Helfrich has to win

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When starting a new job mistakes are to be anticipated, they are a part of the learning process.  There is a honeymoon of sorts and perfection is not the expectation. For Mark Helfrich, that statement could not be more inaccurate.

In his first ever head coaching position, Helfrich has been given the keys to a Ferrari (a talent-loaded football team) and a new otherworldly garage (the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex) to park it in. In his first year in the driver’s seat, Helfrich will be expected to race his blitzkrieg-scoring machine straight to a national championship, doing better than a predecessor that took the team to four consecutive BCS bowls. Pressure much?

Oregon's first year head football coach Mark Helfrich

Oregon’s former offensive coordinator and first year head football coach Mark Helfrich

Most fans and pundits alike are assuming the switch from former head coach Chip Kelly to Helfrich will be nothing more than swapping a visor for a baseball cap. While the difference in strategy and execution remains to be seen, most folks are looking straight past the X’s and O’s.  They are thinking “how could the Ducks NOT win a national championship this season?”

That reasoning seems fairly sound given the following.

1)   If at all possible, the offense will be the best it has ever been. With Marcus Mariota entering his second year as the starting quarterback, the attack will be led by a guy who had arguably the best freshman year in school history. With De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner all as options at tailback along with an experienced and diverse receiving corps, points will come from anywhere and everywhere.

2)   The defense is full of veterans and could be better than last year. Often left in the shadow of “oohs and aahs” precipitated by the Ducks’ offense, Oregon’s defense has been formidable in recent seasons. Last year the Ducks ranked twenty-fifth in the country in scoring defense, giving up 21.6 points per game. In the Pac-12 the Ducks ranked a respectable fifth and sixth in rush and pass defense. Despite Oregon’s losses of mega-star Dion Jordan and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, they’re stacked with defensive skill. The secondary will be one of the best in America, returning all four cornerbacks and three safeties who all saw starting action. The Ducks led the nation in interceptions last season and will be near the top again in 2013.

3)   The schedule is friendly. With two non-conference opponents who are big in name only and no USC on the slate, the Ducks’ season comes down to a home game against UCLA followed by an early November trip to Palo Alto. If they can dispatch potentially the Pac-12 South’s best offering in the Bruins, and then come out victorious against Stanford on the road, the path is relatively smooth.

Oregon may have lost talent, but experience and depth will bolster both sides of the ball.

Oregon may have lost talent, but experience and depth will bolster both sides of the ball this season.

Pretty simple right? The team is great, the road looks good, a BCS crown should be attainable. I’m sure Helfrich is extra hopeful. The man is in a difficult position should he fail, having been provided all the tools to succeed, combined with monstrous expectations. A lot of coaches get a few years to prove their worth, taking time to recruit players for their scheme and then implement it. No such luxury here. Helfrich has promised to stick close to Kelly’s blueprint with what may be a formula for success, but could leave him in a tight spot if they don’t raise the crystal football in January.

It will be hard for people to accept Helfrich as an innovator or captain of a winning squad should the Ducks continue to see success, as he learned the read-option scheme from Kelly and will be playing with toys the last guy left behind. That adoration will come with time and for now, no matter how harsh it may be; it appears fans have tasked Helfrich with one major assignment – don’t screw it up.

Featured Image at top of article: Kevin Cline



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