Tag Archives: Mark Helfrich

A Look Ahead- The Impending Coaching Carousel

We’re not even halfway through the college football season, but it’s never too early to start talking coaching moves. Especially this year, as we’ve already seen one high-profile head coached fired and the proverbial hot seat growing increasingly warmer for many more.

Here is a look at the status of a few big-time coaches that will likely be on the move during the offseason (or sooner):

Les Miles- Formerly LSU

Miles has already been fired by LSU this season after an 18-13 loss to Auburn. Many saw it coming. Some thought he would be let go last season, and it wasn’t until late in 2015 that Miles was told by Athletic Director Joe Alleva that he would keep his job and head back to LSU in 2016.

Miles is 141-55 during his coaching career, and 8-6 in bowl games. He’s won one national title, two SEC championships, and three SEC Western Division championships.

He’s expressed interest in returning to coaching soon, leaving no doubt that he will be leading a program in 2017.

Tom Herman- Houston

Unlike the rest of the coaches that will be mentioned in this article, Herman has no chance of being fired from his role at Houston.  However, his return is not likely.

After an incredibly successful stint as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, highlighted by a National Championship in 2014, Herman took over the Houston program in 2015. He led the Cougars to a 13-1 record, American Athletic Conference Championship, and Peach Bowl victory in his first season.

The Cougars were upset by Navy Saturday, but that won’t stop big programs from heavily pursuing Herman. He’ll be the hottest commodity on the market when the coaching carousel really gets spinning.

LSU has already inquired.

It’s very likely Herman will take the money and run when this season ends.

Charlie Strong- Texas

Before Strong took over the Texas program in 2014, Longhorns fans had seen just three sub-.500 seasons since 1990.  In his first season, Strong’s Longhorns finished 6-7.

In 2015, 5-7.

After two straight victories to start this season, Texas has lost three straight games while giving up an average of 48 points to the opposition.

Texas is growing impatient.

However, even though Strong is struggling to find success in the Big 12, he did successfully orchestrate the turnaround of a Louisville program that was crumbling under the Steve Kragthorpe era.

Louisville under strong:

2010- 7-6, bowl win

2011- 7-6, Big East Championship

2012- 11-2, Big East Championship, won Sugar Bowl

2013- 12-1, won Russell Athletic Bowl

It has been tough sledding at Texas, but Strong has a very impressive resume and shouldn’t have a problem securing employment if let go by the Longhorns.

Mark Helfrich- Oregon

After two successful years in Eugene to begin his head coaching career, due largely to the foundation Chip Kelly built, Helfrich’s Ducks finished 9-4 in 2015.  That was a tough pill to swallow for a fan base that hadn’t seen a four-loss season since 2007.

What’s more, it’s been a rough start to 2016.  The Ducks are on a four-game losing streak, capped by Saturday’s 70-21 loss to Washington at home.  Oregon hasn’t given up 70 points in a game since 1941.

Thanks to Nike, Oregon is one of the most recognizable brands in college sports, and that brand is in danger of seeing its first losing season in 11 years. Helfrich won’t last if that happens. With the lack of success on his resume, Helfrich likely won’t be in charge of a major program in 2017.

Notable Coaches on a Cooler Hot Seat

Clay Helton, USC– Helton’s Trojans came away with a tough win against 21st ranked Colorado Saturday night, which threw some water on the fire under Helton.  USC’s athletic department hasn’t been sure what direction they’ve been headed the last few seasons, but they need consistency before they will begin to see success.  You never know what will happen in Southern California, though.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame– Kelly has had success almost everywhere he’s gone.  Kelly boasts a 228-84-2 overall record as a head coach, and despite a 2-4 start to this season, he’s 57-27 during his tenure with the Irish.  However, Notre Dame is a proud program with a history of success and if Kelly doesn’t get them back on track, he may be shown the door.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn– Malzahn’s Tigers went 12-2 in 2012 in his first season at the helm.  Since then, Auburn has been in decline, winning eight games in 2013 and seven in 2014. This season the Tigers are off to a 4-2 start, including two big wins against LSU and Mississippi State.  Malzahn may be on the coolest hot seat of them all, but if the Tigers don’t finish this season with seven or eight wins he could be in trouble.

Jim Mora, UCLA– Mora hasn’t had a losing season at UCLA, but he hasn’t been particularly impressive either.  UCLA is another program with a rich history, and after a 3-3 start to this season and the meat of the Pac-12 schedule in front of him, Mora could be in trouble.

Less Notable

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Steve Addazio, Boston College

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

James Franklin, Penn State

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Also, don’t forget, Jim Tressel’s show cause is up this year. He may not want to get back into coaching, but it’s certainly a fun prospect to entertain.

With just over half of the season yet to be played, some of these coaches may fall off this list and some may hop on before the end of the year.  One thing is for certain, though; we are in for a bumpy, wild ride.

Buckle up.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: Neon Tommy, Flickr

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Can the Oregon Ducks Come Out of their Downward Spiral?

Success can be a difficult thing to attain. It can also be a difficult thing to hang onto. If you doubt that, just ask any Oregon Ducks fan right now. There are more Duck fans flying off the bandwagon than there are actual ducks heading south right now. What has happened to the Oregon Ducks?

Depends on who you ask.

I believe it has come down to recruiting and the inability to develop a quarterback, but not Mark Helfrich.

Let’s start with recruiting.

The Ducks don’t recruit the type of player they have in the past. The lack of playmakers on the team is apparent to anybody that watches Oregon games. Players like Marcus Mariota, Ed Dickson, Jonathan Stewart, and Patrick Chung aren’t walking through the doors of the football facilities at Oregon anytime soon.

From 2010-12 the Ducks put together recruiting classes that ranked in the top-15 nationally. Let’s also remember that this was during the Chip Kelly years. The recruiting classes that Kelly put together had an average of 10 players that had a four-star rating attached to their name. Getting that many quality players for three years was bound to make a difference for the Ducks. Here’s the issue though:

Since 2013, the average rank of Oregon’s recruiting classes has been 21st. The amount of four-star players has dipped to seven on average, and the Ducks have only had two five-star players since 2013.

