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The Figgis Forum: Oregon Ducks

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NCAA Football: Southern Utah at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 12th and final edition of The Figgis Forum, a fan-driven season preview for each Pac-12 team. Time to high-tail it out of Corvallis and head back south on I-5 for our final destination. After touring around the other conference teams, it’s finally time to head home to the comfort of Autzen stadium. Is there a more beautiful sight than seeing the south face of Autzen after crossing the Willamette? When I was a student making the game day trek from campus, over the river and through the woods, seeing the stadium begin to peak through the fall leaves of Alton Baker Park always gave an indescribable warmth to my soul. Walking through the tunnel of section 35 and seeing the inside of Autzen for the first time, waiting in the student line for the dash to the front row, rushing the field after winning the War of the Roses or staying up all night for ESPN’s College Gameday. Memories I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life. It may not be the biggest stadium or the loudest, but to me, you and every student, fan and athlete who has worn our colors, Autzen will always hold a special place in our hearts because it is our home.

Oregon

Fast Facts:

All-Time Record: 644-488-46 (.566%)

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 12

Bowl Games: 30

Bowl Record: 13-17 (.433%)

Consensus All-Americans: 8

Heismans: 1

NFL Draft Picks: 214

1st Round Draft Picks: 18

Weeks in AP Poll: 281

Weeks at #1: 8

Overview

“You have to know the past to understand the present” – Carl Sagan

The University of Oregon was one of the four original charter schools of the Pacific Coast Conference and in the inaugural season of 1916, the Webfoots, under the guidance of Hugo Bezdek, won the conference and made a trip to the third Rose Bowl game. At the time, it was known as the Tournament East-West Football Game and Oregon defeated the Penn Quakers 14-0. After regressing in the 1917 season, Bezdek left the program and Oregon hired the quarterback of their Rose Bowl team, Charles “Shy” Huntington, as their next head coach. Huntington led the team for six seasons with an overall record of 26-12-6. In his second year he won the PCC and led the Webfoots to the Rose Bowl, a 7-6 loss to Harvard. After posting his only losing season in his final year, a 3-4-1 finish, Oregon would be led by three different coaches over the next three years.

John McEwan was the third head coach of this span took and over in 1926. After posting a 2-4-1 record in back-to-back seasons, he got the team back above .500 by finishing 9-2 and 7-3 in 1928 and 1929 respectively. Oregon was then led by Clarence Spears for two seasons, 1930 and 1931 and was succeeded by Prink Callison who coached from 1932 to 1937. From 1928 until 1935, Oregon managed a run of eight consecutive seasons above .500 with an overall record of 56-20-3. The team would not begin another streak of this many winning seasons for another 59 years. During this stretch, Callison had his best season in 1933 when his team finished 9-1 and tied for first in the conference with Stanford. The teams did not have a head-to-head tie breaker, but the Cardinal had defeated USC who was Oregon’s only loss so the conference sent Stanford to the Rose Bowl. In his final two years of 1936 and 1937, Callison finished a combined 6-12-1. Oregon was at the beginning of a stretch of sub-.500 seasons that would not end until 1947.

The 1947 team was led by new head coach Jim Aiken and finished second in the conference at 7-3 overall. The next season, the Webfoots were undefeated in the conference and 9-2 overall, tying Cal for the conference title. As was custom, the PCC held a vote to see which school would be sent to the Rose Bowl. With six member schools in the northwest and only four in California, it was expected that Oregon would be the conference representative. The events that transpired marked the beginning of a now bitter rivalry as Washington convinced Montana to vote against Oregon, sending Cal to play Northwestern in the Rose Bowl. Oregon, led by Norm Van Brocklin and John McKay, was then sent to play in the Cotton Bowl against the Doak Walker led SMU Mustangs. After losing the Cotton Bowl, Aiken fell back below .500 for his final two seasons, bottoming out with a 1-9 finish in 1950. Aiken then retired and entered the lumber industry.

