There's a week to go in the recruiting chase, and the Ducks are battling for three pivotal players. Six Oregon coaches visited John "Juju" Smith last night, a 6-2, 207 receiver/safety, a five-star recruit coveted by Notre Dame, USC and UCLA, who are pursuing him with equal intensity.
The best mascot in college football hugs the 35th-best coach: Will The Duck offer Mark Helfrich a hug of jubilation or consolation in 2014? It all depends on the close of recruiting and the strength of leadership and vision (Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports.)
The search for badly-needed defensive tackles continues. Oregon has offers out to Trey Lealaimatafao, and junior college transfer Rika Levi. Lealaimatafao is being pursued by Les Miles and LSU, safety Matttrell McGraw deciding between Oregon and Texas A&M. The 350-lb. Levi has an offer in hand from Texas Tech, and made his initial verbal commitment to the Red Raiders. With another tackle, Ratu Mafileo of Honolulu, it comes down to grades. The Ducks are reviewing his transcripts, and if they are deemed adequate, he's likely to visit and commit this weekend.
Kahlil Oliver is expected to commit to Oregon soon, the 2-star safety/linebacker from Meridian, Idaho, a solid athlete who excels in several track events. Players from Montana and Idaho are typically under the radar, and Oliver could develop into a good college player. His high school film shows both good instincts and aggressivenenss, and he's a 3.6 student. Mark Asper and Brandon Bair were similarly unheralded and developed nicely.
The next seven days will either round out Oregon's class or deflate it. With depth on the defensive line a serious issue, the tackles are the most critical. Ideally the Ducks need to bring home at least two. At the moment they've signed 17 commits, none that are ready for the middle of the line.
Meanwhile, cornerback Arrion Springs, a Duck commit since The Opening this summer, has a late visit to home-state Texas.
Michigan State comes to town in seven and half months.
What's a realistic expectation for 2014? The close of recruiting is a big part of the answer.
Fair or not, everything Mark Helfrich achieves or fails to achieve as Oregon head coach will be compared to Chip Kelly, and Kelly was the best coach in Oregon history.
Give the first-year replacement a B in year one. 11-2 with an Alamo Bowl win is explainable in term of a critical late-season injury to Marcus Mariota and the loss of Michael Clay, Dion Jordan, and Kiko Alonso in the middle of the defense.
Even so, the Game 11 loss to Arizona was an alarming development. It had been a long time since a Duck team had looked that flat and unprepared in a game they were favored to win, something that rarely happened in the Chip Kelly era. His teams took care of business against lesser opponents, unfailingly.
Afterward, Helfrich said the loss was "100 percent my fault. I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and which buttons to push," the coach said to the media after the game.
Some fans and even analysts like ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said the team had lost its win-the-day focus. There were charges of laxity in practice and a lack of discipline. Some felt that was reflected in player's statements to the media during November, confessing a lack of interest in Rose Bowl. "It's like, whatever," DeAnthony Thomas said.
After Stanford's week 10 loss to USC, the Ducks were in the driver's seat for the conference championship and The Granddaddy, even mathematically alive for the National Championship Game, but it took a quarter and a half of sloppy, unfocused play to destroy that opportunity.
It's a lesson that the 2014 team should remain committed to all season this fall. Marcus Mariota, Hroniss Grasu and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu did not return to play in another Alamo Bowl.
But the Ducks have big question marks in 2014, beginning with replacing six starters on defense and 5 defensive tackles from last year's rotation. The offense returns 10 or 11 starters from the Alamo Bowl, including 105 starts on the offensive line and the best quarterback in school history. If the defense can figure out how to stop a power running game, they have a chance to be very, very good.
The trouble is, the PAC-12 Conference is better than ever. The league hasn't had an undefeated, unsanctioned champion since Washington in 1991 (USC's 2004 and 2005 teams had wins that were vacated, Oregon lost the NC in 2010-11, 1998 UCLA lost two games out of conference, including the Rose Bowl.
