Photo by Andrew Giesemann
Oregon Football

Getting Back: Relevance Club

January 10, 2019

Full disclosure, I stole this article idea 100-percent from JC Shurburtt of 247Sports/ I have learned as much from Shurburtt through my career as anyone else. And he writes some exceptional pieces now and then that really make you say ‘wow.’ 

Well he wrote another one on Jan. 7 (linked) which I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. In fact I even reached out to him to ask him about Oregon and how he felt they fell into his metaphor.

The premise of what he wrote, if you don’t read it, is talking about getting atop college football’s heirarchy like Alabama and Clemson among others. The way he describes it is there is essentially a club at the top of the stairs you are climbing up to. It’s not a club of merely teams that have won a national title, but teams that are among the elite. While Alabama and Clemson are certainly there, he points out (to me) Tennessee and USC are in there too because of past success at each respective program even though both have been bad for the past few seasons, or more.

Several programs have made the trek up the stairs, knocked on the door and been pushed down the stairs. I would have to say Stanford falls into this category, maybe a Oklahoma State. A few schools that are good every few years but just aren’t the swinging elite. UCLA falls into this category as well.

FWIW, Shurburtt doesn’t think South Carolina is in the ‘club’ just yet but does believe Oregon is. More on that in a bit.

A lot of folks want to argue about being tired of watching Bama and Clemson play for the national title. But the reality is this, if it’s not them, it will just be someone else that is likely in that club. That’s what happens in college football. Once you’re in, you’re in. And you have a much better shot at getting back to that game than everyone else who isn’t in the club. He called it a relevance club which I think accurately depicts it. Not a champions club. 

Oregon’s relevance, or entry, is much newer than a number of other schools. Notre Dame, been in forever. Michigan, been in there forever. USC had some historic runs that keeps them relevant and able to attract top-flight talent. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.

Now Shurburtt says the schools that have struggled but are still in the room, he metaphorically calls them in a corner. I like to think of the room as having rows of seats in it. Sort of like a church. Six rows with the current hot programs in the front rows. Tennessee would be closer to the last row.

Oregon meanwhile in my mind is in the middle. They had a front row seat after knocking through the door in 2010. That’s when Oregon got in. The way I see it, Rich Brooks climbed up the stairs a little, maybe like halfway up, Mike Bellotti got Oregon right at the door and then Chip Kelly judo-kicked his way into the club in his second year. (Coaches Reaction: Who the hell is this new guy? His offense is too fast, it’s unsafe.)

And remember, once you’re in, you’re in.

So while Oregon has only won 11 games in the past two seasons (not counting 2018), they were already in the club. Which means if anyone showed up and rolled up their sleeves, they could recruit. Maybe not at the level of Bama or Clemson or Georgia, but well enough to win. And well enough to stay relevant. 

Enter Mario Cristobal and a fresh 9 win season. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I watched the national championship game Monday night and thought, those teams are so far superior to Oregon at EVERY position, save offensive line, I don’t see anyway Oregon competes with either of them. And I believe that. These early 2019 rankings putting Oregon in the top ten don’t make sense to me. Is it a top 20 team? Probably. Top 10? I’m not buying it. Not yet.

But in his first year I believe Cristobal has been able to move Oregon up a row, possibly even two. So in my metaphor, I think Oregon had been rapidly demoted to the last row, maybe second to last row, but they moved back. Taggart clawed them back up a row, like row three maybe. Cristobal in one year has moved Oregon up a row maybe or like one leg over the seatback about to hop over into row two. Sort of hovering in there. 

Between a highly-ranked recruiting class and piling up 9 wins, some of them ugly, but still 9 wins, Oregon is inching closer to row one. But still not there yet. Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Notre Dame are sort of occupying all the seats in that first row right now. One of them has to get bumped to make room for Oregon.

Meanwhile I see potential at Oregon. Huge potential. Before Larry Scott completely erases all of the conferences reputation, Oregon has to keep fighting. I can never stress enough how importnat recruiting is to any program. Every program. It’s fundamentally necessary to recruit to succeed. 

