When talking about one of the more consistent programs in latter-day college football, the name Oregon should come to mind. Outside of Alabama, the Ducks are the second-winningest program in the past decade, notching up nine consecutive 9+ win seasons and six 10+ win seasons from 2007 to 2015, totaling 97 victories. Through that span, Oregon has also achieved stellar postseason success, appearing in five major bowls games, including two that landed them in the National Championship Game.
However, just this past month, Oregon completed its worst single-season in nearly 15 years, going 4-8 and missing a bowl for the first time since 2004. The Ducks’ most recent campaign was dreadful enough to get Mark Helfrich fired after four seasons (for Oregon, it was their first head coach firing since 1976). Weeks later, this then prompted the hiring of Willie Taggart, former head coach of South Florida. If anything, it will be a fresh start for the Oregon program. But will it be enough?
In a sport that is dominated by powerhouses and historic programs like Alabama, Ohio State and USC respectively. Oregon’s pursuit for a dynasty proved to be spectacular in the sense that they emerged as a national threat by constituting their own brand. For so many years, the Ducks have produced electrifying offenses that score points at will, through prodigies at the skilled positions such as LaMichael James, Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and Darron Thomas. A break-neck playing style such as that enriched Oregon fans, as they each embraced it whole-heartedly. But after experiencing the program’s golden years, Oregon unfortunately failed to make it out with a national title trophy– something that the school is still searching for.
With Mariota now thriving in the NFL, plus someone who holds no “Oregon affiliations” running the ship, it’s clear to admit that Ducks have lost their swagger. Something is missing with the Quack Attack and to make matters worse, they are not even the second best team in the Northwest anymore. Arch-rival Washington and Washington State have not only jumped ahead of Oregon, but they have zoomed past the Ducks and are miles ahead of them in terms of recruiting and long-term stability.
In order for Oregon to get back to where they once were, Taggart has to handle the adversity calmly. Oregon’s 2017 non-conference schedule offers stiff tests at home versus Nebraska, followed by a trip to Laramie to play Wyoming. A 3-0 start is possible but by no means a given. With that said, the Ducks will return quarterback Justin Herbert, who throughout his true freshman season in 2016, offered glimpses of optimism. Tony Brooks – James also emerged as a key cog in the backfield this season, rushing for 771 yards and nine TDs on 101 carries, and he’ll be back. In an attempt to correct Oregon’s defensive shortcomings, Taggart decided immediately to not retain Brady Hoke as the team’s Defensive Coordinator for next season, replacing him with former Colorado DC Jim Leavitt.
Moves like these present optimism for Taggart in the short-term, as well as confidence for Oregon fans moving forward. It’s worth mentioning that Taggart just recently rebuilt the USF program from the ashes, inheriting a 3-9 team in his first season to eventually leading them to 8 and 10 win regular seasons. For Oregon’s sake, the program will know within the next two years whether or not this was a good hire. Because, believe it or not, college football is better when the Ducks are chasing a Rose Bowl birth every year. But with Chris Peterson now building a budding program in Seattle, it’s a must for things to be turned around sooner rather than later in Eugene.