Let’s face the reality that coaches face. Talented players make their coaches look brilliant, but when the talent is running thin, that same coach doesn’t look so amazing anymore.

For the Ducks to get back to what the Ducks were a few seasons ago, they have to hit the recruiting trail harder. Oregon has to sell the University of Oregon much better. The mistake I think the Ducks make is that the their coaches believe that players are just lining up to come to Eugene. They are not lining up anymore. Not that they really were.

Oregon is not Ohio State or Alabama.

Secondly, since Marcus Mariota took his Heisman Trophy playmaking skills to the NFL, the Ducks haven’t had any consistency at the quarterback position. It’s hard to replace a legend at a school, but you need to at least have a plan in place to find someone to fill that role.

The logical choice may have been Jeff Lockie, but he came in and looked like he had never played football before. He was dreadful. Vernon Adams Jr, a graduate transfer, came from Eastern Washington University and played pretty well, but injuries hurt Adam’s overall effectiveness with the Ducks.

You would think the Oregon coaching staff would have a redshirt-freshman who might be able to take over the offense for the next few seasons.

Nope.

Oregon went fishing in the graduate transfer waters again, bringing Dakota Prukop up from the depths of Montana State. What has he provided?

Well, Prukop hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t horrible either. In effect, he has been a game manager. Prukop isn’t throwing for an insane amount of yards per game, but he’s not Jeff Lockie either.

With Oregon’s recent struggles, some have questioned whether or not Prukop can stay in his starting role. Some media types and fans want the Ducks to see what freshman Justin Herbert can do.

The most popular player on the team is always the back-up quarterback. However, Herbert has not taken any meaningful snaps and people want this young kid thrown out onto the field against the Husky defense this weekend? If you do that you risk his confidence being shattered into a thousand pieces. The Washington defense is nothing to take lightly. Put Dakota Prukop out there. It’s the smart move to make, Oregon.

Lastly, the coaching always comes under fire when things don’t go well. Especially considering the fragile mental state of most Oregon fans. The program has not been relevant for long, but the program acts like they have been around forever. This little downturn with their win/loss record is a reminder that you have to work hard to keep the talent coming.

Should Mark Helfrich be fired?

No.

Who do the Ducks think will come to Eugene? Not Les Miles or Tom Herman. Mark Helfrich is not Urban Meyer or Nick Saban, but those type of elite coaches are the exception, not the rule. I don’t see a better candidate available for this program.

The Oregon program has always wanted their football coach to represent the school in a classy way, positively represent the state of Oregon, and to conduct his life with integrity. To anybody outside the state of Oregon that may be hard to understand, but that is how it’s always been. Mark Helfrich does those things.

This is Helfrich’s first season of losing and now people want him gone. You want to fire a coach with a 35-11 record? That translates to a 76% win percentage. Yeah, that makes lousy sense. The tendency to have these knee jerk reactions is a symptom of social media. A quick fix is not going to change anything for Oregon. Helfrich knows the game and he relates to his players well. Helfrich is the guy for this football program.

You know what changes things for football teams? Talent. Recruit playmakers, Oregon. You got great talent to come to the little town of Eugene before. You can do it again.

Image: Courtesy of Mike Wilson

Email Mike at mike (dot) wilson (at) campuspressbox (dot) com or follow Mike on Twitter @pigskinopinion

Mark Helfrich Is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis

These days, the only thing more aflame than Oregon’s uniforms is coach Mark Helfrich’s hot seat.

Just two seasons after finishing runners-up in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ducks stare down the barrel of extending a three-game losing streak to four in this week’s matchup against the #5 Washington Huskies. They’re allowing 210 rushing yards per game, they’re the sixth-most penalized team in college football, and they’re endangering their shot at earning a bowl invitation.

How have Oregon fans responded? By launching a GoFundMe page to bankroll Helfrich’s massive buyout.

Have faith Oregon fans. At the time of this writing, there’s only $10,999,790 left to go.

To his credit, Helfrich isn’t making any excuses. “Anything that’s bad in this program is my responsibility,” he insisted after a disappointing loss to Nebraska. “Anything you think of that’s bad is my fault.” Don’t get me wrong- that degree of integrity and accountability in a head coach is truly admirable. I like Mark Helfrich. Maybe he doesn’t know a lick about how to play defense (or how to choose a defensive coordinator), but Mark Helfrich is still a quality individual.

Except, quality individuals make awful head coaches. As far as I can tell, that’s the college football reality we live in. Show me a coach with 409 career wins, and I’ll show you someone who reprehensibly covered the tracks of a child rapist. Oh, is it too soon for those questionable Joe Paterno references? Apparently, it isn’t too soon for Penn State to roll out the red carpet in questionably honoring him.

Also, I’m almost certain one of the top five coaches in college football spends his Sundays posterizing middle schoolers at the local YMCA. Is that coach Jim Harbaugh? The world may never know.

Enabling sexual assault. Committing blatant recruiting violations. Hiring coaches recovering from alcoholism. That’s the kind of college-football-isn’t-supposed-to-be-fun mentality you need to coach in college football. Mark Helfrich lacks that mentality. Mark Helfrich looks more like Kermit the Frog than somebody willing to drown a litter of puppies to secure a five-star recruit. When I see Jimbo Fisher, I see a man who would trample a sea of helpless baby orangutans just to re-polish the encased ACC Championship trophies perched so prominently atop his mantle.

Helfrich is clearly more understated than his mentor and predecessor, and while that can have its benefits, it doesn’t help him in either recruiting or developing players and assistant coaches. Helfrich earned his reputation under Chip Kelly by tutoring a number of high-skill quarterbacks, including, most notably, Marcus Mariota. Truth be told, Chip Kelly and Scott Frost (currently at UCF) deserve an enormous amount of the credit assigned to Helfrich. As luck would have it, both men have surfaced in coaching carousel discussions surrounding a potential Helfrich departure.

Helfrich is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis. The latter halves of the comparison each continued onto questionable coaching careers in the NFL. The former half failed to fill the shoes of their coaching mentors. The University of Miami has finally left a downward spiral triggered by inept coaching. If the Ducks don’t act fast, now may be only the beginning of that spiral.

Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti built the Oregon program to stardom in the previous two decades, yet a decision to stand pat with an average coach in Helfrich threatens every last ounce of that stardom. The Ducks are currently trending away from a winning season and trending away from the offensive firepower that led them to a national championship. A handful of graduate transfers at quarterback have kept the program momentarily afloat, but in a matter of years, the full incompetence of the Helfrich regime will become fully exposed.

And by then, it’ll be too late.

Oregon tried and failed to maintain operations in-house. It’s time for the athletic department to expand the coaching search beyond the boundaries of Eugene- and whatever the hell they call that offense- to bring in an regularly-credentialed asshole with some know-how. If the Ducks waste the 2017 season with a proven lost cause at the helm, who knows whether the former glory of the Oregon program can ever be fully salvaged.

Then again, at least they’ll always have those jerseys.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

Pac-12 Football Media Days

A media day can be an interesting thing to attend or it can digress into a couple days of coach and player speak. Coaches know what they want the media to know and the players have been told what to focus on in their interviews. This was certainly the case here in Hollywood, California for the Pac-12 Football Media Days.

State of the Conference

The Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood began with a “state of the conference” speech from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Will Scott get hammered on the conference’s television contract, Directv, or nine-game schedule?

Not really.

Larry Scott discussed, with pride, the amount of athletes going to the Rio Olympics from the conference. He also was boastful about the new venture with Twitter which will expand their streaming capabilities and give fans of the Pac-12 something new to use when looking for highlights of their favorite Pac-12 team. There will also be more technology streaming with Facebook Live and putting all 12 conference teams on a conference YouTube channel. It’s obvious that they are taking to technology advances and trying to use it to their advantage to bring in more Pac-12 fans.

With Silicon Valley being physically in the lay of the conference, the Pac-12 should be doing what it is doing with technology. It’s an absolute no-brainer for the conference and for their fans.

Once Larry Scott was finished it was onto the run of coaches for this first day of Pac-12 Football Media Days.

Arizona Wildcats

Rich Rodriguez was in the leadoff position and was still in vacation mode when he took the microphone.

“I’d rather still be on vacation for another week than be here. Let’s get this rolling,” Rodriguez quipped.

One of the focuses for Arizona is to keep quarterback Anu Solomon healthy and to get more consistency from him. When asked, Rich Rodriguez agreed.

“Anu is getting better but we need more consistency from him and we are also going to put more responsibility on him this season,” Rodriquez stated.

California Golden Bears

Next up was California head coach Sonny Dykes.

Dykes seemed most pleased with his players raising their grades on the APR of the team than anything. Which, in and of itself, is a great thing to hear from a major college football coach these days.

Dykes mentioned that they have to overcome losing the talented Jared Goff. He mentioned that quarterback position is still open and will continue to be through the first week or two of camp. His staff will make a decision on the position around then.

It might have been kind of tough for Sonny Dykes to follow a gregarious guy in Rich Rodriguez and be the guy before Clayton Helton of USC.

USC Trojans

Clay Helton took to the microphone and it seemed like all of the media was upon him. It was like sharks circling their prey.

One thing you get real quick about Helton is that when you listen to him speak, you get a sense that he wants to be on the field playing. I certainly would want to be a young player at USC playing for him.

Being a part of USC means you have to come to work every day because of the amount of talent that is seeping from the program.

“You come to USC to compete. We play in a playoff system world. You’re building your resume when you come to USC.” Helton said.

When asked about the pressures of being at USC, he simply said he will gladly take it.

“If you don’t want the pressure, don’t take the job,” Helton told the hordes of reporters surrounding him.

Like many other conference schools, he is dealing with a quarterback issue between Max Browne and Sam Darnold. According to Helton, it’s a very open competition right now and won’t be decided until the last couple weeks of fall camp.

Oregon Ducks

“Win the day” is the saying at Oregon, but can they win the conference? Can they win their division? Many people believe its Stanford’s conference this year, yet head coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t seem to care.

“We have to worry about watching enough film to have a good practice and game. We don’t worry about rankings. It’s not our focus,” Helfrich explained.

The Ducks have a quarterback battle going on as well. Helfrich still calls it an open competition, however, I still think it’ll be Dakota Prukop winning the starting position.

Washington State Cougars

Mike Leach is probably the most entertaining coach of this day. Usually the coach has some opening remarks for the assembled media, but not Leach.

“If you know me at all, you know I don’t do opening remarks. Let’s get this thing rolling,” Leach said.

He is just a guy who speaks his mind, whether or not the media or fans like it. He doesn’t care.

Leach has quarterback Luke Falk coming back and when asked about what he needs to see out of Falk this year, the answer was simple.

“Consistency. He’s not a guy that has a glaring weakness anywhere, but consistency is needed,” Leach said.

The Cougars will be challenging everybody this year and could even be considered a dark horse in the division. With a talented quarterback and guys at the skill positions who are threats, Leach could lead this team to something special.

Utah Utes

Kyle Whittingham of Utah was the last to appear on the media stage. He lost Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker to graduation and the NFL, so those positions are a concern.

“We got to get the quarterback position question resolved. It’ll be an open competition entering fall camp,” Whittingham explained.

Whittingham likes how his team has gradually got better every year they have been in the Pac-12 and he doesn’t expect that to change.

I don’t expect that to change either. If ever there was guy to weather a big change in his football program, it is certainly Kyle Whittingham.

Image: Google

Pac-12 Coaching Hot Seats for the 2016 Season

The Pac-12 football schedule is a brutal one for it’s coaches. The conference schedule doesn’t really allow for any team to take a “week off” in terms of preparation because any team can be any team on any given Saturday. Besides the bye weeks, there are no weeks off for coaches and their teams due to the great competition.

The toll this competition takes on coaches is immense. It creates a precarious job situation for them because the pressure to win is always present. With that said, what are the Pac-12 coaching hot seats for 2016. Let’s take a look.

Rich Rodriguez

How close was Coach Rodriguez to leaving the University of Arizona last winter? I would say pretty close. The job offer from South Carolina was real and was for about $1.3 million more than he makes from the Wildcats. So, why would the seat be hot for him?