As good as he was, Kelly caught the conference at exactly the right time. USC was reeling from sanctions and then the departure of Pete Carroll. Arizona, Arizona State, Cal and UCLA were in the throes of failed regimes. Now, the PAC-12 has the strongest coaching fraternity it has ever had. The Arizona schools, once an after thought, lead the recruiting rankings.
Kelly's trademark offense was a new thing in 2009, and teams didn't know how to stop it. Now, nine teams in the league run a version of the no-huddle, up-tempo spread, and teams prepare for it year round.
Mark Helfrich isn't the coach Chip Kelly was, and the job is much harder. With road games at UCLA, Utah and Oregon State, with pivotal matchups against Michigan State and Stanford, Mike Leach doggedly transforming the Cougars into a bowl team that upset USC in the Coliseum, everything would have to break right for the Ducks to go undefeated or make the coveted top four in the first year of the college football playoffs.
Everything rarely does.
How Success Distorts Expectations from Probable Reality
I would like to look at the expected final record of Oregon Football next year from a Probability and Statistics point of view. Since I have somewhat of a background in math, and spent many years in the securities profession, I’d like to draw a few parallels to people’s expectations in sports, and (for instance) markets, and how success affects future expectations and prevents realistic expectations, and consequently creates artificial dissatisfaction and bad future outcomes.
Oregon is one of only 11 teams that ended the 2013 season with 2 losses. What are the probabilities of this outcome for all FBS teams? I reviewed the (ESPN) standings for 2013. There are 126 teams. 58 teams ended with 5 losses or fewer. 68 teams ended with 6 or more losses. So the Median number of losses is right around 5 (about ½ are at or above 5 and around ½ are at or below 5…so that’s the median).
15 teams had records of 2 losses or better (12%). 4 teams had a record of 1 loss or better (3%). 1 team had a record of 0 losses, FSU the champ (.8%) or less than 1% of all teams. So a reasonable expectation based on actual results is that your over/under in any given year is 5 losses. 8-5 is the statistical expectation, anything over that exceeds it, anything under that underperforms it, and the numbers support that.
Now this is important. In investing if you don’t understand the statistical benchmark you are measuring against, you can make bad decisions/choices based on a faulty benchmark that you have presupposed. In other words, because your expectations were much higher, due perhaps to past performance, you undervalue that you are beating the market. This is a well known distortion that brokers continually have to caution against. It causes investors to abandon programs that are actually working well for other strategies that may or may not. And it’s all due to faulty expectations that don’t pay attention to the statistical mean.
Oregon last year exceeded the outcome of roughly 90% of the teams it was in a competition pool with. This a fantastic result in any system, but it has distorted expectations toward the upside. Nevertheless, the outcome of each year is always a reset, due to the super complex number of variables to navigate throughout any given year: injuries, suspensions, match-ups, mistakes, and a myriad of other events, choices, performances, etc. We simply don’t know what is going to play out. So what should we EXPECT? A record of 8-5 is the median, so that is a reasonable expectation.
Now people will say, “Well if you don’t set the bar high, you can’t achieve anything!” Well, everyone is trying to go 14-0…everyone…wouldn’t you agree? That’s a universal assumption. The statistics show less than 1% will. I doesn’t mean you don’t hope for that, you do, but you expect the median. This prevents one from attributing disappointment to what is otherwise a wildly successful season.
In addition, this prevents one from making bad choices after the year is over such as “Fire this guy!!”, “Change this scheme completely!!”, “We need a new (fill in the blank)”…or even worse “This 8-5 team totally sucks!!!” Not true…that was the expectation….and is in fact better than most teams.
Having a realistic expectation means you, more likely than not, will be happy with what Oregon achieves next year, and not disappointed, and end up making knee-jerk reactions. Go Ducks!
Looks like we are shaping up to be a Baylor type team for 2014. All offense and a defense potentially worse than 2013. Coach Helfrich has already shown us what kind of a leader he is and it is a little frightening. Where is the discipline? Not only did his players mouth off so did his defensive coordinator and more than once. He needs to change and I wonder if he has it in him. We need Bobby Knight for head coach!!!
