The character of the fragile Oregon Ducks will be put on display for the world to see over the second half of the season.
These Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) must collectively look in the mirror, search for some shred of dignity and figure out how they want to be remembered: As cowards who folded and put forth one of the most embarrassing seasons in program history that included a 70-21 drubbing Saturday night at the hands of No. 5 Washington? Or, as a group that discovered the word "resilient," embraced it, applied it and salvaged something positive out of this season that could propel them into next year, and save the jobs of the entire coaching staff, if indeed they are in danger.
"It's a heart check," Oregon freshman linebacker Troy Dye said.
Heart, mind and soul.
Oregon has displayed none of the above, as of late. The Ducks, with their bye week here, have 11 days to figure this mess out before the season completely unravels. Right now, smart money says it already has.
Washington (6-0, 3-0) exposed the Ducks' fragile psyche at Autzen Stadium. Granted, the already struggling Ducks had little chance of defeating the Huskies, who look like a legitimate national title contender.
But, 70-21? At home? After having already been whipped 51-33 at Washington State?
Seriously? Where's your pride, Oregon?
Apparently the Ducks have little. Just listen to the players speak.
Dye said the team once again lacked "effort," and "energy." Freshman safety Brenden Schooler said some players were giving off the vibe that they simply do not care.
That comes from two true freshmen, who both appear to be heartbroken at where this program sits six games into their college careers. They didn't go to Oregon for this. They certainly didn't sign with UO to be the voices of reason for a clown show.
There are front-runners and then there are leaders in sports. Front-runners jump on the bandwagon and ride high when all is well, then want credit. Leaders accept blame for the team's poor performance, look inward then rally the squad to improve.
Oregon appears to have more front-runners who expected instant success the moment they signed their letter of intent, than it does leaders that can redirect this team toward success.
"I think everybody is thinking about the past," junior wide receiver Charles Nelson said, "all the great things we've done in the past and not focusing on the now."
A players-only meeting on Sept. 26 was supposed to have fixed that mentality. Clearly it has not.
What's most disturbing is that the Ducks are not this bad. Not even with four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen starting, not even with freshman quarterback Justin Herbert now leading the team, not even with six new starters in the front seven, and not even after a glut of injuries ravaging the roster.
This team lost by three points to both No. 10 Nebraska (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and Colorado (4-2, 2-1). The Ducks are not 59 points worse than Washington, which defeated the likes of Rutgers by the count of 48-13; Portland State, 41-3; and narrowly escaped Arizona with a 35-28 win in overtime.
UO's once-dominant running game has been a mess the last two games. The defense has allowed 522.3 yards of offense per game (126th in the nation) and 41 points per game (124th).
A defense must work really hard to stink that badly.
Oregon's coaches certainly must accept culpability, and they have. But the problems could run deeper than Xs and Ox. There are grumblings that players have quit mentally and that coach Mark Helfrich has lost the team. If true, the coaches must curb that trend in a hurry.
Let's not forget that the staff has won before. Most have done so numerous times at Oregon under multiple head coaches. Most of the players, save for a handful that contributed to the 2014 team, have never seen a championship at this level.
So, are these players who have allegedly quit doing so because of bad coaching? Or, is it because they are front-running quitters?
The truth is that the decline is the fault of everyone involved. It's up to the coaches and the players to dig the team out of this hole. What we know is that the coaches have been here many times before and survived. Some players have, as well. Oregon began last season 3-3 before winning six consecutive games. Will these Ducks find enough fight to win four of their final six to become bowl eligible?
Failing to at least reach a bowl game would be completely humiliating for the program. Experiencing a down year is one thing, going 5-7, or worse, would be an abomination for a program that just two years ago went 13-2, won the Rose Bowl and reached the national championship game.
The remaining schedule is favorable for the Ducks. California (3-3, 1-2), up next for Oregon on Oct. 21, has a defense (122nd in total defense) almost as bad as the Ducks'. Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) is solid but definitely beatable with the 120th-ranked defense. So are Stanford (3-2, 2-2), USC (3-3, 2-2) and No. 21 Utah (5-1, 2-1). The there's the Beavers (2-3, 1-1), who took down the Golden Bears on Saturday to record their first conference win since 2014.
If Oregon plays like it did during the first four weeks of the season, the Ducks will go 4-2 to finish 6-6 and reach a bowl game.
If the Ducks play like they have the past two weeks, they will finish 4-8, at best.
"It's not about just being here, it's about putting in the work and actually winning..." Schooler said. "We have to pull together. We can't fall into this hole, because as soon as you get in, it's hard to get out."
Sorry, Brenden. The Ducks are already in that hole.
The steep climb out begins right now.