Well, he is coming off a year in which his program underperformed. Arizona won the Pac-12 South division in 2014, with a little help from UCLA, but wasn’t even close to winning the division in 2015.

Injuries to Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright III hindered the team for a good portion of the season. Not having a ton of experience on their second string hindered what the Wildcats could do on the field. It didn’t happen for the Wildcats.

That speaks to his recruiting job at Arizona. Rodriguez isn’t exactly getting the results out of the guys he has recruited to Arizona. Can he turn this trend around? It remains to be seen and I have my doubts due to my belief that his heart is at Arizona for the long-term.

I don’t think his seat his hot. It’s more of a warm seat than anything, but he certainly has something to prove in 2016.

Rodriguez has to show the fans that there is something to be excited about when they come to watch the Wildcats. There isn’t any excitement around the program coming into next year and that can be a very difficult thing to change, especially in the Pac-12.

I’m not sure if he senses this, but if he is already sniffing around at other jobs, another sub-par season at Arizona just may seal his fate with Wildcat Nation.

Todd Graham

Arizona State is bit of an enigma to many people because it should be a school that is easy to recruit to due to its great weather and shall we say, pretty people. However, one thing has severely lacked in the last 20 years or so: consistent winning. Winning does cure many ills with a program and ASU just has not had it.

Todd Graham comes in with his no nonsense discipline and changes the culture of the program after Dennis Erickson nearly left it in shambles. With a sub-par season in 2015, the Sun Devil faithful are looking at the program with a bit of skepticism. The Sun Devils ended last season with a thud by getting beat by West Virginia in the  Cactus Bowl held in Phoenix.  They were beat in their own backyard. It was not a good look for the program and it put them at 6-7 for the year.

The fans and administration want a return to what the program was trending toward at the end of 2014. The Sun Devils ended that year 10-3, and a bowl game win over a much-improved Duke program had Arizona State fans thinking that a possible playoff berth was in order.

Nope. It all came crashing down last year.

Graham has to right the ship to keep the heat off of him and his revamped staff. There were many changes to his staff last season and he has to get his staff all on the same page with what their goals will be, or 2016 could be even worse for the Sun Devil program.

Mark Helfrich

Is the run of winning big over for the Ducks? Many people are asking that question about mighty Oregon and they are turning their eyes right at Mark Helfrich.

The home-state guy who took over the program from Chip Kelly has certainly had some success. His Ducks made the first ever College Football Playoff. He had a Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota. I believe he is a good coach, but he’s no Chip Kelly.

For as much hate as Chip Kelly took from the Oregon faithful over his lack of kissing the fans’ backsides, he did what no other coach has been able to do at Oregon. Win and win big. He developed players, especially quarterbacks, and that is something people are starting to question about Helfrich.

For two straight years, the Ducks have gone fishing into the lower division school pond to get their starting quarterback. Last year it was Vernon Adams. This year it’s Dakota Prukop.

Is Helfrich going to be able to maintain the level of expectations at Oregon by doing this? I don’t think so.

Oregon Duck fans are a fickle bunch and when things appear to be headed down they get real impatient with the coaches. They will voice displeasure loudly and repeatedly in any forum they can use.

Helfrich’s seat is not boiling hot, but it is certainly toasty.

With last season’s bowl game disaster against TCU still fresh in everybody’s mind, Coach Helfrich has to have his Ducks come out of the gate like gangbusters in 2016 and have some very dominating wins. Otherwise, his toasty seat becomes hot.

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Links: Players to Watch for in 2016

Every season there are a handful of players to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 and this year is no different. The following list is of players that I believe will have a great impact on how their particular team does during the 2016 season. The difference between teams winning and losing will be directly related to how these particular players perform during the season, so let’s take a look.

Royce Freeman

The Rolls Royce for the Oregon Ducks has certainly made his impression upon the Pac-12 Conference in his short career, but can he handle the load of the offense until Dakota Prukop feels like he has control of things with the fast-break Oregon offense?

Freeman is a freight train out of the backfield at 5’11”, 230lbs and is one of those running backs that loves contact. He does not run out of bounds, he lowers his shoulder to get those extra tough yards. During the past two seasons he has run for 3,201 yards on 535 carries and it begs the question what he can do to improve upon those gaudy stats?

“I don’t know, rush for 2,000 yards, score 30 touchdowns. He’s more seasoned. We expect big things from him.” Said Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell.

Freeman is trying to keep himself out of the limelight, but that will be virtually impossible to do based on his past success. Freeman is one of those players that I would certainly pay to see live because of the way he plays the game. He’s a team player and more worried about getting the win than getting personal statistics.

In a game with Arizona State last season, he only had 15 carries and finished with 112 yards rushing, but it was attitude after the triple overtime win that tells you all you need to know about him.

“I was just more focused on pass protection and things like that. It’s cool. We have other people that can go out and make plays.” Said Freeman after the Sun Devil game.

Keep your eye on this player, he deserves some of the Heisman talk that he is getting and his approach to the game says more about him as a player than his actual stats do.

Daryl Garretson

The Oregon State Beavers are looking to pick themselves up off the mat after a dismal two-win season in 2015. Last season the Beavers had a young, athletic, inexperienced quarterback at the helm.

This year?

They have Daryl Garretson, a junior transfer student from Utah State who takes over the Oregon State offense. The offense will look pretty familiar to him since he played for Beaver offensive coordinator, Kevin McGiven, at Utah State.

What does Garretson bring to the table?

He will bring a starter’s mentality to the huddle for the Beavers. By this I mean, he knows the offense, can check out of a play and get to a better one, he has confidence because he has started in college before, and he brings a certain amount of swag to the team that was lacking last season.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Beavers are winning the Pac-12 North or anything, but this does mean that they should be in more games in 2016 than they ever were in 2015. Watch for Garretson to bring a more competitive vibe to the Beavers and hopefully that translates to more wins for Oregon State.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a player that people forget about in the Pac-12 because of recent injuries, but he can change the fortunes of the Arizona Wildcats.