@dale Levi made a verbal to the red raiders* not the aggies. 6 ducks coaches showed up at Jujus house!? That's intense. Praying we land this guy. Hope we land rika, ratu, lmfao I cannot listen to this lack of beef garbage any longer! Fast hard finish
3 losses and bowl win. Don't see much more there to predict anything better. I was 1 off last year, though, with the same prediction. Coaching staff just doesn't have the same game face it used to have.
Of course it’s too late to say, “I saw this coming.” about Helfrich taking over as HC. But, hey, I saw this coming as soon as his first press conference was over. The single resonating message to come out of it was that he was NOT, Chip.
He sure proved that. Now, clearly he wasn’t Chip, and the season would have played out even worse if he had tried to put on a Chip Kelly act. Instead he just went through the season, but he always acted like he was standing in until the real guy showed up, He made Mike Riley look like Frank Kush, and whether intentionally or not the players took advantage of the substitute teacher. WTD wasn’t just cute little quip when Kelly was here, it was the SOP, that was drilled into the players. The laziness and comments about the Rose Bowl would not have happened under Chip.
The best thing that Helfrich did as HC, happened before the season started, and lets all hope he can round out this recruiting class in grand style again, because it’s even more crucial now. Marcus and Ifo are back. But if he’s going to let the players run things again at any level the team is really in trouble. Oregon did have an identity, but because the coach never fully identified himself the team lost its focus. Helfrich accepting that it was all his fault is great. But is he taking steps to do anything about it? How well the season goes depends on it.
That is as straight-up honest and insightfully correct an appraisal as can be stated at this juncture. The next 7 days will be critical in filling big Dline holes, while adding a couple more D secondary guys, maybe even a surprise get. Just as critical will be the recruit closing success of the coaches. It'll be a very good class, regardless. But my fingers are crossed for a potentially excellent one that includes Trey, McGraw and a certain surprise.
With their rookie years behind them, I'm very curious to see how Helf and Frost evolve and adjust this year, and what energy, motivation and discipline DP brings as the new DC.
I'm already delighted to see the early recruiting efforts for the 2015 class and sure glad Neal stayed!
You nailed it Dale. Great piece with justifiable concerns. We have a coach but do we have a leader. I believe MH was quoted as saying that he let the players run the practices. If true and I'm not making up something here, that is not leadership. I love my Ducks and always will support them.......(here it comes)......BUT, I am very disappointed in the coaching this year. From MH to SF and I also believe they turned DAT away. There has got to be more to that story other than he was late to practice and seemed to have lost interest. Who's fault is it when your key players start to drift and loose interest........the coach? I was totally wrong how they used DAT this year. Nothing can change my mind on that one. Go Ducks WTD
@dddupree DD, this is a terrific contribution to the discussion, and I would ask your permission to run it as a "Voice of the Fan" post on the front page. I appreciate you sending it.
In response, I have no doubt that your statistical analysis is spot on. What it makes me think of is a favorite coaching tenant of Urban Meyer, "There is no hall of average." While the goal in investing is to make a profit, in sports, it's to win Rose Bowls, conference championships and national titles. The lovely Miss Vicki and I watched "Moneyball" again last night. As Billy Beane, Brad Pitt was driven by the desire to win the last game of the year. Every coach should be.
Wow! That was some post. I wouldn't be satisfied, or happy, with a "median" 8-5 season and I would like to have a show of hands for all those who would be satisfied.
@SonomaDuck SD, I believe they will improve in every phase in 2014, in coaching organization, focus, and execution. Winter is a time for reflection and hard questions. Spring ball will renew our optimism.
@SonomaDuck The defense has a chance to be better. Balducci, Buckner, AA bigger and better on the line. Malone and Hardrick both had good years. Cassell and Coleman can play. The best corner in the country has an entire side of the field on lock. Mattingly and the Robinson clones could be difference makers. Talia is a wildcard I think he's closer to 290lbs and said to be crazy strong. Assuming Springs commits he has a chance to start Day 1. He's one of the top 75 players anywhere. I will say the difficulties of landing the game changing DT sucks, but if we can outscore the opponent who cares if we give up 20-27 pts? Let's face facts this program is based on offense. The defense has never been and never will be Bama, LSU sized behemoths. We just need to add the right kids, create turnovers and outscore the other team.
