There is always a concern that a coaching change will lead to a step back for a successful program. So when Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly this offseason, some were skeptical about the Oregon Ducks in 2013. Oregon failed to reclaim the Pac-12 title this season and ended their streak of BCS bowl appearances (despite ranking No. 10 in the country) so many of Helfrich’s critics will feel justified in knocking the first year head coach. If he hopes to salvage the 2013 season and keep it from being a complete disappointment, Oregon’s matchup against the Texas Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl is a must-win game.
The Ducks saw the wheels start to come off of their fast start following their early November loss to the Stanford Cardinal. Marcus Mariota became slowed by a knee injury that kept him from making an impact running the football over the final month of the season, the defense struggled to slow down anybody, some of their marquee players mouthed off about the Rose Bowl being “no big deal,” and then fell completely flat against the Arizona Wildcats in the desert. All of that culminated in their disappointing bowl bid with the Ducks staring at their first three-loss season since 2009.
Whether it is fair or not to Helfrich, the program’s misstep this season will come back to reflect poorly on the coach. It isn’t just the losses on the field that have hurt Oregon this season, but the apparent loss of focus on the little things that have made the Ducks so successful over the last four seasons. If the team comes out flat in the Alamo Bowl against Texas, it will be another knock on Helfrich as he tries to make this program his own going forward.
However, if Oregon wins, it will be an opportunity to regain their focus and create positive momentum moving forward into 2014. With team leaders like Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu announcing their return to Eugene next season, the pieces are in place for the Ducks to have a truly special run next season. But it has to start December 30 with a win over the Longhorns.