Over the last three seasons, Oregon has won the most games in college football: 26 victories from 2010-2012. That's more than Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, or any other college football dean or blue-blood. Has Oregon been the best team in college football over the last three years? Probably not. But they have put up the most W's.
In the first 105 years of Oregon Ducks football, the school never won more than 11 games. They've won 12 for the last three years. Oregon has been transformed through their brand and style, but mostly their success, from true college football nobodies to one of the most popular teams on the planet. It's dizzying; when the popular NCAA Football 14 video game was released, more people played with Oregon than any other school.
It's all happened quick, as success tends move rapidly. Oregon won the Pac-10/12 in the first three years of Chip Kelly's reign and last year, with what was possibly Kelly's best team, the Ducks went 12-1 and smacked Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
No, the Ducks never did get a national championship under Kelly, but to put that kind of an asterisk next to the numbers his teams put up in the last three years would be silly. Over the last three seasons, not only were the Ducks sensational, they were consistent, focused, and grounded. There were no upsets. There were no letdowns.
It was an incredible three years; three years that rank just behind the best three years any college football program has enjoyed in the history of the sport. There's simply no way the Ducks can keep it up.
I hate to be a buzz-kill, but the law of averages is a pretty convincing theory. Oregon will not have the baddest uniforms and speediest offense and win 12 games a season for the rest of eternity. At some point, this program will come back down to earth.
Chip Kelly is gone. And while his players and offense remain in Eugene for at least the next few seasons, Kelly operated on a level of genius that will go down in college football lore. I don't believe you can just plug in Mark Helfrich, and keep operating on that level of genius.
I like Helfrich as much as anyone. He's an Oregon kid, an Oregon fan, and he keeps the tradition of the Ducks promoting offensive coordinators to the top spot. He has things set up as well as they can be set up for a first year coach: great returning players, a killer system and superior talent all over the field. I think Oregon is back in the BCS this year. But a few years down the line? Who knows.
Rich Brooks built Oregon up to a respectable level. Mike Bellotti took the program further, and Chip Kelly took it to unprecedented heights. Unless Helfrich is Nick Saben+, and he can tread water at winning 12 games each year, there's nowhere to go but down.
All programs have ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Look at Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame, Florida State, and so on and so on over the last few years alone. I'm not saying Oregon will fall back to the pack, because I think there's no way that happens. But I do think we should brace ourselves for an upcoming season where the Ducks aren't automatically slotted into the AP Top 10. That year is coming.
And I'm just being realistic here. What are the chances Mark Helfrich becomes the first Oregon football head coach since Don Read to be fired? Helfrich was running Kelly's offense when he was the offensive coordinator in Eugene. When Helfrich was the offensive coordinator at Colorado, he was running his own offense, and it went poorly to say the least.
I'm not one to say Oregon's new coach is on the hot seat as the season starts - Rob Mullens is fair and committed to Helfrich, as he and Oregon fans should be - but the fact of the matter is, Oregon is one of the ten best jobs in the country, and Helfrich will have to perform accordingly. If he doesn't, there will be consequences.
That's why it's key for Helfrich to win in 2013 and 2014 with hugely talented teams that were built by Kelly, so he can build up some good will for the time when a down-year finally comes.
No one stays on top forever. Oregon has had a historic three years, and they will possibly have a historic five year run. But whether this overwhelming, uninterrupted success lasts three, four, five or more years, there's one thing we know for sure: At some point, it will end.