The No. 4 Oregon Ducks ended the 2012 season with a bang, going 12-1 and beating No. 5 Kansas State 35-17 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday. Now, the only thing left for Duck fans to mull over is who will be their head coach in the 2013 season.
Will Chip Kelly return to Eugene or take his talents to Cleveland, Buffalo or Philadelphia?
His staying in the Pacific Northwest would obviously make Oregon's 2013 season less question-filled, but if Kelly left, there wouldn't be any lengthy coaching search—offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich would be promoted to head coach, according to USA Today.
Helfrich is a quarterback mentor with seven years of experience as an offensive coordinator—four of those years were at Oregon—and while losing a head coach usually spells a year of adjustment for a team, in this case the collateral damage should be minimal and the transition smooth.
Despite that one question mark, everything else points to the Ducks seriously challenging for the BCS National Championship. This starts with their 2013 schedule.
The Ducks' 2012 schedule was problematic in that the Ducks didn't play any BCS teams on their non-conference slate—they played Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech and finished 2012 with a Sagarin strength of schedule rating of No. 41.
That perceived soft schedule may have impacted their final BCS rankings because Alabama, also a one-loss team, is playing in the BCS Championship with an SOS of No. 35.
Do only six spots in a SOS ranking make a difference on who goes to the BCS Championship and who doesn't? It does if one team is from the Pac-12 and one is from the SEC.
That SEC problem won't go away for any Pac-12 team, but this year, the Ducks will be able to address it head-on when they host Tennessee on September 14. The other two teams on Oregon's non-conference schedule are Nicholls State and at Nevada. So far, so good.
One FCS team to open the 2013 season followed by a road trip to Reno and then hosting an SEC team is a much more impressive slate than 2012's non-conference yawner.
Do the Ducks have a 2013 BCS Championship-worthy schedule?
While the Pac-12 conference schedules aren't finalized, the home and road games appear to be solidified, according to FBS Schedules. Oregon will host Cal, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah and Washington State and travel to Arizona, Colorado, Stanford and Washington.
Oregon drew UCLA, Utah, Arizona and Colorado from the South, avoiding USC and Arizona State. Hosting the South's UCLA and Utah (especially Utah) is a huge bonus because, while UCLA still doesn't have a strong home-field advantage, Utah does.
Moreover, UCLA—despite ending its season on a three-game losing streak—appears to be ready to seriously challenge for the Pac-12 crown and will likely be ranked in the preseason polls. Colorado can't be any worse this year than it was last year and Arizona could be a sleeper.
Oregon's North division slate is more difficult: The Ducks travel to both Washington and Stanford. Seattle is a tough venue and the Huskies will be hosting the Ducks in their renovated Husky Stadium. Stanford has already proven itself—the 2012 Pac-12 champions will probably be a preseason Top 10 team this fall.
Cal is a question mark, with new head coach Sonny Dykes (formerly of Louisiana Tech) taking over the program after Jeff Tedford was dismissed. Oregon State, for its part, should continue its climb back up in the North.
Washington State is a wild card with head coach Mike Leach in his second year—the Cougars upset the Huskies in the 2012 Apple Cup and it would be inconceivable for a Mike Leach-coached team to have back-to-back losing seasons.
The Ducks' recruiting class of 2013 is also looking good. With only 13 commits, Oregon is still ranked in Scout's Top 25. Oregon has three Top 100 commits, including 5-star running back Thomas Tyner (Aloha High School, Beaverton, OR). The highest-ranked class Chip Kelly has ever signed at Oregon was in 2011, but even if Kelly leaves Oregon, it's doubtful the Ducks will see a lot of defections from the class of 2013.
With a perfect schedule, no quarterback controversy entering spring camp—Marcus Mariota has the job in his pocket—running back De'Anthony Thomas ready to rip through Pac-12 defenses and the Oregon brand experiencing phenomenal growth, Oregon looks good to go.
2013 could be the Year of the Duck.