways have come to an end.
In an article for MSN, Joey Nardone ruminates on whether or not having Mark Helfrich as head coach is a positive or negative anymore.
Nardone addresses the idea that Heflrich’s success is discredited largely because he won with players brought in under Kelly, “… we shouldn’t use the fact that he excelled with another coach’s players against him. What was he supposed to do? Fail?”
Nardone goes on to point out that this season’s struggles don’t necessarily point to Helfrich’s undoing.
In the age of overreaction that we live in, the Ducks have gone from playoff contenders to terrible bottom feeders in literally three weeks.
Don’t get me wrong, this season is not going to end with a premier bowl outing for Oregon, but it’s far from over. Oregon could still win out, finishing with only two losses and have hope going into next season.
So are Mark Helfrich and the Ducks done as a premier program?
The truth is it’s simply too early to know — this could be the beginning of the end or it could simply be the beginning of a below average season for the Ducks.
As the old saying goes, “It’s not how you start but how you finish,” and how the Ducks finish will go a long way in deciding rather or not they are still the great team we’ve come to know.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove