Should Oregon Forfeit a Season to Groom the next QB?


For the second consecutive season the Ducks are being led not by someone recruited to Oregon, but by a transfer. Not by someone who came in as a 17 or 18-year-old who learned the system from the ground up. Not by someone who’s knowledge of the Oregon offense was built systematically, step-by-step, day-by-day, little-by-little, until it became second nature. No, the Ducks are once again being led by a 5th-year FCS transfer.

Following in the footsteps of Vernon Adams is not going to be easy. Vernon was outstanding. Although the offense was initially limited for him because he only had two weeks to learn it before the first game, he nevertheless still excelled. What he lacked in knowledge of the playbook he made up for in gumption. Can Dakota Prukop match Vernon’s success? We probably won’t know until we play Nebraska, and not even then for their defense is questionable. See, watching tape of Prukop’s FCS career is not like watching him over a year or two developing in Eugene, practice after practice. Of course, we never really know how any player will perform until they meet the fire of stiff competition, but right now, when it comes to Prukop, we really have no idea what to expect against the top tier of Pac-12 football.

Vernon Adams was a very special transfer, but did it set an unfortunate precedent?

John Sperry

Vernon Adams was a very special transfer, but did it set an unfortunate precedent?

Don’t get me wrong, he played great against UC Davis. High completion rate, multiple touchdowns, used his legs at the right time and in the right way. It was a good start, but it was against UC Davis, a team that is now 4-19 over the last three seasons. A team entirely made up of players from California, a team with 22 fewer scholarship positions when compared to Oregon. Prukop did what was expected against UC Davis.

So what if this year, instead of bringing in another FCS transfer, the Oregon coaching staff had said “enough is enough, we need to do this the right way, we need to develop our own talent from within.” What if the Oregon coaches had said that more losses were an acceptable tradeoff for developing a QB, for finding the next Dixon, or Thomas or even Mariota? What if the Oregon coaching staff were willing to forfeit our 10th consecutive season of nine wins or more, our 12th consecutive bowl appearance, and maybe, even a winning season period?

Would it be worth it? If through that season of adversity and perhaps more losses than wins, we developed the next great Oregon quarterback. A quarterback that could really learn the complete Oregon offense, the nuance, the subtlety. Someone who knows the read-option to such a degree that they see the opposing defense in slow motion, when every play is like a memory of one that already happened.

Will Travis Jonsen be the next 4-star Oregon quarterback to transfer?

From Video

Will Travis Jonsen be the next 4-star Oregon quarterback to transfer?

Last year Coach Helfrich admitted that the Oregon coaching staff had not spent adequate time developing the younger quarterbacks. Despite that knowledge, that hard lesson learned, Oregon has once again failed to develop a quarterback from within. As usual Oregon has a four-star dual threat quarterback recruit waiting in the wings, Travis Jonsen. Unfortunately, as usual, this quarterback is a candidate to transfer. And that is because for whatever reason he’s fourth on the depth chart, behind two true freshman. This is not a sustainable practice. Morgan Mahalak, Jake Rodriguez, Damion Hobbs, Bryan Bennett. Sound familiar? All quarterbacks who transferred out of Oregon. Will we add another quarterback name to that list in the near future? We can’t go year to year hoping to find an FCS transfer. What if we don’t find one? Then what?

Then we end up with a potentially painful season, one I described above. The Oregon coaches could have chosen to take that path this year. They could have let Prukop go to Alabama or somewhere else. They could have decided we will focus on developing our quarterbacks that are already here, in this system, and cement a better stronger future. For whatever reason, or reasons, the coaching staff chose another FCS transfer over internal development and a potentially difficult season.

What would that look like? Choosing to build rather than win. Choosing to focus on the quarterbacks as a whole. Well, let’s assume it would result in more losses. Last season we were 9-4 so let’s assume we match that with Prukop. With Justin Herbert leading the offense surely the playbook would be somewhat limited, the mistakes would be more frequent. More incompletions, more interceptions, more mis-reads, more handoff issues in the backfield. A couple of close wins with Prukop become losses with Herbert. Instead of 9-4 we’re 7-6. Not an unlikely scenario.

Justin Herbert, a true Freshman, has gone from unknown to second string.

From Video

Justin Herbert, a true Freshman, has gone from unknown to second string.

But, by the end of the year the offense is humming. The offense has been learned and learned well, defenses are being read and dissected. Oregon State is annihilated in the Civil War and we steamroll some hapless opponent in some horribly named bowl game. And the talking heads who have bemoaned the great fall of Oregon all season long are now talking about how the Oregon coaching staff made a decision to do things the right way and that it’s paid off.

They’re talking about how Oregon will once again compete for the Pac-12 title. That with an experienced 4-3 defense and a returning quarterback who can dynamically run the Oregon offense there is perhaps no expectation too high for Oregon next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Think about it. Herbert is a true Freshman. That means potentially one development year and then three more years after that.

We’ll never know. The Oregon coaches chose to go the route of the transfer once again, and once again we’ll start next year not knowing who will start at quarterback. Perhaps next year the coaches won’t have a choice, there won’t be a viable transfer out there who’s willing to come to Oregon. Perhaps next year we’ll finally be forced to suffer loss to produce a foundation from which we can once again find dominance in the Pac-12 and compete for a playoff spot.

What will it take for the Oregon Ducks to regain the Pac-12 Championship trophy?

From Video

What will it take for the Oregon Ducks to regain the Pac-12 Championship trophy?

Perhaps next year Herbert will be ready, the coaches having spent adequate time with him this year while Prukop runs the show. But he won’t be nearly as developed as he would be if he’d be given the reins this year, not even close. Nothing compares to game snaps, to real adversity. No matter how many snaps Herbert gets in practice this year, and in spring ball, and in fall camp, it won’t come close to playing for a season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Prukop, I hope he excels and leads Oregon back to ten or more wins. I hope he matches Vernon Adams’ play of last year and stays healthy and we challenge Stanford once again for the Pac-12 North title, and play for the Pac-12 championship. I don’t even have a beef with the coaching staff, despite the 1,100 words before this sentence. But I do believe it’s worth questioning. It’s worth wondering “what if.” It’s worth discussing if it would be worth it to perhaps sacrifice a couple of wins and struggle for a year to produce a longer-term answer at quarterback.

To create a pipeline visible to recruits that speaks to them of the Oregon process in developing quarterbacks, where they will know that the coaches will take the time to develop them and that they will have to compete and perhaps won’t have to worry about a 5th year senior transfer every year adding to the pool of competition. It’s worth wondering if the Oregon coaching staff should focus on creating a system that recruits, retains and trains a steady stream of top-notch quarterbacks, who know the Oregon offense in a way no transfer will ever be able to.

Top Photo Credit: Gary Breedlove

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David Miller

David Miller

David, a father of two young Oregon fans, has been a Duck all his life after growing up in Eugene. Although not UO Alumni, his wife was a Journalism major there, and he has stayed true to his Ducks wherever life has taken him. In addition to watching the Ducks each Saturday with up to 200 fans at the Irish Channel in Washington, D.C., he has enjoyed playing tackle football with friends each fall for 25 consecutive years, regularly implementing the latest Oregon offensive wrinkle to stymie defenses. David has been writing short stories all of his adult life for fun and is excited to be writing about the Ducks on

  • Tom

    I see this argument all the time. Remember when everyone said we should be playing mahalak last year? It’s a dumb argument. You owe it to your players to give your team the best chance to win. That means recruiting the best player that you can regardless of class and letting them compete in practice. How would the locker room feel if you did not go with the best qb option? How would the seniors feel? You need to send a consistent message to your players and that is: we want to win, we will recruit the best players we can to compete against you and possibly take your spot. If you are good enough and you work hard enough to win a starting spot you will have earned it.
    That being said I was disappointed that they didn’t play their #2 qb when they were up by 18 with 2 mins left. They already burned Herbert’s redshirt last game, which was another dumb move. If you’re going to get the kid reps, get him actual reps , don’t bring him in just to take a knee.

