Oregon Ducks

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

A Tweet stating that Phil Knight is willing to pay $10 million per year for a football coach to lead Oregon to a national title should be dismissed on arrival with a chuckle because it couldn't possibly be true. 

Or could it?

A question regarding ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell's tweet was posed to UO coach Mark Helfrich on Sunday, a day after the Ducks lost 45-20 at USC to fall to 3-6 on the season. 

His response: "That's the nature of the profession. It would be cool if it was that easy." 

After a pause, Helfrich added: "I take it, it wasn't me that's getting the $10 million?"

Laughter followed.

In actuality, Helfrich would be receiving $11 million in the deal. More on that later. 

What's more pressing is how such a report, if it's true, defines how perspective levels around Oregon's poor season have reached such gutter levels that one must consider that everyone remotely associated with the program - fans, boosters, media - have all lost their damn minds. 

There is not a coach alive that's going to magically bring a national title to Oregon no matter how much Knight, or anyone, pays that person. In fact, I don't think there is a coach alive who believes he could guarantee Oregon a national title, but there are plenty who would take the ridiculous paycheck and give it the ol' college try. 

The idea of throwing that type of money around sounds like an act of desperation rather than one born from deep thought. It's an overreaction to problem that will naturally correct itself. 

Maybe I'm not as alarmed by the current state of UO's program because I saw the eventual demise coming years ago, stated as such and wrote about it while at The Oregonian in 2012. I reiterated that point in 2014 when writing that the national championship window would close after Marcus Mariota moved on to the NFL, and prior to this season called it a year of transition for a young and inexperienced team.

I certainly didn't predict 3-6 at this point, but I did predict that the rest of the conference would catch up with the "blur" offense and the Ducks' talent level would not be able to sustain a string of dominant seasons without the benefit of a fantastical, yet gimmicky offense leading the way. 

However, I also believe that the program will recover when a new influx of talent, led by a transcendent star, were allowed to develop. That star is freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who will at least become the second greatest quarterback ever to play at Oregon when his career is over (baring injury, of course). 

Allowing this all to play out requires minimal patience, something sorely missing in this day and age. 

What's happened is that fans and boosters have so attached their own egos and emotions to the success of UO's football program that they almost believe they created that success. So, now that things have gone south the first reaction is to punish someone. 

That someone is Helfrich, who had the misfortune of following Chip Kelly, propped up as a football God because he had four great years primarily because from 2009 through 2012, most of the conference had no clue how to handle the Ducks' dizzyingly fast-paced offense.

That has changed and here we are. Those with an open mind recognize that the downfall could have happened to Kelly, as well, and in fact partly did because the final two recruiting classes he oversaw had players all over the 2015 team, and some remain this season on a team virtually void of quality senior leadership.  

Those who believe in the Kelly mythology - and haven't been watching him getting crushed in the NFL - want to believe that Helfrich ruined a good thing, and that Kelly would have kept the gravy train going into eternity. 

Not possible. 

Every program in the conference has the same amount of scholarships and is also free to hire good coaches. Simple math and probability dictate that some of those teams were going to eventually become really good and that Oregon would eventually have a rebuilding season.

What's being ignored at an alarming fashion is that this team on paper had no chance to contend this season. It's far too young and inexperienced, and the Ducks have suffered a crazy amount of injuries.  

The answer to how Oregon returns to glory is not found in simply firing a staff that consists of most of the men who played a huge part in the Ducks' greatest successes. At least don't do so after one bad season. 

Allow me to repeat that: One. Bad. Season. 

Not two. Not three. Not five. One. 

Firing everyone two years after arguably the greatest season in program history would be the lazy thing to do. It requires no imagination. Requires no foresight. No thought. Place blame. Feel superior. Prop up someone else as the savior. Feel better about yourself. 

But there's just one little problem: Who ya gonna get?

I keep waiting for someone, anyone, to name this magical coach that for $10 million will bring the Ducks a national title and never, ever have a bad season. Ever. 