For the 1951 season, Oregon hired Len Casanova. Casanova led the Ducks for 16 years and had 82 victories under his belt by the time he retired after the 1966 season, both of which were program records at the time. In his first few seasons, the Ducks remained below .500, but gradually improved each year until reaching a 6-4 record in 1954. From there, the Ducks regularly finished around the middle of pack in the conference with the highlight being a conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl following the 1957 season. The 17th ranked Ducks took on the top ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and played a close game until a fourth quarter field goal sealed the 10-7 win for OSU. The next year, the Ducks fell back to the middle of the pack after finishing 4-6. From 1959 through the 1963 season, Oregon competed as an independent after a pay-for-play scandal within the Pacific Coast Conference led to it being disbanded in 1959. California, USC, UCLA and of course, Washington, were the guilty parties involved. During this time, Casanova led the Ducks to bowl appearances in 1960 and 1963. In 1960, Oregon was handed a lopsided loss at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Liberty Bowl and in 1963 Oregon beat the SMU Mustangs in the Sun Bowl.

In 1964, Oregon and Oregon State joined the Athletic Association of Western Universities which would be formally renamed the Pacific-8 Conference in 1968. The first three years in the new conference were Casanova’s last as head coach of the Ducks. After retiring in 1966, he served as the university’s Athletic Director until 1970 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

After Casanova retired, Oregon entered a long and bleak period that included 17 losing seasons compared to just eight winning seasons and two .500 seasons from 1967 to 1993. Jerry Frei was the first coach in this span and had been a long time assistant under Casanova. Frei lasted five seasons before resigning in the wake of a dispute with Athletic Director Norv Ritchey who wanted Frei to fire assistants to appease boosters of the program. Frei was replaced by Dick Enright for the 1972 season, but only lasted two years as Norv Ritchey terminated the contract following a 2-9 finish in 1973. Interestingly, Enright later coached at Capistrano Valley High School and helped develop Todd Marinovich, son of his friend and USC alum, Marv Marinovich. Following Enright’s dismissal, Don Read was hired for the 1974 season. Read lasted just one season more than Enright and finished with an overall record of 9-24.

In 1977 Oregon finally managed to hire a coach who would last longer than just a few seasons and would go on to break Casanova’s records of program wins and years leading the program. The namesake of the current field, Rich Brooks, had many unremarkable years, but he managed to slowly build the program up, leading it out of The Suffering and setting it up for the successes we have enjoyed for the past 20+ years. In 1978, the conference added Arizona and Arizona State and officially became the Pacific-10 conference. In 1979, Brooks led the team to their first winning season in nine years which he followed up with a 6-3-2 finish in 1980. After going 12-23-2 from 1981 to 1983, Brooks’ teams then went an even 28-28 over the next five seasons. In 1989 and 1990, Brooks finished 8-4 for the first eight-win seasons since 1963 and first ever consecutive eight-win seasons. Those seasons also marked the first bowl appearances since the 1963 Sun Bowl. In 1989 Oregon beat Tulsa in the Independence Bowl and in 1990, they lost the Freedom Bowl to Colorado State. In 1991, the Ducks slipped to 3-8, but rebounded to 6-6 in 1992 after losing to Wake Forest in the Independence Bowl. Another down year in 1993 led to the year that every Duck fan knows all too well.

In Rich Brooks’ final year as head coach, the Ducks got off to a rough start as the team took a 2-2 record into a matchup against the 19th ranked USC Trojans in Los Angeles. The Ducks pulled off a 22-7 victory, only to lose to the 17th ranked WSU Cougars in Pullman the next week. After bouncing back with a victory over Cal, the Ducks were sitting at 4-3 with a home matchup against the ninth ranked Huskies. Washington was 5-1 and earlier in the season had snapped the University of Miami’s 58 game home winning streak. With about one minute remaining in the fourth quarter and the Ducks leading 24-20, UW quarterback Damon Huard led the Huskies to the Oregon 9-yard line and was looking for the go-ahead score. Receiver Dave Janoski ran a five-yard out route with freshman cornerback Kenny Wheaton a step behind him. When Huard threw the ball to Janoski, Wheaton stepped in front of the pass on the three yard line and the rest is history. Jerry Allen’s play-by-play during his radio broadcast was as iconic and memorable as the event itself:

Huard’s gonna go back to throw the ball, set up, looks, throws toward the corner of the endzone, it is INTERCEPTED! INTERCEPTED! THE DUCKS HAVE THE BALL! DOWN TO THE 35! THE 40! KENNY WHEATON IS GONNA SCORE! KENNY WHEATON IS GONNA SCORE! 20! THE 10! TOUCHDOWN! KENNY WHEATON! ON THE INTERCEPTION! THE MOST IMPROBABLE FINISH TO THE FOOTBALL GAME!