Wilson has rushed 2,100 yards on 369 carries so far in his short career at Arizona. In his freshman year he took the Pac-12 by storm, rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season he was slowed down by the injury bug and only managed 725 yards.

Unfortunately for Nick Wilson he has gained the reputation of a player that is not all that durable. Whether that is a fair label or not is up for discussion with many people. It’s something that will dog Wilson until he shows he can stay healthy for entire season or more.

How will the coaching staff use Wilson this year? That is the million dollar question.

If you take a look at his first two years you will see the coaching staff did over-use Wilson in terms of how much of the offense he was responsible for from the running back position.

During his freshman year, he was carrying the ball approximately 64% of the time which is not too crazy considering he is the number one running back for the Wildcats. However, when you look a little deeper you will see that in the final six games, Wilson’s usage as a running back jumped up to 84%. That is over-using a good running back and that is putting too much mileage on young legs.

If he was an Alabama running back, this would be about normal for how Coach Saban abuses his running backs, but to keep a running back healthy and viable in the Pac-12 you can’t do that.

If Wilson stays healthy, and the coaching staff figures out how to use him so they maximize his talent, then the Wildcats can have a more successful season in 2016.

Jake Browning

Jake who? That is what many of you are thinking I am sure, but keep this name in your head. Jake Browning is a talented young quarterback who has Washington Husky fans thinking big things in 2016.

The fans may be thinking big, but it’s what head coach Chris Peterson saw during the spring practices that has him thinking positive thoughts about Browning.

I think Jake has done a nice job of taking the next step. I think he has improved, it’s all subtle stuff. It’s his pocket presence, it’s his stride-point accuracy, the ball coming out a little quicker.” Peterson said in an interview with a Seattle radio station.

As a true freshman in 2015 Browning came on the scene and ended up with 2,995 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and led the Huskies to a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi.

Browning brings a tough attitude to the huddle, mobility, and an arm that threatens the secondary of just about any team. That tough, perfectionist attitude of his has certainly been seen by his teammates.

“The guy hates losing. The only thing on his mind is winning.” Said Coleman Shelton, an offensive lineman for Washington.

Jake Browning is a player who wants to improve every year and when he doesn’t live up to his expectations he takes it very personally. In a game against Arizona State last season, the Huskies totally collapsed and gave the Sun Devils a win. More importantly, it was Browning who gave the win away to Arizona State with three fourth-quarter interceptions. Browning gave a simple response to all the questions being asked of him in the post-game press conference.

“I gotta improve.” Browning said after the Sun Devil game.

When the 2016 season gets rolling for the Huskies look for Browning to put the team on his back and put the improvements he has made during the spring together to help the Huskies make a run at the Pac-12 North title. Watch out Oregon, the Huskies may have just turned the corner and they are setting their eyes on you.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Links: What’s Happening in the Pac-12

Being a fan and writer of Pac-12 football there are so many things that are happening on a daily basis that it is beneficial to keep you, the fans, informed on what is happening around the Conference of Champions. Here you go Pac-12 fans….

Down in Tucson… Samajie Grant is looking to take a great leadership role.

At Arizona State, they are looking for a bounce back year in 2016. Can they figure out the quarterback situation and how will the new OC do in his first season at a Power 5 school?

California has to replace Jared Goff. What does this mean for the offense?

Can out Colorado finally break out of the basement of the Pac-12 South in 2016? The talent is better than it has been, but…

Is Dakota Prukop the real deal for Ducks? Will he have a more productive year than Vernon Adams? The Duck fans are just happy he is already on campus.

In Corvallis, hope springs eternal for the Beavers as they look to improve upon Gary Andersen’s initial season with Oregon State.

Christian McCaffrey has Stanford poised for another run at the conference title and Rose Bowl. Can they make a deeper run into the CFB Playoff?

At UCLA, sophomore quarterback, Josh Rosen returns to lead the Bruin attack. Does he have anybody to help him out? Can the offensive line protect him?

Coaching changes, new quarterback, and same old USC football expectations. Do the Trojans live up to them or is it a rebuild year at USC?

Kyle Whittingham doesn’t want to look at this season as a rebuild. He did lose some good offensive firepower at running back, but there is optimism at Utah.

Washington is one of the Pac-12 teams with a returning starting quarterback. Good for Huskies right? Does Chris Peterson finally have the Dawgs going in the right direction?

Mike Leach is coming off his best season as the Cougars head coach. What does he have as an encore for Cougar fans in 2016? Hopefully something similar for them as well as himself.

All Pac-12 teams are in the middle of their spring football practices, so any injuries that happen could obviously change the fortunes of any of these teams. The Pac-12 has many questions going into 2016, quarterback is one of the big ones. Can they get a team back into the college football playoff? It’s only spring time, so time will only tell the story for the Pac-12.

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Pac-12 Football Early Preview: Oregon Ducks

The wins. The uniforms. A Heisman Trophy winner. All great things associated with the University of Oregon football program, but let’s have a rounded view of this program. With all the good, there are questions about what is happening with the Ducks heading into the 2016 football season.

Duck fans, coaches, and players are known for all the flash that they have brought to college football. They have no National Championships. They haven’t found a long term replacement at quarterback. And they had a total collapse in the postseason two years ago to cause fans to wonder if this run of success is over. Is the run over? Good question.

Let’s take a look at 2016 and see what it may hold for the Ducks.

Additions/Losses

Within the coaching staff at Oregon, there have been many changes. Once the total collapse in the Alamo Bowl was complete and fans finally came to grips with their team losing a 31-0 lead, coming back to tie and still losing the game there were changes almost immediately. Don Pellum, long time defensive coach for the Ducks, was demoted to linebackers coach. It took a little while to find a new defensive coordinator, but Head Coach Mark Helfrich finally settled on former Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke to run the Oregon defense. How this will work out is anybody’s guess this early, but we will see how things go through spring practice and with the spring game in late April.

The Ducks lost talented Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost who took the head coaching job at Central Florida. Frost was replaced with Matt Lubik who came to the Ducks three years ago. Will Lubik be able to continue the success in the passing game that came when he joined Oregon? Fans are hoping so, but who is going to be throwing those passes?