@lexusduck I knew that, just got the nicknames criss-crossed. Thank you for the correction. Very close on Trey Lealaimatafao. Levi eliminated the Ducks today; he's staying with the Red Raiders.
@rbeugeneb RB, sad to say you've probably nailed the over/under somewhere around 9.5-10 wins. The one thing that might save them is a brilliant year by Mariota and an equally brilliant one by Ifo on the defense.
@Ducko30 Recruiting might be Helfrich's greatest strength as a coach. He's smart, likable and genuine, and achieved a strong close last year. He'll need a equally strong one this time--if he in fact lands Trey L., Ratu and Juju, it's a home run.
Whatever mantra the Ducks live and work by this season, it has to be a real commitment rather than lip service.
@hoboduckWe'll all be watching year two closely:
1. Organization and focus in practice
2. Scott Frost and play calling, execution in the red zone. Effectively utilizing the weapons on offense.
3. Readiness week in and week out
4. Stumbles against lesser teams
5. The close in recruiting
6. Keeping Marcus Mariota healthy and developing him as one of the game's brightest stars
7. Sorting out the rotation at wide receiver
8. A new defensive coordinator, simplicity and effectiveness of scheme, and resolving a serious depth issue on the defensive line.
9. Incorporating the new players and getting the most of the talent.
10. It's Helfrich's team now, his organization, and he has to define its vision and make this a tougher, more focused group. With the opulent facilities, are they focused enough to win against physical teams, or soft, pampered, and too easily satisfied?
11. Replacing three starters in the secondary (not as big a concern, because John Neal has done it successfully for 10 seasons).
@Dale Newton @lexusduck Not only is Levi not visiting and 99% unlikely to be a Duck, it appears Ratu won't be visiting either as the coaches cancelling a trip to Honolulu indicates to me that his grades are an issue. So we're left hoping that Trey is choosing Ducks over LSU. OK, that's (maybe) one excellent DT and two DEs this cycle?
I never ever hear anything about or from DL coach Ron Aiken. When he was hired after 6 years in the NFL and successful stints in college - at the same Dline position - I was very hopeful. Now I feel that waiting until January to make offers (when other schools offered months ago), hoping to grab de-commits, having to suddenly learn about poor academics, poor character or whatever at the 11th hour, is cutting it ridiculously close for the long-known position of greatest need, as underscored so harshly in November.
Am I just anxiously imagining things? Or is there confusion at the top?
@Dale Newton @hoboduck I believe it's going to be the same old story this year. Where's the beef? The O and D Lines will be the answer as to whether we have a good or a great season. We have the talent we need at the skill positions but help is desperately needed in the trenches.
Linebackers would be second on the list of most needed help.
@SonomaDuck Maloata signed today!! 275 lb Stud out of a powerhouse school in Cali. Stole him from SC. So that's now Maloata, Crosby, Jelks, Lousi, Talia added to our line. Pretty darn good so far id say! Lousi and Talia should compete Day 1. Keep the good vibes coming
@duckified @Dale Newton@hoboduckDf, I think the linebacker group WILL be improved this year. Hardrick has another year, Walker was showing improvement at the end, Prevot, Robinson and Mattingly are all future stars, and I think Swain can contribute as a freshman like Michael Clay did. The presence of Mattingly and Swain might allow Derrick Malone to play SAM--he's better suited to be outside, a lightish linebacker at 220. He led the team in tackles but beat himself up getting them.
At tackle, Buckner, Armstead, and Balducci give them a strong nucleus inside, but depth and experience is lacking after that. Tua Talia should come in at 280-290, and he'll help, but probably at strongside defensive end rather than tackle. Ratu will need a redshirt year, probably. Trey L., if he comes, could contribute right away.