The Oregon Ducks have become one of the best teams in college football over the last four years under now-former head coach Chip Kelly. When Kelly bolted for the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles, many were left to wonder if he would be taking the Ducks’ run of success with him. So with Oregon fans now turning their critical eye towards offensive coordinator turned head coach Mark Helfrich, how many wins will it take for the regime to be a success in year one?
It will be tough for Helfrich to live up to the ridiculously high expectations that Kelly left behind, and that’s in no way a remark on Helfrich’s ability to coach. Few coaches were as successful over their entire careers as Kelly was in just four years at Oregon. The Ducks won 46 games, an average of 11.5 per season, with three conference championships and four BCS bowl berths, including an appearance in the BCS National Championship and two berths into the Rose Bowl Game.
Those are some big shoes to fill for Helfrich. It doesn’t get any easier with the rest of the Pac 12, particularly the North Division, continuing to improve and gunning for Oregon at the top of the conference. The Stanford Cardinal (winners of the 2012 Pac 12 title), Oregon State Beavers and Washington Huskies are all trending up, and those are the contenders just in Oregon’s own division. Add in the USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils in the South, and the Pac 12 is a mine-field of potential losses against talented upstart teams.
But Helfrich has the benefit of experience and talent on his side. He has spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator under Kelly, learning the ins and outs of the offense from the man who designed it. If anyone would be equipped to carry on the proficiency of Chip Kelly’s offense, it would be Helfrich. Plus, the Ducks return one of the most talented rosters in the conference in 2013, including a pair of Heisman Trophy hopefuls in Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas.
The margin for error is razor thin for Helfrich with a fanbase that has quickly gotten acclimated to winning. Will he be able to weather more than a couple of seasons if he stumbles out of the gate and wins only 10 games? Some Ducks fans may perish at the thought of it. That is the level of expectations waiting for Helfrich as the head coach in Eugene.
Does he have what it takes to rise to the challenge and carry on Oregon’s success?