With no long term replacement for Marcus Mariota in the system the last couple of years, one has to wonder about the Ducks quarterback development skills. In 2015, the Ducks went with fifth year transfer Vernon Adams. In 2016, the Ducks will turn to another fifth year transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop. Dakota who? Prukop comes from Montana State and unlike Vernon Adams, is already on campus soaking in classes and the playbook. How quickly Prukop will adjust to football in a Power 5 Conference is going to be a key for the Ducks this season because they return most of their skill players. The sooner he becomes comfortable with his running backs and receivers, the better it’ll be for his team.

The question I have is simple. What happens down the road with Oregon at quarterback? Do they have a young player in mind that will be able to step into the position in 2017 or if Prukop gets hurt and is out for an extended period of time?

2016 Schedule

While the Ducks have gone the direction of playing another Power 5 team, like a Michigan State the last couple of years, the preseason schedule still isn’t the toughest. They have played Portland State, Arkansas St, and this year they will be playing the UC Aggies. The tough game on the pre-season schedule is at Nebraska. With Mike Riley having played Oregon numerous times and being familiar with their schemes, this game could be pretty tough for the Ducks.

Looking on the Ducks schedule in terms of importance, you can always go to the Stanford game in Eugene on November 12. This game has turned into a big rivalry game for the two teams and must see television for college football fans. Lately, the game has determined who has won the Pac-12 North Division and got into the conference title game. This is important, but there is a three game stretch where the Ducks play at Washington State, home against Washington, and at California. The Cougars won in Eugene last year, the Huskies gave the Ducks fits last year, and California could be a “trap” game for the Ducks. All three are division games and if the Ducks can sweep these three schools, it sets them up well to get to the conference title game.

Recruiting

The Ducks are unique with recruiting because they are not a perennial top 25 team in the recruiting rankings. The Ducks have a certain type of player they are looking for because they need to make sure the players that come to Oregon fit their style/scheme. Oregon usually looks for speed and length over size, so they are not going to have those huge linemen like an Alabama, Georgia, or even Stanford is going to have. Do they have to modify this approach? Maybe.

Oregon can get away with having this type of thought when it comes to Pac-12 football, but with all the success they have had with it, they have ZERO National Championships. They get to the big games against Stanford, Ohio State, Alabama, or a Michigan State who typically have bigger sized athletes, they get pushed around the field. The Ducks need to get bigger and stronger in my opinion. Who do they have coming into the Duck nest for next year?

The Ducks have a few four and five star guys coming in from high school. One of the highest ranked national players is Tristen Wallace, who is listed as an athlete. He comes in from DeSoto, Texas at 6’3” and 228 pounds. With the early enrollees the Ducks have a receiver named Dillon Mitchell who is 6’0”, 200 pounds and is the 161st ranked receiver.

Recruiting is such a roll of the dice and people don’t usually know how good the player really is until they actually start playing on the college level. Many people usually read a lot into the number of stars a player has next to his name, but stars don’t make the player. The player makes himself the player he wants to be. Just ask Scooby Wright, a two star recruit out of high school.

Final Thought

In the end, the Ducks have questions that need answered at the quarterback position and how these new coaches will mesh with the program. Oregon still has many positives for next year like their returning skill players, but I think the questions that are out there will loom large with the fans. The fans whho are nervous after the Alamo Bowl debacle and are wondering if Oregon can regain its swag and challenge for national championships.

Pac-12 Review and Thoughts on the Future

The Pac-12 season is in the books for 2015, so what was the good, the bad, and the ugly about this season. From the drama at USC, the play of Josh Rosen, Gary Andersen’s first year at Oregon State, Vernon Adams at Oregon, the surprise of Washington State, Jared Goff’s career at California, the success at Utah, the splendid season at Stanford, and the phenomenal individual season of Christian McCaffrey. There is a lot to digest this year for The Conference of Champions, so here we go.

Pac-12 South

USC

The soap opera that is the USC Trojans made expectations just about impossible to meet. We all know what happened with former Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and his drinking issues. That was certainly the headline for a couple of months surrounding the program. It was ugly, real ugly. In comes newly minted Head Coach Clay Helton and proceeds to put his stamp on the storied program of Troy. He goes 5-2 as the head coach, gets the interim “tag” taken off, and then loses in the Holiday Bowl against a sub .500 Nebraska team. Not a great way to start the Clay Helton era, but with the amount of talent that is already on the roster, USC will look to build off of the bit of success that they had in 2015. I will be looking for the Trojans young talent to mature in the offseason and pay dividends in 2016. Fight On!

UCLA

Is there a team that plays in a better venue than the Bruins? Doubtful. When your home field is the Rose Bowl stadium that is a huge recruiting tool for the school. When did that advantage do for the Bruins? Hard to tell at this point. They are fortunate to have Josh Rosen, the top rated high school quarterback on their squad. Being a little lucky to see Rosen play in person, I could see the flash of brilliance that this young QB has. Having Rosen back for his sophomore year will help the Bruins, but it also puts a big target on his back for next season. One area that will be in question will be running back because multi-talented running back Paul Perkins is taking his talent to the NFL. Who is going to replace the 1,500 yard seasons that Perkins put up for the Bruins? Plus, who will the Bruins bring in to replace offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone? I believe the Bruins can recruit players to replace these players, but it will be interesting to see how fast this young talent can assimilate themselves in Westwood. Expectations are high with a young, stud quarterback, and the fan base won’t put up with many losses.

Utah

A season of great success ended with a rather big dud by the Utes going to the Las Vegas Bowl to play their hated rival in BYU. Kyle Whittingham has built something quietly in Salt Lake City and with this past season’s success it will fun to see if Whittingham can keep this going because he will be losing some pretty good talent on both sides of the ball. Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker are just some of the talent that will be leaving. Losing Booker late in the year affected how the offense ran and gave us a decent precursor to how this offense may look in 2016. Internally, the Ute’s have shuffled things around a bit by naming Morgan Scalley their new defensive coordinator. They also have added Justin Ena and Sharrieff Shah as co-special teams coordinators. The key for the Utes will be to keep the stream of talent coming into Salt Lake City to keep the Utes competitive in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 South. They need to get a quarterback that can throw the ball down field. Travis Wilson was an average quarterback, so they need a guy that strikes fear into opposing defenses. Building upon this season will be critical for the Utes. Let’s watch and see what happens in recruiting for them this offseason. That can tell us a great deal about the viability of the program moving forward.