But there are two parts of recruiting. There is star power and there are developmental guys. And you have to have both on any roster. So some folks look at Alabama and see some random 3-star at the bottom of the commit list and wonder, what the heck is Saban doing? And while it’s nice to have a roster filled with 5-stars, it’s not easily attainable for 99-percent of college football. It’s not even in the scope of being possible. 

For Oregon I don’t see it being possible. They can certainly add more than they have in the past few years, and they are, but you also have to identify some developmental guys and take a chance on your gut. A lot of folks don’t see why Oregon takes a guy like Isaac Townsend in this class. Well look at his size, skill and athleticism. Maybe he pans out, maybe he doesn’t. But if he does, he potentially grows into a 6-foot-7, 250-pound pass rusher the Ducks DESPERATELY need. You take a flier on a kid like that if you trust your gut. 

If Oregon is going to get into that front row, it’s going to take finding ‘Isaac Townsend’ in each class. You just can’t find that kind of length and size out West like you can in the SEC/ACC. (Current examples: Troy Dye, Jordon Scott, Justin Herbert, Ugo Amadi - All 3-stars)

But there is also this. The Pac-12 is not especially strong at the moment. It’s a solid conference, despite what Larry Scott has allowed people to believe, but there really isn’t a dominant star of the conference. Washington was the pride of the conference for a bit, but Oregon seems to have closed the gap, at worst, with them. Stanford is good but not dominant. Wazzu will always be what they are. USC is, well, Clay Helton is still there. Chip Kelly has so much work to do with that UCLA roster he’s going to need time.

So my point is this, if Oregon can continue the current trajectory, the conference is ripe to be dominated. And as long as you don’t ‘beat yourself’ you’ll have a pretty clear path into the college football playoff. And remember, once you’re in that front row, it’s hard to kick you out. 

That’s where this needs to go. That’s the ticket for Oregon right now. It’s not about winning about 2019, it’s about moving forward each year. Row by row.

Maybe 2019 is the year, maybe it isn’t. I’m betting it’s not. I still think Oregon has one more leg to get over and get into row two. I think a strong 2019 season, coupled with another strong recruiting class (2020) can get them to put a leg into that front row. But they will have to fight like hell because nobody else wants to get bucked out of there.

Coaching stability, improved strength program, culture, accountability, recruiting, development, all these things seem to have normalized and/or improved for Oregon this season. 

I don’t know that it’s enough to constitute some of the expectations I’m seeing, but it’s enough to warrant some optimism. 

For example, Dabo Swinney gets to Clemson in 2008. Here are his wins by year until 2015, his first national championship game appearance. (A loss)

2008 - 4 (7 combined with Bowden) (Took over mid-season)

2009 - 9

2010 - 6

2011 - 10

2012 - 11

2013 - 11

2014 - 10

Then Clemson goes from row two into row one.

2015 - 14 (CFP Loss)

2016 - 14 (CFP Win)

2017 - 12

2018 - 15 (CFP Win)

Firmly in row one by now and showing virtually ZERO sign of being removed for the foreseeable future. 

I use Clemson, not Bama, as an example for a reason. I think the Ducks and Tigers have way more similarities than Alabama. I mean the Tide have been in the club for 50+ years. When Nick Saban took over in 2007, he inherited a team that had won 22 games the two seasons prior to his arrival. It’s fricking Alabama. 

Clemson meanwhile has risen much like Oregon did. Taken advantage of a relatively weak conference (ACC) and with some great coaching stability. They only really started to recruit as well as they have the past few seasons to match the success they’ve had. What helped them get there was getting some dudes, some stars, but also finding developmental talent. 

And yes I did call the ACC relatively weak. Miami is down, FSU has Taggart and it’s not the same conference it was 5 years ago. Clemson is built to stay atop of that conference and maintain it’s spot in row one.

A stud at quarterback, great running backs, depth at both lines and length at receiver and defensive back, along with staff continuity and a down conference, Clemson will stay.

Oregon is building towards this, but it takes time and patience. And the latter has been hard for some to come by.

Keep climbing those rows Mario.


Tags: Football, Oregon
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