Is Alabama's Nick Saban coming to Oregon? Not a chance. 

Ohio State's Urban Meyer? Ha!

Even if either one did take Knight's money and head to Eugene, there is no guarantee that they bring UO a national title. Recruiting to Eugene is far more difficult than recruiting to Alabama or Ohio State, or their former stops, LSU and Florida. 

Saban, who makes $6.9 million per year, quit on the Miami Dolphins because he didn't have the talent-gathering advantages he enjoyed at LSU. I don't think he would relish trying to win it all at Oregon. 

And if either Saban or Meyer ($6 milllion per year) have trouble winning it all for the Ducks, then who else could possibly do it?

I would assume that this God of a coach already has a national title, correct? Helfrich and company have been to two national title games, one with him as head coach. So an upgrade would have to be someone with a national title already on his resume. 

So are we talking about former championship coaches who have fallen from grace such as Mack Brown, Jim Tressel, Gene Chizik? They could be had.

Maybe Oregon tries to steal Jimbo Fisher ($5.25 million) from Florida State, or Bob Stoops ($5.25 million) from Oklahoma.

Money talks. Anything is possible. 

But why would any of those men guarantee a national title for Oregon? All won big at programs with greater advantages than UO provides. 

Don't get started on the notion that Oregon should ride its facilities to uninterrupted successes. They get Oregon into the recruiting game on a national level, but they don't win that game. 

But let's say the Ducks do land a "big name," that would lead to the irony of ironies. Should that coach returns the Ducks to to prominence in 2017 or 2018, he would be doing so with Helfrich's recruits.

Oops. That would then destroy the narrative that Helfirch can't build a winning team. He already destroyed the idea that he couldn't coach a championship-level team by going 11-2 and 13-2 in his first two seasons. But his haters always seek to point out that Helfrich won with Kelly's recruits. So, to be fair, if a new coach wins early, Helfrich would have to be credited for putting the players together, starting with Herbert. 

If there is room for extreme blame to be placed at the feet of Helfrich and the coaching staff - that includes Kelly, former defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and former offensive coordinator Scott Frost - its for the lack of an adequate amount of impact players on this team. Oregon is young and inexperienced at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker because the current starters beat out older players who didn't pan out. 

For example: Herbert is starting as a freshman only because Morgan Mahalak (2014 four-star recruit) and Travis Jonsen (2015 four-star recruit) didn't reach expectations. Similar scenarios have played out at other positions.

That has led to a young team simply not ready to win.  The staff certainly is to blame for this predicament. However, what those aching to release their venom are too blind to see is that the benefit of losing with a young team is that the players will gain experience and improve.  

We've seen this play out at Oregon before. 

The 2004 Ducks (5-6) and the 2006 Ducks (7-6) struggled with maturity and consistency, but the 2005 team (10-2) and the 2007 team (9-4) were top five teams before injuries at the quarterback position. The 2005-2006 Oregon basketball team missed the NCAA Tournament while losing many close games with four prominent sophomores and a junior leading the way. The following season the Ducks reached the Elite Eight.

There is every reason imaginable to believe that these current Ducks will also rise, and do so under Helfrich. Herbert is a superstar in the making. The offense line is loaded with four potential NFL players who need time to grow. The defense will return 10 starters next season, and there are a host of freshman and redshirt freshmen, other than linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brendan Schooler, that should be very good in the near future. 

But recognizing all of that requires effort. Vision. A willingness to think rather than react. To project, rather than punish. 

Let's forget about Helfrich for a second, because it's not all about him. A new $10 million coach would likely bring his own staff. Are those associated with the program ready to tell Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, John Neal, Jim Radcliffe and Steve Greatwood that it's time for them to go after one bad season in 10 years? 

"Thanks for helping Oregon become a national power but, you had one losing season every 10 years for the past 20 so it's time for you to go."

That doesn't seem right. 

The Oregon Ducks will rise again with the current coaching staff. No doubt. Then, it will have a down season at some point. 