Oregon won their remaining regular season games to finish 9-4 overall and won the conference title outright. They played for their first Rose Bowl since the 1957 season, which they lost to the Joe Paterno led Penn State Nittany Lions. Brooks left the program after the 1994 season to take over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams and Oregon promoted the Offensive Coordinator, Mike Bellotti as his replacement.

Bellotti led the Ducks to a 9-3 finish in his first season as head coach with an ugly loss in the Cotton Bowl to the Colorado Buffaloes. In 1996, the team regressed to 6-5 and did not receive a bowl invitation. Then in 1997, Oregon began a trend where they improved their record by one win each season through 2001. In 2000, the Ducks shared the conference crown with rivals Washington and Oregon State. Washington was selected for the Rose Bowl and the Beavers received an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl which left Oregon matched against number 12 Texas in the Holiday Bowl. The final 10-2 record was the first ten-win season in program history. In 2001, the Ducks finished the regular season with just one loss and won the conference outright. In typical BCS controversy, top-ranked Miami played number four Nebraska for the National Championship. Oregon was ranked number two by the AP and Colorado (who had just dismantled Nebraska 62-36 to end the regular season) was ranked number three. Oregon and Colorado played each other in the Fiesta Bowl, which Oregon handily won 38-16. The Ducks then went 7-6 and 8-5 in the next two seasons, each with a bowl game loss. In 2004, Oregon finished below .500 at 5-6 for the first time since 1993. The next year, they greatly rebounded by finishing 10-2, losing the Holiday Bowl to the Oklahoma Sooners. In 2006 the Ducks finished 7-6 with a wild and controversial win at home over Oklahoma and an ugly loss to BYU in the Vegas Bowl while wearing hideous grellow helmets.

Then came 2007. The year Heisman Trophy winner Dennis Dixon led the one loss Ducks to a National Title over the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Well, at least that’s how I remember it. No, in the year of what could have been, the Ducks climbed all the way to number two in the nation behind Heisman front-runner Dennis Dixon. The season had already seen the Duck fight the Houston Cougar mascot, the Ducks blew out the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor and had consecutive wins over top-10 teams in beating USC and Arizona State at Autzen AND ESPN’s College Gameday came to Eugene TWICE. Then, the curse of number 2 struck the Ducks as it had many other teams already. Dixon tore his ACL, and the Ducks lost their last three games of the season before a surprisingly dominant victory over Jim Leavitt’s South Florida team in the Sun Bowl.

In 2008, Bellotti’s final year as head coach, the Ducks finished the season 10-3 with a victory over Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl. After the season, he resigned to become the Athletic Director and passed the head coaching duties to Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly. Belloti’s 116 wins remain the most in program history.

The man who brought the spread offense to the Ducks, changed not only the program he led, but also the entire landscape of college football. After an incredibly rough start to the 2009 season that included a bad loss to Boise State, the ensuing Blount-Force Trauma and close wins over Purdue and Utah, the Ducks dominated a home contest over the sixth ranked Cal Bears. They won seven of their eight remaining games, won the conference outright and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season, which they ultimately lost to Ohio State. In 2010 the Ducks started the season ranked number 11 and managed to finish the regular season undefeated and earned a number one ranking for the first time in program history. In the national championship game against the Auburn Tigers, the Ducks managed to tie the game at 19-19 with less than three minutes remaining. On Auburn’s ensuing drive, the Tigers managed to drive down the field to kick the winning field goal as time expired. Obviously, the Tigers never should have entered field goal range since RB Michael Dryer was tackled AND WAS DOWN at the Auburn 46 yard line! After the 2010 season, Colorado and Utah joined the conference and the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 as it is today.

In 2011, Oregon finished the season with their second consecutive twelve win season and won the first ever Pac-12 championship game. The conference title sent the Ducks to their second Rose Bowl in three years and third consecutive BCS bowl game. The Ducks showed up in glorious chrome winged helmets and beat the Wisconsin Badgers to claim their first Rose Bowl victory since 1916. In 2012, another year of what could have been, Oregon finished with their third straight 12-win season and fourth straight BCS bowl game when they were invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl to take on the Kansas State Wildcats. The Ducks decisively won 35-17 behind redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. After the season, Chip bolted for the NFL to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Ducks again promoted an offensive coordinator.