  • Platypus

    Like Helf says ‘the best players play’ you owe it to the other players, community, donors and the university. You must make the best decisions for this team not next years. I don’t think you could ask for a better scenario then to have Herbert play and learn from an excellent, experienced QB like Prukop, he will learn more from this situation then being thrown to the wolfs…and who knows, this could be the season that everything falls into place. What better springboard into next season then with a Championship.

  • Boggs

    We can have it both ways. We should have let Herbert play the fourth quarter of both the UC Davis and Virginia games. The game had already been decided. I’m not sure what the coaches are thinking here.

    • C.j. Allen

      Had the defense been able to get stops instead of giving up scores, Herbert would have gone in.

  • Teams tend to have mediocre seasons after losing Heisman winning QBs: Auburn and Texas A&M both went 7-6 after losing Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel (respectively). The trend suggests that the post-heisman hangover is more than just an Oregon problem. But the Ducks found a creative solution to mitigate that seemingly inevitable off-year.

    As an Oregon fan, it’s hard to watch subsequent transfer QBs come in and run the show. Something about it feels illegitimate. I feel less connected to my Ducks than ever before. But I don’t think it’s a long-term problem. Nowadays, the expectations are too high to allow for a potato season. And that means Prukop must play. But I fully anticipate an Oregon recruit (and not a transfer) will start next season, be it Herbert, or someone unexpected who jumps ahead in the competition.

    The era of transfer QBs will end with Prukop.

  • Chris Andres

    Please list one of the above transfers who left and became a Superstar elsewhere. They were beaten out because they weren’t as good for one reason or another. If Oregon “tanked” to get a young player who wasn’t as good some playing time, the rabid fans would crucify them in the message boards, the coaches might get fired, ticket sales might fall, & worst of all the players might stop buying in!

  • Seth Scheeland

    5This argument makes no sense. So Alabama should given up last years National Championship in order to develop a qb for this year? Michigan should have dodged a 10 win season last year so that they could get one this year? No & no. If you can make your team better with a transfer do it. Use the year to develop a young guy or in Oregon’s case two years. It also doesn’t make sense if you don’t have a young guy that you think is that good. Additionally you are ignoring the coaching change this year that should help us to develop better qbs in the future. Like Frost but he was terrible at player development.

  • Kellen Garrett

    Last year’s debacle against TCU was a real red flag in terms of player development. To have a backup quarterback appear incapable of leading one of the most potent offenses in the country was alarming but I don’t think it should take massive amount of playing time for a quarterback to step in and make the basic throws. I don’t mind the philosophy of looking for ways to win the most games this season and if that means taking a one year guy because he is better than everyone you have-so be it. I don’t know that this is sustainable but Adams and so far Prukop appear to be great decisions based on the roster Oregon has at the time. I agree that recruiting quarterbacks is going to be difficult if they keep this up. No one is going to want to take the gamble if their competition on an annual basis is a guy who started for two years somewhere else.

  • robearl

    I understand the frustration, and what one commenter termed the feeling of illegitimacy of not growing your own talent at QB, but the truth is you play the best you have at every position and as Dakota very much wanted to play for the Ducks, you make him the QB and run with it. I wish him and the Ducks every success. He has talent and leadership skills and I hope as all Duck fans that he can take us far this year. Sure, there are other candidates waiting in the wings. Some may choose to go elsewhere to look for a starting job. But others will stay and learn and give themselves their best chance to succeed. What is telling is that as far as I know none of those QBs who left searching for better opportunity have found it. May their experience serve as a lesson to others as well.

  • Buckeye Steve

    Remember when Ohio State beat you with their 3rd string QB? You are missing in recruiting…. and defense.