In an offseason of tumult, the Oregon spring game was a reminder that the Duck offense is still pretty special even without Chip Kelly on the sidelines. The Oregon spring game was also a reminder that the Ducks are front runners in the Pac-12 Conference — but with that comes the necessary annotation that UO’s 2013 success hinges on the decisions of the NCAA.
The transition of head coaching power at Oregon is very much reminiscent of a similar change divisional rival Stanford underwent following the 2010 season. Then-head coach Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL after the Cardinal went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl, but he handed the reins to capable assistant David Shaw.
Harbaugh also left Shaw with a talented and deep roster. The 2011 Cardinal was made up of experienced players, most notably Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Andrew Luck. Stanford’s youngsters also made for a smooth transition, as Harbaugh had recruited particularly well in his four seasons on The Farm.
Mark Helfrich is the Shaw to Kelly’s Harbaugh. Helfirch inherits a team that he knows personally; players whose idiosyncrasies and traits he has worked with firsthand.
Likewise, Helfrich inherits a roster well-stocked from years of solid recruiting. And like Shaw at Stanford, Helfrich returns a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Marcus Mariota.
Mariota was brilliantly in his limited time playing on Saturday. He scored three quick touchdowns before calling it a day.
Perhaps overshadowing Mariota’s skill set during his freshman campaign and throughout the offseason is the Duck run game. Kenjon Barner was a star last season, and De’Anthony Thomas has been among the nation’s most electrifying players each of the last two years.
Thomas returns, but Saturday suggests 2013 could be the time for Mariota to break out as Oregon’s star. Perhaps most impressive in the quarterback’s showing during the Oregon spring game is that the offensive was reportedly conservative.
Scott Frost said today the Ducks only used perhaps 50 percent of their playbook, FWIW. Frost called plays today, as he has throughout April.
— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) April 27, 2013
So Oregon, which has reached a BCS bowl in each of the last four seasons, should be primed for another such run. There are 15 returning starters, a coaching staff familiar with the team, an abundance of talent…that Nov. 7 trip to Stanford cannot come soon enough.
College sports’ governing body is not always quick to action, and its decision-making is sometimes unpredictable. For as much promise as the Oregon spring game demonstrated on Saturday, the lingering possibility of a bowl ban casts a pall over Autzen Stadium.