The beginning of the end. For the 2013 season, Mark Helfrich was announced as the next head coach of the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks started the season 8-0 before losing a close game in Palo Alto. A rebound victory over Utah was then followed up with a loss at unranked Arizona. This marked the first loss to an unranked team since the 2008 season. The Ducks would go on to defeat Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl. In 2014, the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff, Oregon won their first four games, reaching number two in the rankings before losing to unranked Arizona for the second straight year. The Ducks won their remaining regular season games, including a rematch against the Wildcats in the conference title game. Oregon unleashed their revenge to the tune of a 51-13 victory and was set to face reigning national champion Florida State in the first round of the playoff at the Rose Bowl, but not before Marcus Mariota became the first player in program history to win the Heisman Trophy. Oregon proved to be too big, strong, fast and generally athletic for the Seminoles to handle in a game that “could have gone either way if we’re bein’ honest wif ourselfs”. The Ducks’ dominant 59-20 victory led to a matchup against Ohio State for the national championship. Sadly, the Ducks had no answer for Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State cruised to a 42-20 victory.

2015. A number seven preseason ranking. A 3-3 start that included a 62-20 shellacking at the hands of the Utah Utes (insert My Cousin Vinny joke here). The Ducks were unranked in the first time in what seemed like forever, had a defense that was getting gashed by inferior opponents and were heading to Seattle to take on the Huskies with an 11-win streak on the line. So what did the Ducks do? They won their remaining six games, including their 12th straight over Washington to finish the regular season 9-3. It is worth mentioning that they did give up a TON of points in the process. Oregon went on to play TCU in the Alamo Bowl and took a 31-0 lead in halftime. The game had gotten so ugly, that Gary Patterson and the TCU Horned Frogs came out of the locker room waiving white flags declaring that the game would be forfeited right then and there. Oregon totally didn’t give up a 31 point lead, allowing TCU to score on all nine second half possessions and then lose in the third overtime. Nope.

2016. Nothing remarkable happened. Mark Helfrich was fired. End of story.

Following the 2016 dumpster fire, Oregon hired Willie Taggart away from South Florida to get the program back to being competitive in the conference and nationally. Taggart responded by hiring an all-star crew of assistants and signing a top-20 recruiting class. Now five weeks into his first season in Eugene, Taggart has the Ducks sitting at 4-1 with a grueling five game stretch that starts tomorrow afternoon. Things definitely seem to be trending up under Taggart, but only time will tell if he can get the Ducks back to an elite status.

Fan Q & A

For the following section, I would like to thank my friend Jason for answering my questions and giving his take at our season. He is probably the most knowledgeable sports fan that I know.

What win total would constitute a successful season? What bowl game?

This is a tough one… expectations need to be tempered, but there is a TON to be excited about. Taggart has been killing it in just about every aspect since his arrival and it is almost impossible to think the defense won't improve at least a little bit under Jim Leavitt and his stellar team of assistants. Last season was a disaster, no question, but the Ducks also lost on the road to a top-25 Nebraska team by just 3 points, at home to a top-25 Colorado team by just 3 points, on the road in OT to Cal by just 3 points, and won at Utah in spectacular fashion. The team wasn't nearly as bad as the record indicated, and the injury bug bit the Ducks worse than I have seen in years. So, what would make a successful season? I will say 8 wins. That doesn't mean 6 wouldn't be acceptable, but the goal at Oregon is no longer to simply make a bowl game. 6-6 or 7-5 would do, but I think "success" would be 8-4 or better. And realistically, I could see this Oregon team finishing anywhere from 6-6 to 10-2. The schedule is favorable and with even slight defensive improvement it isn't hard to envision this team winning a bunch of games in shootouts. As for the bowl game, those are honestly irrelevant if they aren't part of the New Years Six. Just another game.

What win total would constitute a failed season? What bowl game?

Anything less than 6 wins. Consecutive seasons with no bowl would be a failure and would probably slow down Taggart's recruiting momentum as well. People are expective a quick bounce back from Oregon and the recruits are included in that. Taggart is selling it well and it really is tough to envision this team not winning at least 6 games, but there are a ton of unknowns.

What are you most optimistic about this coming season?