A new coach could win big at Oregon. No doubt. Then he too would eventually have a down season. 

At the very least allow this staff the chance to grow this young roster. See if they can turn things around. Helfrich, an Oregonian from Coos Bay, cares about the program more than anyone else UO could hire. He will work his tail off to fix things. If he fails and the Ducks don't show improvement in 2017, by all means, make a change.

But firing him after one bad season, eating $11 million of buyout money, also buying out the assistants while firing such long-time fixtures, and then throwing crazy money at a big name out of desperation would be unseemly for the Oregon program. 

It would make the Ducks look desperate and common. Not special. Not unique. 

From Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich, Oregon has done things the right way in the head coaching department, and it has paid off. 

Change directions now and UO would veer down an uncertain path that could lead to disaster, a revolving door of overpaid coaches in it just for the money who could ultimately leave the program in ruins. 

Yes, the Ducks were awful, but judging Cristobal now is unwise

Yes, the Ducks were awful, but judging Cristobal now is unwise

Let's start off by saying that was one miserable performance by the "Men of Oregon" Saturday afternoon in Sin City. And I use the program's favorite phrase -- "Men of Oregon " -- because I'm including the coaching staff along with the players.

It was embarrassing. This game was supposed to be all kinds of things for the Ducks -- a fresh start, a validation of the new coach, a chance to build for next season, a first step in the Heisman campaign for the quarterback --- and on and on and on.

What it proved to be, though, was a disaster. The Ducks couldn't move the football and looked so much like the Oregon teams that played without Justin Herbert during the season -- Unimaginative, untalented and uninspired.

But look, I'm not going to go nuts over this game. It was what it was -- a miserable performance in a game that meant very little. If you think it's a harbinger of things to come, just look back at Chip Kelly's first game as Oregon head coach, also against Boise State. The Ducks were awful -- worse than the Vegas Bowl. And the game was topped off by a nasty cheap shot of a punch that gave the Ducks a black eye for the season. But as we all know, Chip and his team recovered quite well from that disastrous beginning.

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Bowl games are there to give teams a few extra days of practice after the season, put money in the pockets of bowl organizers and the NCAA and oh yes, give the players a bit of a working vacation. The games don't mean a whole lot -- win or lose. And I don't think winning that game would have changed Oregon's fortunes next season to a great degree.

There are so many things that matter more than the outcome of that game yesterday. And let's get real about them:

  • Play calling. It was unimaginative all season and I'm not sure if that departed with Willie Taggart. The head coach and the offensive coordinator have a lot to prove next season but they have plenty of time for a rebuild, too. The offense must get better -- it's the backbone of the Ducks' flash-and-dash program.
  • Defense: Everyone is assuming Jim Leavitt is leaving and I would agree. Well, not only is a quality defensive coordinator needed, more premier defensive players are needed. It's about coaching, sure -- but it's about the players, too. And there needs to be more emphasis on recruiting talent on that side of the ball.
  • And up front on offense. I'm not sure what has happened to Oregon's offensive line but I seem to remember that it was supposed to be one of the squad's strengths. It didn't look that way in Las Vegas. And guess who coaches the offensive line? That's right, head coach Mario Cristobal.
  • Penalties. This coaching staff has an entire off-season to instill more discipline into the the program but what went on this season was unacceptable -- and the Vegas Bowl topped it off with some seriously unnecessary and embarrassing conduct that resulted in major penalties. That has to stop. I cannot recall ever seeing a team, at the very end of its season, need to call a timeout to keep from getting a delay-of-game penalty while the clock reads "15:00" at the start of the game. Can you imagine? You have weeks to plan your first play of this game and you can't get it off before the play clock expires, so you have to spend a timeout? That was incredible.

I have no idea whether the Ducks made the right hire with Cristobal. I know he flunked his first test. It was an "F." But it will all be forgotten if he can get things on the right track next season. He'll have time to build his own coaching staff and his own off-season program. He can shape the franchise the way he wants, rather than just picking up Taggart's pieces and trying to build something temporary out of them.

