Oregon Football: Are Ducks Still BCS Title Contenders Without Chip Kelly?
The Oregon Ducks and the entire college football world were shocked when it was announced that Chip Kelly was going to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. The person who has helped turn Oregon into a national powerhouse has left the building and everybody is left to wonder if this is the end of the run.
Some may say it was fun while it lasted, but this isn't the end for the Ducks. The program that has reached four straight BCS bowls, including a national championship back in 2010, isn't going anywhere. It will remain a national championship contender and will still have a successful season in 2013 like everybody expected would happen.
The first thing to get out of the way is the head coaching situation. A source has told the USA Today that Oregon will in fact promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to the head coach position. Now this hire isn't official yet, and the school will likely do its due diligence before making the move. Still, it would be a shocker if Helfrich isn't the hire.
For those that aren't familiar with the new sheriff in town, Helfrich has been with the team since Kelly arrived back in 2009.
No, he wasn't the guy who installed this seemingly unstoppable form of offense and he wasn't the guy calling the plays (play-calling duties were done by Kelly). However, he was the one giving Kelly all of the information on the opposing defenses' formations and defensive alignments, allowing Kelly to be a lot more effective with his play selection.
Helfrich has also been the quarterback coach at Oregon, helping to mold each of the team’s quarterbacks into the type of guy who could run this offense effectively. Since he has arrived in Eugene, the Ducks have led the Pac-12 in scoring every season and have been ranked no worse than eighth nationally. While Kelly was getting the majority of the credit for the offense's production, Helfrich was the guy doing all of the dirty work behind the scenes.
To further prove that this is a hire that will keep the Ducks in contention, Helfrich happens to even think like Kelly, according to what a source told USA Today:
"He can finish Chip's sentences," the person said of Helfrich. "He's been in that environment long enough (to succeed). It's a leap of faith but it's very similar – I'd almost argue that it was a bigger leap (promoting) Chip than with Mark."
This isn't like Arkansas losing Bobby Petrino at the last second. Helfrich is a guy who is comfortable with the program, knows how things work and has been playing a large role in the success that has already been accomplished. The new guy that will be roaming the sidelines will do just fine.
As for the team itself, the offense is led by Marcus Mariota, who happens to be a Heisman candidate at the quarterback position. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes, threw for 2,677 yards, rushed for an extra 752 yards and was responsible for 38 total touchdowns.
Is Oregon still a BCS contender?
Did I forget to mention he was a freshman? With a complete offseason working with his new head coach, having this playmaker alone at quarterback gives the Ducks a fighting chance. But of course he has guys around him capable of carrying their own such as De'Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff and Colt Lyerla. In fact, a total of nine starters return from an offense that averaged 49.6 points a year ago.
Defensively, Oregon did lose a few key pieces such as defensive end Dion Jordan and linebacker Michael Clay. However, last year’s sack leader in Taylor Hart is still on the roster, and every starter in the secondary is back, which includes third-team All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks could in fact end up having the best secondary in the Pac-12, which would help an overall unit that was already ranked 25th in the country in scoring defense.
So just because Chip Kelly skips town, this does not mean that Oregon goes back to square one. The offense will continue to be exciting and score enough points to break the scoreboard. The defense will continue to be underrated and get enough stops to help seal the victory. And the Ducks will remain a Pac-12 contender with a fair shot to appear in the 2013 BCS National Championship.
All is not lost in Eugene; the Ducks are still flying high.
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