Arizona

Things went south on 2014’s Pac-12 South champion in 2015 and injuries were a major player in the decline. Scooby Wright, the national defensive player of the year in 2014 was brought down early in the season and never returned, their quarterback Anu Solomon suffered through injuries, and their running back Nick Wilson could never shake the injury bug. Now, leaning on injuries as the crutch for the season is never something you want to do, but in the fourth season of Rich Rodriguez in Tucson this was something that clearly wasn’t expected. What can they expect moving forward? Well, they can expect Rich Rodriguez to possibly entertain other jobs like he did with the South Carolina opening this past December. With that lurking in the background in Tucson, can the fans truly trust Rich Rod? It makes fans and writers question his commitment to the program and this can adversely affect off season recruiting because if possible recruits don’t think Rodriguez will be there long term who is to say that the Pac-12 South crown they won will be the best it gets for the program. The Wildcats need a healthy Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson to compete, so this offseason will be critical to them and to the health of the program. Losing Scooby Wright to the NFL will hurt the defense as well. Who will replace the mayhem and sacks that Wright provided? There are more questions than certainty with this program right now and those questions need answers that will only come in time. It’ll be a nervous offseason for the fans of the Wildcats.

Arizona State

Pre-season people, myself included, thought that this Sun Devil team could do something incredible this past season. Well, that thought went down the toilet in the first few games of the year. The offense went into slow motion and could never get started in time to completely dominate anybody. They struggled with teams like New Mexico and Cal-Poly which made the fan base boo the team practically anytime struggles were noticed on the field. Personally watching them get destroyed by USC was mind blowing. The Sun Devils looked like a freshman high school team against them and then they go on the road on beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Talk about a hot and cold team. The 2015 Sun Devils were the classic definition of that term. The upcoming season will be one of questions. They will have a new offensive coordinator who will be looking for a new quarterback to run Todd Graham’s zone-read type of offense. They had the wrong guy to do that with Mike Bercovici and that was some of the issue this year. Bercovici was guy who liked to go downfield, he was more of gun slinger than a mobile quarterback. They need to have the right personnel to do what they want to do. That’s the key for any football team. Let’s see what Graham and his merry band of Sun Devils can provide for their fans in 2016. Forks Up.

Colorado

What can the Buffaloes do to get out of the basement of the Pac-12 South? Beyond the simple answer of just win more games it’s hard to say. Winning does help, but you have to have the talent to win those games. The question will be about getting that talent to help the Buffs climb out of the Pac-12 South cellar. The Buffaloes are nearly 25 years from their early 1990’s dominance and without any semblance of winning in that time it is no wonder why kids of any talent level are not going to Boulder to play football. Winning gets talent. Period. If you don’t have wins or a recent history of winning, players want nothing to do with you and that is currently being proven out by Colorado being ranked last in the Pac-12 in recruiting by Rivals.com. In the end, Colorado has to recruit better or their spot at the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference will be cemented every year.

Pac-12 North

Oregon

If you are down by 31 to the Ducks you are still in the game. Giving up that 31 point lead to TCU in the Alamo Bowl had to be the low point in the Duck 2015 season, but it did show a glaring question for the Ducks. Can the Duck offensive staff develop a quarterback of their own? I’m not sure they can. The Ducks have another 5th graduate transfer coming to play for them in 2016. Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop is already on campus and enrolled in class unlike the dilemma the Vernon Adams caused the team last summer. Who is behind Prukop that could come in and provide the same thing as him? A bunch of unknown players is what the Ducks have. They will have many of their skill players back, but if there is any instability at quarterback the Ducks are in trouble. That’ll be the question for newly hired Dave Yost, who comes from Washington State to coach the quarterbacks. He has his work cut out for him. It’ll be the major thing to watch in Eugene next season.

Stanford

The season started off ugly with that loss at Northwestern and many questioned if the Cardinal season was over after week one. I doubt Head Coach David Shaw did. He just went to work and figured out what he needed to do to get this team rolling. It turned out that all he needed to do was to get Christian McCaffrey involved in about every part of the offense. Once that happened, things started happening in Palo Alto. McCaffrey had the best single season in total yards ever. I had my eye on this player going into the season and he exceeded every expectation I had for him. The downside was the crushing home loss to Oregon that pretty much kept them out of the college football playoff, but they rebounded and beat Notre Dame and made Iowa look pedestrian in the Rose Bowl. The question I have for the Cardinal is at quarterback and their defense. Kevin Hogan is done and like Oregon have many unknown players behind him. The defense, especially the secondary needs to improve. People could throw on the Cardinal all day and to survive in the pass happy Pac-12, that needs to tighten up.

Washington State

The surprise of the conference by far. I thought they would battle Oregon State for last place in the Pac-12 North. I was way off with that. The Cougars finally got things going with their “Air Raid” offense under Mike Leach. Luke Falk who looked bad against Portland State in the opener as the Cougars lost to a regional foe at home, but came back to lead Washington State to an 8-4 record and raised hopes in Pullman about a comeback for this program. Mike Leach and his team have to come into 2016 and have the attitude of improving on their 2015 record. They will have Falk back as well as plenty of fast, quick skill players. If this doesn’t happen though, Leach goes back on the hot seat with his job.

California

Is Sonny Dykes going to stay long term? Dykes had his name mentioned in other jobs like Missouri and South Carolina and that caused some anxious moments for people in the Bay Area. Will this type of job looking affect the talent that they are trying to recruit? If players think the coach won’t be there, they tend not to show up on campus. The other question will be about who will take over at quarterback. Jared Goff is leaving early for the NFL and certainly Sonny Dykes has benefitted from having a great player under center. This will show me how good of a coach he really is. Can he develop the next quarterback? Does he have a quarterback ready for 2016? California needs to continue this play of getting to a bowl game and getting some much needed winning at Berkley. If they can’t, their hated rival at Stanford will continue to grab all the headlines and the Golden Bears will be an afterthought on the football field.