Don't forget, Oregon went into that game with a coaching staff full of question marks. Who will stay? Who will join Taggart? Who does Cristobal want to replace? Who does he want to bring in? That's a lot of baggage -- for the coaches and the players. Some of those assistant coaches -- the ones who are leaving -- quite possibly had their minds elsewhere last week.

Yes, we've heard so much (way more than is necessary) about the hotshot recruiting class that Taggart built. Cristobal is probably going to salvage some of that and those players better be as good as advertised because they' will be needed. And by the way, aren't we all a little tired of hearing about that group of players? Just get them on campus and keep them there and we will find out for ourselves what their impact will be.

I hope Cristobal has the freedom and the leeway to do things the way he wants on offense and defense, on the field and off -- rather than simply following someone else's path. He's going to find a lot of pressure with this job but he knew that when he signed his contract. Forget the Vegas Bowl and all that went with it. The real season starts in August with fall practice and by then we will know a lot more about the new coach, his staff and his team.

But this is no time for judgments. Move on. Move forward and forget about it. That's what you do when you lose.

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon coach Mario Cristobal didn't want to hear about his team possibly having played uninspired football and being distracted during a 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State Saturday afternoon in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Senior safety Tyree Robinson shook his head and smirked at the mere suggestion that the Ducks (7-6) were impacted at all by the emotional rollercoaster the players endured last week when former coach Willie Taggart bailed for Florida State and three days later Cristobal took over the reigns. 

Yet, to pretend that none of that madness contributed to the uncharacteristically bad showing by Oregon against BSU (11-3) on Saturday defies logic. 

"I don't think our guys were uninspired," Cristobal said. "We just didn't play well."

Not playing well equates to making some mistakes here and there that cost you a game. Simply not playing well does not explain away rushing for just 47 net yards after gaining 268 per game during the regular season or why an offense that averaged 52 points per game with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback didn't find the end zone until the third quarter against Boise State. 

"We just wanted to do whatever we can, lay our bodies on the line for (Cristobal)," Robinson said when pressed further about the team's emotional state during the game. "We're not worried about the decision that coach Taggart decided to make. We were playing for this coach now and that's all that matters."

Truthfully, it would be more comforting to know that the Ducks were indeed distracted. Otherwise, the alternative is that they simply got out-coached, out-worked and smacked around by what amounts to an inferior opponent on paper. What exactly would that mean for Oregon's future?

The team we saw go 6-1 with Herbert at quarterback (he missed five games with a broken collarbone) and stop cold a rising Arizona team before destroying a bad Oregon State team to close out the season appeared headed for a 10-win season in 2018. The team we saw on Saturday would be lucky to become bowl eligible again. 

The Ducks played conservative football in the first half with a lot of short passes as if freshman Braxton Burmeister were still filling in for Herbert. The offense line, coached by Cristobal, played awful football. 

Not only couldn't Oregon run well, but the Ducks offered mostly shaky protection for Herbert, who was sacked four times and harassed into two uncharacteristically badly thrown interceptions, one resulting in a 53-yard touchdown return that gave the Broncos a 24-0 lead in the second quarter.  

"We just didn't execute," said Herbert, who also lost a fumble. "We didn't move the ball when we needed to. We didn't hold up our end of the bargain."

The defense didn't play particularly well, either, but did keep Oregon in the game with two defensive scores within the final minute of the first half thanks to some horrible decisions by the Broncos. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye recovered a fumble off of a botched Statue of Liberty play and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown. Later, Robinson intercepted a horrifically thrown pass route into the end zone and ran it back for an Oregon record 100 yard touchdown return that make the score 24-14 at halftime.  

