Mario Cristobal has led the Oregon Ducks to back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. He has accumulated more talent than any coach before him in Eugene. And this year, his Ducks are still very much alive in the College Football Playoff race.
All of these statements are undeniable. So is this one: The Oregon Ducks are a massively disappointing football team right now.
I know what you’re thinking, “Here we go again.” I can see the collective eyeroll from the most devout among the Oregon faithful. The Ducks are 5-1, after all, and with all of Cristobal’s accomplishments that I just listed, how can any true fan of the program not be satisfied with how far Oregon has come?
Those underwhelmed fans — the “naysayers” and “negative Nancies” — that are often called unpleasable for being dissatisfied with a program’s direction despite relative success aren’t disloyal. They’re operating exactly as dedicated fans with justifiably high expectations are supposed to.
It’s okay for fans to admit that four years into Cristobal’s tenure, one-possession games against one-win conference opponents are anything but reassuring. Such criticism doesn’t take away from all that Cristobal has accomplished to this point. It simply suggests that — to his credit — Cristobal has built a program that is capable of doing so much more than it currently is. Fans have every right to be disheartened with the product he is putting forth right now, given the team’s immense ceiling.
Fans Should Hold Coaches Accountable
It is true that Oregon has improved under Cristobal. He has Oregon consistently competing for Pac-12 titles, something that wasn’t the case before his arrival. To some, Pac-12 Championships are a good-enough result. It is perfectly fine for that portion of the fan base to feel accomplished with what the Ducks are doing this season, in that case, considering it’s very likely Oregon will win its division, with a good shot at winning the conference for the third straight year.
But the portion of the fanbase that wants and expects more from a fourth-year coach in the weakest Power 5 conference is also completely warranted in feeling frustrated with the product Cristobal has displayed this season. The Ducks have every reason to be a legitimate Playoff-caliber, top-five-level college football team — especially in a season with as much chaos as this one.
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Much has been written about Cristobal’s amazing recruiting feats to this point. He has built a roster that has far more blue-chip athletes than just about every team in the Pac-12. On paper, the Ducks have a substantial talent advantage in every game remaining on their schedule. And yet, six games into their schedule, the Ducks have played like a top-25 team a couple of times at most.
Friday night was yet another underwhelming performance for an Oregon team that is looking more and more like the rest of its middling conference foes by the minute. Fresh off of a 21-6 loss against the mighty Washington State Cougars, Cal went into Oregon and shockingly looked like the Ducks’ equal.
The Golden Bears ran the ball with ease and overpowered Oregon’s front seven. Their pass rush harassed Anthony Brown all night long. And they were ultimately a few seconds away from pulling off a historic upset.
Maybe Cal had a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Maybe Stanford just happened to put together its best game of the season in its upset of Oregon. Maybe Fresno State is a legitimate top-25 team, which is why Oregon struggled against it.
Or maybe Cristobal just isn’t doing a good job right now. It’s not blasphemous to suggest this. It’s the logical conclusion when a team as good as Oregon is on paper continues to struggle so often.
For those that argue all of this criticism is meaningless because the Ducks have managed to win most of their games, I’d counter by saying that a team’s record is not necessarily a reflection of how good it is. There are plenty of power rating systems that have Oregon ranked far lower than its record would suggest based on how it has performed so far (SP+ currently has Oregon ranked 34th). But it doesn’t take computers or advanced stats to come to the conclusion that the Ducks simply aren’t a great team right now. Anyone who has watched them this season can see that.
It’s possible that the Ducks can keep playing at a subpar level and continue stringing together last-minute wins, but it’s not probable. The more likely outcome is Oregon will win a handful of one-score games against a laughably weak slate of conference opponents, and it will likely lose a couple of them, just as it did on its trip to the Farm.
Is a potential 9-3 regular season in this year’s downtrodden Pac-12 enough to get you excited? Is it even tolerable?
There’s a lot of football to be played, and perhaps the Ducks end up making sweeping improvements as they get healthier and more experienced. But as of now, this team looks nothing like the one that went into the Horseshoe and ran over Ohio State. It looks more like one that will get run over by UCLA this Saturday.
Cristobal has done plenty of great things for the Oregon program, and he deserves a boatload of credit for them. But he has been a disappointment for much of the 2021 season, and fans are perfectly reasonable to criticize him for it.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Joshua is an adopted Duck fanatic, originally hailing from southwestern Pennsylvania. His love for the University of Oregon began as a young child when he became mesmerized by the flashy uniforms and explosive offenses of the Chip Kelly era, and now, he follows the team religiously. His fondest memory of the team is seeing De’Anthony Thomas race past Wisconsin defenders back in the 2012 Rose Bowl. A true football enthusiast, Joshua loves studying the intricacies of the game, and he aspires to become a professional sports journalist. Joshua now resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he works in customer service. When he’s not watching Oregon replays, Joshua loves reading, writing, and spending time with his family. Contact: email@example.com
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