…This season is lost. The Ducks need to rebuild. And U-Dub is the lone team from this timezone to have a shot at the playoff… But those aren’t the only reasons for loyal Ducks to don some Dawg Pound gear this weekend.
Forget, for a minute, about the last two decades.
Forget about The Pick. Never happened. The play—oft-referenced for turning the Oregon football program from local fan favorite to be discussed, win or lose, Sunday morning over a Swedish at Ye Olde Pancake House into an ever-morphing love-to-hate-’em marketing juggernaut—is now older than the players on the field.
The recent lopsidedness of the Pacific Northwest’s most notable border rivalry doesn’t exist either. Do not continue to crow that it’s been more than 4,700 days since Washington took the field and beat Oregon. Forget about the Sark era, the Chip Kelly autocracy, the two national championship appearances by Oregon within five years.
Different coaches, different staff, different recruits and frankly… a different time.
Focus on the now.
The now is a tale of two very different college football programs meeting on the same floor: One on the way up, the other on the way down. Way way way down.
In Washington, third-year coach Chris Petersen is about to have a Han Solo-esque carbon statue erected of him in front of Husky Stadium. A giant silhouette of his slightly downturned maw with a giant W on his cap is soon to be broadcast against the overcast fall Seattle skyline like a bat signal. The Huskies have arguably the nation’s best defense and in Jake Browning, their program’s most likable and effective sophomore under center since Mark Brunell. Most importantly they are, at 5-0, the lone undefeated Pac-12 team. With last week’s 44-6 outing of Stanford, Washington showed they are scarier than on-campus “killer clown” sightings as well as the team of record on the West Coast.
The PAC-12 this year is anemic as a major conference. It doesn’t have to top-to-bottom booming and guttural strength of the Big 10. It doesn’t feature flashes of brilliance and otherworldly athleticism of the ACC. It doesn’t have the reputation nor the skill players of the SEC. Most years, the PAC-12 through sheer lame luck or inescapably late game scheduling, fails to capture the attention of the general football-lovin’ public like magicians who aren’t yet famous. They may be good, but nobody’s going to know about it.
But that’s not the case this year…they’re just (like most magicians) not that good.
But U-Dub plays bigger than their schedule this year. The offense faster, more efficient. The defense is stronger, more proficient. Still, were the season to end today, the Huskies would be on the outside looking in on the final four which is Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Ohio State.
For argument’s sake, either Michigan or Ohio State will drop out, but that still leaves Washington having to fend off arguments for teams like Houston, Baylor and Miami, all of whom could run the table and may be every bit as formidable as the purple wave from the place they sell OG Kush and Sub Pop schwag at the airport.
What this means is the Huskies not only have to win out, they have to win big.
True, Oregon Duck fans should be rooting for a blowout Saturday… one that goes in the visiting team’s favor. A moment of regional clarity is all it takes. And if clarity isn’t reason enough, than money is. Should the Huskies make it to the final four, the PAC-12 will receive $6 million for its participation and an additional $2.16 million to cover expenses for the game(s). Yes, $8.16 million split a dozen ways is Starbucks tip jar money when it comes to postseason college football, but what if a portion of that was put into a high yield savings account trust for players to access once their collegiate careers are over?
More on that below.
For now, Duck fans should not root for the Huskies to win out just for fiduciary reasons…or even altruistic ones; you know, throwing the Dawgs a bone after a decade-plus of dominance. Root for them because Oregon, at 2-3 and losers of three in a row, is staring at a schedule that after this weekend includes Cal, USC and Utah on the road—as well as a pair of home games vs. Stanford and ASU. This amounts to five of their final six contests against faster, stronger and better-coached teams.
The Ducks could well be looking to grab their first conference win during the season finale against Oregon State in Corvallis on Nov. 26. Consequently, their instate rival Beavers may be in the same position.
This is not hitting the panic button. This is the Ducks’ current reality. And while it’s OK for Duck fans to want this iteration of Oregon Football to be competitive—especially against a rival they’ve taken a dozen straight from—it is ill-advised and inappropriate to expect the Ducks to win on Saturday, or to really want them to.