Those two miracles only delayed the inevitable. The Ducks simply didn't have it on this day. And who really could blame the team for coming out flat. There is simply no way that this team was not impacted by the entire goings on over the previous two weeks. Let's recap:

  • Taggart on Dec. 1 informs team that he would listen to Florida State, which upsets many players.  
  • Taggart goes on a recruiting trip on Dec. 4 in which he also interviews with Florida State. 
  • Taggart returns that same day, and according to some players, sends mixed messages about his intentions. 
  • Taggart tells the team on Dec. 5 that he is leaving after one season, which leads to some players taking to Twitter to essentially call him a liar. 
  • Taggart is introduced at FSU on Dec. 6 while some of Oregon recruits from its top-five ranked recruiting class begin decommitting. 
  • Oregon begins a coaching search while players wonder who will be their third head coach in a year. 
  • Cristobal is named interim coach, which upsets defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. 
  • The players sign a petition asking the administration to make Cristobal the permanent head coach, which probably didn't make Leavitt feel too grand. 
  • Rumors start to swirl about Leavitt leaving and some of the rest of the coaching staff moving on, as well. 
  • Cristobal is officially named head coach on Dec. 8.  
  • The Ducks coaching staff begins the process of trying to salvage the recruiting class while also preparing for a quick turnaround to play Boise State in just eight days.
  • Senior running back Royce Freeman announces that he will not play in the bowl game, news that senior running back Kani Benoit said after the game that the team already knew was coming. 
  • The Ducks take the field against a team with inferior overall physical talent but plenty of determination and stability, and not contending with major distractions.
  • Oregon falls behind 24-0 and never recovers. 

---

When you list it all out like that it what we saw on Saturday makes perfect sense. There is a fine line between being great and being mediocre. Oregon, when it had that swag, looked amazing at times. Mix in the nine-day stretch they experienced prior to the Las Vegas Bowl and you get what you saw on Saturday. 

It would be easy to point the fingers at Cristobal's coaching. But he, like his team, was also placed into an unfair situation. He went from orchestrating the running game as the co-offensive coordinator and line coach to running the team. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo went from coordinating the passing game for Taggart, who called plays, to calling the plays himself.

Saturday's game shouldn't be given too much credence in terms of predicting the Ducks' future under Cristobal. Oregon will have eight months to get things situated before next season, which begins with three cupcake games. 

Plus, it's not as if we don't have two somewhat recent examples from the past to back up the idea that Saturday was just a bad day not a prelude to disaster. And it just so happens that one example involves Boise State while the other includes the Las Vegas Bowl. 

In 2006, the Ducks looked even worse than they did Saturday during a 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl (Oregon should never return to this game) during a 7-6 season only to bounce back the following year and contend for the national title before quarterback Dennis Dixon went down for the season with a knee injury. 

In 2009, Chip Kelly made his debut as Oregon's coach at Boise State and lost 19-8 before righting the ship to lead UO to the Pac-10 championship in 2009. 

Maybe Oregon, under Cristobal, could make a similar rebound from Saturday to find great success. 

"We've got to get back to work once we come back off the break and re-establish ourselves and recognize the good things that were accomplished this year, and the things that have to be made better," Cristobal said. "And we will. We will focus on that and go forward."

Time will allow the Ducks to do so with a much clearer focus. 

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Saturday's game should be viewed by Oregon as the Mario Cristobal Bowl played in Las Vegas, Nev. 

Cristobal needs this win. UO's administration needs this win. Most of all, the players need a victory in order to validate why they went to bat for Cristobal with a petition asking that he be elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach last week after Willie Taggart jumped ship for Florida State. 

"We definitely feel the need to go in there and show the administration, as well as everybody all around the country, that they made the right decision in picking coach Cristobal to be the head coach," Oregon sophomore center Jake Hanson said. 

That need is real, and it raises the stakes for Oregon (7-5), making this about as close to a "must-win" as a middling bowl game matchup could be. 

Let's face it; the Oregon program and most of its fans believe that the Ducks are above the Las Vegas Bowl.  To them, this is the program of Kelly, LaMike, Mariota, Rose Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and national title games. 