The running game and offensive line. The Ducks return 4 sophomores who started on the OL as freshman last year, as well as Tyrell Crosby. This could realistically be one of the best OL's in the PAC-12 under new coach Mario Cristobal who has developed some maulers at Alabama. Then you have Royce Freeman, Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin running behind them... I'd challenge anyone to name a better backfield in the entire country. The Ducks will have the luxury of a young AND experienced OL blocking for arguably the best running back in the country, and reserves who would each probably be starters if they played elsewhere.

What are you most apprehensive about this season?

Defensive line and receivers/tight ends. No two position groups on the roster have more question marks. The Ducks have Charles Nelson at receiver, but other than that just a lot of talented but unproven guys. Breeland made a couple nice plays at TE last year, but he was more of a big receiver than a true TE, and the depth behind him is nonexistent. On the other side of the ball, the DL has been hit hard by attrition. Maloata, Tei-Kirby, Manu, Reitmeier are all gone for various reasons. Potential impact transfer from Clemson Scott Pagano is reportedly nursing a pre-existing injury and may not be ready for the start of the season. Cumberlander and Hollins have also been nursing injuries from last season all spring/summer. The Ducks may be forced to rely on true freshman Jordan Scott at nose tackle in week 1. He may have impressed coaches in the spring, but having to start a true freshman on the DL from day one is never ideal.

What do you expect to be the toughest game?

At Washington. They will be the best team in the north division and everyone knows Husky Stadium will be rocking when the Ducks come to town. They will be licking their chops to start their own winning streak over Oregon in front of their home crowd. Could be a long night.

What could be a potential trap game?

I'll give you two… at Wyoming in week 3, and at Arizona State the following week. The Ducks should pound Southern Utah at home in the opener, and then the big one with Nebraska will be impossible to overlook. But what if Oregon gets pummeled by the Huskers and all the wind is taken out of the sails by week 2? Or what if Oregon beats Nebraska by 2 touchdowns and has everyone remembering the Chip Kelly days? Wyoming is no slouch and that venue is tough on road teams. Regardless of how the Nebraska game goes I have that circled on my calendar as a potential trap. Then you open PAC-12 play the following week against an ASU team that will be hungry to repay the Ducks for the beatdown they suffered in Autzen last year. You see how things could start to sprial quickly here against teams that theoretically the Ducks should beat with relative ease. The first month of the season will be a big test for Taggart's coaching.

Are there any injury or depth concerns heading into the season?

Of course. There always is with football. If Justin Herbert goes down the Ducks are starting true freshman Braxton Burmeister at QB. What Herbert did last year as a true freshman was an anomaly… no one should feel comfortable if Burmeister is forced into action this year. The receiver position isn't necessarily thin on talent or bodies, but it is VERY thin on experience. An injury to Charles Nelson or Dillon Mitchell would cause great concern. Tight End has virtually zero depth. The DL attrition and depth issues has already been discussed. Yeah... there is plenty of depth/injury concern to go around in Eugene. This team has the potential to surprise the country and win 10 games this year, but even one key injury could change the trajectory of things in a hurry. Taggart needs time to recruit and build things back up. (Figgis note: it’s like he looked into the future regarding these injuries...or jinxed us.)

Who do you think will win each division?

Washington in the North. USC in the South. Boring, but just being honest. It is hard to pick anyone else in either division at this point.

Who will come in last in each division?

Cal in the North. Arizona in the South. Wouldn't be surprised to see those teams each win 3 games or less.

How do you think your in-state rival will finish?

I expect the Beavers to be about on par with last season. 4-8 or 5-7 overall. There is plenty of optimism in Corvallis after knocking off the Ducks to finish the year 4-8 in 2016, but I don't see much to suggest this team will be significantly better this year. In fact, they could be worse. The schedule isn't easy with roadies at WSU, USC and Oregon. And their South division misses aren't exactly favorable (Utah and UCLA), though they could be worse. That being said, there is a legit chance this team starts off 3-0 with Colorado State, Portland State and Minnesota up first. But immediately after that? At WSU, Washington, at USC, Colorado, Stanford... you see how this could go. I'm gonna go with 5-7 for the Beavs though. Wins over Colorado St, Port St, Minnesota, Cal, and Arizona State.

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Arizona

Arizona State

California

Stanford

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Colorado

Washington State

Washington

UCLA

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Oregon State