Because a win, while miraculous, would not change much. It will not turn a season around. It cannot assuage the very real threat of Oregon losing six of its final seven. It should not serve to skirt around the fact that Autzen of late is about as threatening to opposing teams as Toys”R”Us is to a three-year old. Most importantly, the 8.5-point underdogs winning at home would not, could not and should not save the jobs of the men who keep impatiently punching the button to the lowest level of the PAC-12 parking garage.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich is shouldering much of the blame right now from an unforgiving nouveau riche fanbase. Newly minted Duck fans, like the lottery winners they’ve been for the last decade, are now seeing all shitty cars and flatscreens and ridiculous fountains and statuary (why the fuck did we need this one of Ronnie James Dio’s face on a cherub’s body?) get repossessed and are filling out applications for government-assisted housing in Duck’s Village.
Is Helfrich the recruiter and coach that’s going to take Oregon to the “next level” or back to the level they were at when he took the stick? No. Absolutely and unequivocally not. He’s kind of a George Seifert-type. Seifert was the right hand to Bill Walsh, the architect of the ‘80s 49ers dynasty. And while Seifert (and his aviator shades) was a serviceable defensive coordinator and of sound football mind—going 14-2 and winning Super Bowl XXIV in the immediate aftermath of the Walsh era—he was found out and eventually ended his professional career in 2001 leading the Carolina Panthers to a 1-15 season.
Like Seifert, Helfrich is a good guy. Decent football mind. Looks great in shades. Just not a head coach.
…And, speaking of not-head-coach material. Marshaling troops on the defensive side of the ball, where Oregon seems most watered-down from its Gang Green glory days, is blubbery sitcom husband Brady Hoke. Hoke was fired from Michigan after he did his part to turn The Big House into a Big 10 bye week with a 31-20 career record (18-14) in the conference. In 2014, his last season at the helm of the Wolverines, he finished 5-7 (3-5 in conference) and helped usher in the Jim Harbaugh era as the antidote to his dormant administration.
Under Hoke, Oregon’s offensive 4-3 defense is currently ranked 130th in the nation allowing 36.2 points per game and 2,452 total yards thus far. Last week he said, “I think as a whole we weren’t very good. We’ve got a long way to go to be a defense that’s going to be effective in this league.”
Hoke knows a thing or two about cashing paychecks even though the season is lost. Hopefully Oregon lets him keep his stapler and shows him the door to the Cas Center by mid-December.
Again, Brady Hoke, decent guy. OK football mind. Probably looks good riding a Segway. Just not a program turner-arounder (unless you like U-turns.)
So that’s how it’s going to go for Saturday. Oregon, sensing they’re on the cusp of a rebuild, will start true freshman Justin Herbert against the Huskies and he will find more purple than
green blue (?) in the backfield. Hebert should also become intrinsically familiar with the turf at Autzen by the time he sits in the third. Oregon’s one bright spot, running back Royce Freeman, is simply trying to stay healthy with eyes on the combine in February. The Ducks will be forced to wear Navy throwback uniforms for whatever reason this week—maybe to match their mood.
— Oregon Football (@WinTheDay) October 3, 2016
It’s OK though. It’s all going to be OK. Oregon has branded itself as the Buffalo Wild Wings of college football. Great marketing. So-so product. And about an hour after the fact, mostly a stomach ache.
What gave them the advantage for most of the ten-plus years of relevance was the fact they offered something different to players, be it facilities, training, coaching, recognition, GI Joe snow camo socks, or living quarters in such close proximity to Burrito Boy. There was, in other words, a lot of incentive to move from Texas or LA or Louisiana and be in Eugene.
If Phil Knight wants to cement his legacy before he becomes a leaf skipping on the sidewalk past the family name etched on the side of a building, he will lead the Ducks back to prominence with, you guessed it, one final game-changing move. Putting a designated amount in a trust for players to access when they’re 25 or four years removed from the university, prorated based on performance years of service, would be a start. It’s not as much profit sharing as it is a healthcare savings account.
A move like might not immediately return the program to prominence. But it would be the right thing to do after so many successful, and exploitative, seasons.