The Vegas Bowl, and the like, is for chumps, not Ducks. With so many bowl games and only six wins needed to qualify for these glorified exhibitions, it's easy to dismiss most of these postseason contests. This bowl certainly falls into that category. Heck, senior running back Royce Freeman won't even be bothered with playing in this event. This will be the lowest bowl game the Ducks will have appeared in since losing 38-8 here to BYU in 2006. 

Yet, here Oregon is, in Sin City, desperately searching for its first bowl victory since the 2014 season that ended in the national title game. The Ducks (7-5) are also looking for some validation that the program is headed in the right direction.

Boise State (10-3) is the opponent. The Broncos are champions of the Mountain West Conference. That's not even Power Five. BSU shouldn't be on Oregon's level, record be damned. Surely the Ducks have got this one in the bag.

Well, they'd better. For a program that built its brand and success through a lineage of connected coaches, the Ducks appear to be a white-hot mess in desperate search of some footing. 

Reasons exist to believe that Cristobal, despite his 27-47 record, could lead the Ducks back to the top. Oregon bypassed chasing after bigger names because athletic director Rob Mullens - skewered after Taggart, his handpicked guy, departed - decided to roll the dice on Cristobal and maintaining some continuity.  

Should Cristobal fail, Mullens would have whiffed twice in finding a replacement for Mark Helfrich, who went 37-16 in four seasons but was fired after one losing season, albeit a horrific one at 4-8. 

Losing Saturday won't mean that hiring Cristobal was a mistake. But it certainly would create doubt, in at least some, that would linger all offseason. A loss could also lead to further deterioration of UO's recruiting class once ranked No. 1 and No. 5 respectively on top websites before Taggart left. Now the class sits at No. 9 and No. 10 after six four-star recruits withdrew commitments. 

Winning on Saturday, however would send the Ducks into the offseason with momentum and an even stronger belief that Cristobal is the guy. Rallying the team from the disappointment of losing Taggart and through not having Freeman to take down a solid Boise State club, and having 14 starters returning next season will raise hopes that a 10-win season is on the horizon. 

"It's huge," Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. "We just had a coaching change and we're very confident in the guy we have. Everyone is so supportive of him and I know that everyone is going to play their heart out for him."

They have no choice. 

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State to honor those killed and injured during the mass shooting here on Oct. 21.

Crosby, a native of Las Vegas, Nev., could have followed the lead of senior running back Royce Freeman and not played in order to avoid a potential injury that could harm his NFL Draft status.

Instead, he announced today via Instagram that he will play and wear No. 58 rather than his usual No. 73 in order to honor the 58 people who lost their lives on when a man opened fire from Mandala Bay Resort and Casino onto concert goers across the street. Another 546 people were injured. 

Crosby did not meet with the media today, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal talked about Crosby's decision. 

"Tyrell is a very special individual and a talented football player," Cristobal said. "This is kind of a homecoming for him and obviously the events of the past have really had a tremendous impact on him."

Having Freeman on the field will certainly lessen the impact of losing Freeman. 

"For us, obviously we're through the roof excited that he is participating," Cristobal said. "He's had his best week of preparation that he's had all year. I know this means a lot to him and all of the people among his friends and family that know him out here."

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said Crosby is the type of player that players gravitate toward. 

"He's a leader," Herbert said. "For him to come back and play in this game is huge for our offense. I know that everyone is super excited to have him back."

The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

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USA Today

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface. 

"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."

Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.

Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career. 

Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL. 

NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games. 

Cristobal is not in favor of this development. 

"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said. 

That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision. 

"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."

Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should 

"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."

Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game. 

Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation. 

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."

The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix. 

There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future. 

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman and left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play their final game as Ducks in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

Or will they?

Both players practiced with the team today at Bishop Gorman High school, but there is a strong chance that each played their final games as collegiate players during the Ducks' 69-10 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 25. 

"We will be having more extensive discussions some time between tonight and tomorrow," UO coach Mario Cristobal said.