Washington

What do we have at Washington? We have a program with a storied past, but with a mediocre present. The future is looking up with their quarterback Jake Browning, who will be a true sophomore and Myles Gaskin, who will also be a true sophomore, and reminds me of Reggie Bush with his speed. Head Coach Chris Peterson, who came to Seattle with his reputation at Boise State has seemed to turn the corner with this program. That reputation was called into question with the season opening loss to Peterson’s former school Boise State, but ship was corrected. Here is the question though. Can he continue to recruit the guys that fit his style? If the Huskies can continue to win, the talent will come. Browning and Gaskin have to continue to develop and get better and there is no reason to believe they won’t, the sky is the limit for the 2016 version of the Washington Huskies.

Oregon State

Where do I begin with the Beavers? It’s hard to say because there are so many glaring issues for them going into this off season. The low point for Oregon State was getting blown out on a weekly basis and not seeing any improvement. When Mike Riley left for Nebraska, he left the cupboards pretty bare. The Beavers had a decent offensive line, but a true freshman quarterback, an oft injured running back in Storm Woods and a totally new defense. They had to replace nine players on defense, put in a new defensive scheme, a new offensive scheme, get used to a different way of coaching with Head Coach Gary Andersen. It was a struggle in Corvallis this year. Recruiting is a big key for Andersen and his staff this year, so the losing that happened this year doesn’t become a habit for the Beavers. Questions for the Beavers will be at quarterback again because they started putting Seth Collins at receiver because he’s athletic and tall (6’3). Who will come in to play quarterback if they move Collins to receiver full time? They will also have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Clune, so more new schemes for those young defensive players to learn. Gary Andersen needs to continue to build the program he wants and the fans need to show patience with this huge rebuilding project. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Clay Helton Will Fight On

USC is a brand second to none in the world of college football and with that comes a ton of scrutiny on the program. Over the last few years it has been negative scrutiny that has many people thinking the program is overrated and not as attractive a job as it once was. I have always scoffed at that thought.

College has its blue-blood type programs such as Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, and certainly USC. Does every program go through some tough times? Absolutely and USC has been experiencing some of those tough times in the last few years. From the Reggie Bush sanctions, Lane Kiffin getting fired at LAX, Steve Sarkisian being an alcoholic, and having Clay Helton take over this storied program mid-season for the SECOND time.

For all these negatives surrounding USC and many questioning what AD Pat Haden is doing, they got one right with the hiring of Clay Helton. He’s an adult. He’s disciplined. The players respond to him. He’s won over the locker room. When players want to play for you and they buy into what their coach is trying to do, success is going to follow you. When I say that Helton is an adult, I mean he’s the coach. He’s the one in control, and he’s there to be the mentor for the young men that have chosen to be under his watch at USC.

The other part of this that people will talk about is the aspect of hiring from within the program. When programs hire from within some people get pretty nervous about that prospect. But if you look within the Pac-12, it has worked out fairly well. Stanford hired David Shaw, Utah hired Kyle Whittingham, and Oregon hired Mark Helfrich. When you hire from within you get the continuity that every program strives for. I get that people believe that the Trojans had a shot of landing any coach that they wanted, but would that coach come to them? I still don’t believe the Chip Kelly rumors about him coming out to USC to coach. Was Clay Helton an easy out? Possibly. Did USC AD Pat Haden have to interview anybody? No, he didn’t. If, in Haden’s mind, he had what he thought was a good fit for the program, then Helton fit the bill for him.

USC football will always be one of the top jobs in the country, but for the Trojans to wait would have been a mistake. Clay Helton went 5-2 over the course of the season. He destroyed cross-town rival UCLA on Saturday. He has USC playing for the Pac-12 Championship against Stanford. And he knows the culture of USC/Los Angeles area. Knowing how things run at a university is an important part of running a program and if the Trojans hired somebody else who didn’t know the culture of the school or city, it could have been a disaster for the program. Continuity can be one of the understated parts of running a program the size of USC.

The amount of talent that USC has is immense and the amount of talent that they will continue to acquire will be much the same. The kind of talent that is walking around the field at USC is the type of talent that can win national championships. National championships are the reason players go to USC to play football. They’re a big part of the program’s long, storied past.

What do the Trojans have in Clay Helton? They have a kind of vanilla, boring type of guy. He’s certainly not the media darling Pete Carroll who created a huge monster when he was in control of the Trojans in the early 2000’s. Helton gives boring answers to the media, doesn’t really talk about himself, and gives the attention to the players instead of himself. More importantly, he’s NOT Lane Kiffin or Steve Sarkisian who brought drama to the program almost weekly. Most people don’t know much about Helton, except that he is getting things done on the field and that his players love him. For USC Trojan fans, that is exactly what they should want out of their football coach. For as many people that wanted or thought that USC should go out and get a big name coach, maybe, Clay Helton is EXACTLY what they need. Pat Haden believes so.

“Clay was not hired because his team defeated UCLA on Saturday. He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here.” Said Pat Haden in a statement on Monday.

For those who question this hiring, let me remind you of a USC hire that had many people scratching their heads. The hiring of Pete Carroll led many to question if USC had lost their swagger in the world of college football. We know how that went. Carroll brought back the brand of USC. Why can’t Helton do that? He can. Plus, he has more talent on the roster than Pete Carroll had when he took over.

We will get an early impression on what may be coming for him and the Trojans because USC is in the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford. It is a game that USC is fully capable of winning. Imagine all the talk that would come from that victory. It’ll get talk started on what he may be able to do in their bowl game and in their first game next year against Nick Saban’s Alabama team.

In the end, USC got this hire right. Clay Helton provides continuity for the football program. He knows the Los Angeles area for recruiting. He knows the pressure that being the head coach of USC brings. He’s a Trojan. And he has the players buying into what he is coaching them. For all the negative that has surrounded this program this year and all the questionable things that Pat Haden has done in the last few years, Haden got this right. Good job USC and Fight On.