There is a great deal at stake on Feb. 6, national signing day, for the Oregon Ducks and their continued football success. Big duh, huh? With Chip Kelly's untimely departure, the Ducks are scrambling and have a long recruiting priority list.
New head coach Mark Helfrich undoubtedly knows that if he doesn't get good players next week, he likely won't have a good team the next few years. The good news is that Helfrich and his assistants are realizing some success on his post-hiring road trip.
As of today, the Ducks have 16 verbal commitments, with three prospects picking Oregon in the past four days. Let's take a quick look at the three new recruits, and then get down to the serious business of revealing the Ducks' top priority on Feb. 6.
What an exciting few days for Oregon fans.
First, on Jan. 25, bullet-fast wide receiver Devon Allen announced he would attend Oregon. According to A.J. Jacobson of Duck Sports Authority, the 4-star WR had previously been offered a track scholarship by the Ducks. A receiver who warrants a track scholarship—yummy.
Next up to commit was offensive tackle Elijah George. The 6'5", 250-pound OT committed on Sunday during his official visit. In an interview with Ray Brewer of the Las Vegas Sun, George said:
I felt like it was the right fit. It’s just the people up there. They were all nice.
Finally, in breaking news, 3-star athlete Juwaan Williams from Tucker, GA, announced his commitment to Oregon last night on Fox Sports Next. Williams had offers from Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida State, South Carolina and Georgia Tech, among others.
In a quote to AOL Sporting News last fall after Williams' official visit to the Ducks, you will detect a hint of why people live in Oregon:
When I went out to Oregon, the main thing that caught my eye is that it was just so peaceful out there. I was up at a spot where you could see the city lights and you could just hear a pin drop up there. I just kept thinking, ‘This is what the other side of the nation looks like.’
Good ol' No. 24, fresh off a terrific performance in the Senior Bowl, will be running the football on Sunday next fall, not Saturday.
But you knew that, didn't you? And you are wondering what Barner has to do with the Ducks' top priority on Feb. 6.
Everything, my friends, everything.
The Ducks are a run-first team, and they have been blessed the past few years with some of the best running backs in the nation. Recruiter extraordinaire, running backs coach Gary Campbell, has kept the pipeline full with 4- and 5-star RBs for as long as this writer can remember.
But what if that pipeline dries up? What if the Ducks don't have a running back who is almost automatically entered into the Heisman Trophy conversation by Week 3 of each season? What if the Ducks, heaven help you, can't run the ball?
Ponder that thought for a moment, and then, once you can breathe again, please proceed to the next slide.
Soon to be a sophomore, running back Byron Marshall is good. But do you know yet if Marshall is great?
No, you can't be sure yet if Marshall is of the caliber of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner—there just isn't enough evidence from his freshman campaign to make that judgment. While there were certainly flashes of brilliance in Marshall's very solid running in relief of Barner, probably only Gary Campbell knows if Marshall will some day join the ranks of other Oregon running backs in the NFL.
And, if other RBs on the Ducks' roster like Ayele Ford, Kenny Bassett and Bill Chimphalee were fabulous, wouldn't they have received more playing time behind Barner and De'Anthony Thomas?
Do you see where this is going?
If you are an Oregon fan, you really must be ticked off at the Ohio State University head coach Urban Meyer about now.
Wilson may still honor his commitment to the Ducks, but you can't be in love with those odds. At least the bad weather juju gods cooperated; it was bitterly cold and just dreadful while the Texas kid was visiting.
On a side note, Helfrich must be just about ready to call Rent-A-Thug to deal with Meyer for his pillaging of Oregon commits. Does that guy ever stop?@!?
If Wilson ends up in boring Ohio, where does that leave the Ducks for running back depth?
Do the math.
You could make a case that the Ducks have priority needs at several positions in 2013. Perhaps you fear that a backup quarterback, a kicker who can actually kick, or another big mean linebacker should be Oregon's top priority.
You would be wrong.
That is not to belittle the Ducks' needs at various positions; certainly Oregon has issues in trying to replace guys like Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Ryan Clanton. Not to mention Alejandro Maldonado.
If Tyner has a last-minute change of heart, and Urban Meyer nabs Dontre Wilson, and Byron Marshall gets hurt early in the season—well, it's just too awful to think about. In a position where depth is critical, the Ducks find themselves scarily thin at running back.
Saving Tyner's commitment and getting him settled in Eugene as soon as possible is the Ducks' No. 1 top priority on national signing day. Tweets from Tyner like the following one are an encouraging sign that one of the nation's top RB prospects will be lined up beside Marcus Mariota come fall:
Congrats to @kylekempt on committing to OSU. See you in the Civil War bro! 😎— D4SH (@thomas_tyner) January 29, 2013
If the Ducks lose Tyner and have trouble running the ball in 2013, there will be very long lines outside psychiatric offices all over the state of Oregon. And Mark Helfrich would probably be first in line.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.