Freeman and Crosby were not made available to the media today. Crosby said last week that he hadn't yet decided if he would play. Freeman when asked in the past has also not stated definitively either way.  

Those discussions will undoubtedly involve the risk-reward factor of playing and not playing. 

On one hand, both must eagerly want to end their careers with a bowl victory. As freshmen, they were vital parts of the 2014 team that won the Pac-12 Conference title, defeated Florida State in the first college football playoff game ever played that just so happened to take place in the Rose Bowl, and they participated in the national title game. 

Those were the good old days. Since then, Oregon has blown a big lead in the Alamo Bowl and went 4-8 last year when Crosby missed 10 games and Freeman missed some time while being banged up for the entire season. Going out with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, would certainly give both young men something to smile about on the way out the door. 

Then there is the risk factor. Both can start getting paid soon after the Vegas Bowl in endorsements and card signing contracts. The NFL Draft is about four months away. Many draft sites project Crosby to be a first-round pick. Freeman should go off the board somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. 

An injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl could damage their draft status and cost them money. Most recently, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu severely injured his knee while practicing in preparation for the 2014 Rose Bowl game against FSU. Once a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu went in the seventh round to Cleveland and is no a free agent. 

The odds of something like that occurring to Freeman and/or Crosby are long. But it does happen. Any injury that holds them back from working out for the NFL Scouting Combine or provides NFL teams with questions regarding their durability could cost them money in both the short and long terms. 

Is winning the Las Vegas Bowl worth that risk? Each player must decide that for himself. 

My vote: Sit it out. Both have given plenty to the program. They will have gone out as winners against Oregon State and Arizona and helped get the program back on track. Nobody is going to remember this bowl game beyond next year. Heck, UO fans barely cared the day Oregon defeated Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl. 

Protect your bodies and get ready for the next chapter in your careers. 

Then again, it sure would be great to see both play just one more time. 

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Oregon returned to the business of football over the weekend in preparation for Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl as if nothing ever happened last week.

During a seven-day stretch crazy emotional swings, Willie Taggart left Oregon to become the coach at Florida State on Tuesday leading to Mario Cristobal being elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach on Friday. 

Once the madness had subsided, the Ducks got back to playing football and preparing to face formidable Boise State on Saturday. 

"I feel like we're very dialed in, especially with everything that has been going on, I still feel like we have our heads on straight," redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

Cristobal said he didn't expect his team to display any adverse impact from going through such a tough week, nor did he believe that the trappings of Las Vegas would distract his team from the job at hand. 

"I'm confident about the mindset of our guys," Cristobal said. "During the bowl season a couple of things happen; you have a mindset to go perform or you have a mindset to kind of go have fun. Our guys want to perform well. And to perform well, the investment has to be done during the course of the week."

The last time Oregon played in the Las Vegas Bowl not only did the city's environment get to the Ducks but Brigham Young laid a 38-8 butt-whoopin on Oregon. That Ducks team, however, was a mess. They had experienced a disappointing season after going 10-2 the previous year, and headed to Las Vegas as a fractured bunch. 

This time around, despite losing their head coach, these Ducks are strongly united and excited for the challenge ahead. Very rarely does a team's voice get answered when it comes to the hiring of a coach. But certainly the fact that 70-plus players signed a petition asking athletic director Rob Mullens to elevate Cristobal didn't go unnoticed. 

The result is an Oregon team that got what it wanted in a head coach. Now the team must go out and prove that it will perform at a high level for Cristobal in a big setting. 

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Oregon vs. Boise State

When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sam Boys Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.  

T.V.: ABC. 

Betting line: Oregon by 7 1/2.

Records: Ducks (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12), Boise State (10-3, 7-1 Mountain West).

Last game: Oregon won the Civil War two weeks go then had the past two Saturday off. Boise State won its conference championship game over Fresno State, 17-14 on Dec. 2. 

Coaches: Ducks' Mario Cristobal (27-47, 0-0 at Oregon); BSU's Bryan Harsin (48-17, 41-12 at Boise State).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5. The Ducks with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback are a force that Boise State will have a tough time defeating. 

Boise State has a solid offense led by quarterback Brett Rypien, who has passed for 2,515 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions. 

"He's efficient, he's tough, he's athletic," Cristobal said. "He knows exactly what to do. He's a very well-coached individual."

But the Broncos' 32 points per game shouldn't scare the Ducks, who averaged 52 with Herbert in the lineup. 

Boise State's defense has being strong, giving up just 22.5 points per game. But Washington State put up big numbers during a 47-44 triple-overtime win over Boise State and Virginia took down the Broncos, 42-23.

The odds of Boise State keeping the Ducks under 40 are not strong while nothing about the Broncos suggests that they are capable of winning a shootout against Oregon.

The wild card in play, however, could be the status of senior running back Royce Freeman. Should he elect to sit out the game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, the Ducks would be in for a closer outing. Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said on Friday that he wasn't sure if he would play in Las Vegas. 

If both sit out, the Ducks would certainly face a much tougher challenge in Las Vegas. 

Game prediction: Oregon 44, Boise State 30. The Ducks are fired up. Keep in mind that this program has not won a bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl and not many players on the team saw the field that day. They have something to prove having supported Cristobal ball or the head job. Letting him down with a poor performance would be a bad look for all involved.   

Ducks make it rain in second half to defeat Colorado State 95-65

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Ducks make it rain in second half to defeat Colorado State 95-65

How Oregon won: The Ducks got back to how Oregon wants to play basketball: gritty defense that turns into fast break opportunities. And that's exactly what we saw on the court of Matthew Knight Arena this evening. Oregon's smothering defense caused 16 Colorado State turnovers that lead to 26 points. It's that quick transition offense that the Ducks find their identity, always aiming to push and control the tempo off either a turnover or defensive rebound. This defensive-lead momentum, along with redshirt senior guard Elijah Brown's team-high 20 points, lead Oregon (6-3) past the Colorado State Rams (4-6) 95-65.

In a post-game press conference, Oregon head coach Dana said, "Second chance points 23 to four, points off turnovers 26 to seven... Those are stats we haven't seen. Out-rebounded them by 14 and this is a team that out-rebounded Florida State, Arkansas, and Colorado, so board-play was good."

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Not to mention the Ducks also capitalized off those Colorado State turnovers with 12 fast-break points compared to the Rams' two. 

"Payton Pritchard set a heck of a tone defensively," said Altman. "When that point guard is out there setting the tone, then Troy [Brown] and Elijah [Brown] really picked it up. I just thought our defensive effort was better tonight. I thought we gave up fewer good looks."

What it means: This was a better showing of Oregon basketball then the previous four games. Altman and his staff made good adjustments in the second half and relied more on the Ducks bench who outscored Colorado State's bench 30 to 11. 

High flying Ducks: Including Brown, six total Ducks scored in double figures tonight: Elijah Brown (20), Kenny Wooten (13), Paul White (12), Troy Brown (12), Payton Pritchard (11), and Mikyle McIntosh (10). This shows the ball movement trending in the right direction for Oregon.

"Tonight was big for him," said Pritchard on Elijah Brown following the game. "He hasn't been shooting it like Elijah normally has been. I'm hoping tonight is how it is every game because that's going to be a big help for us. He can catch fire, so that's big for our team." 

Foul play: Both Troy Brown and Mikyle McIntosh finished the game with four fouls each.

Up next: Oregon will host Texas Southern (0-8) at 7 PM (PT) on Monday, December 11 at Matthew Knight Arena.

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Aaron Fentress scooped the college football world this morning with the first report that assistant coach Mario Cristobal will be named Oregon's next head coach.

The one thing that sticks out for me about this hire is that the Ducks are getting a big-time recruiter as their head coach -- which may well be the biggest part of Cristobal's resume. To win big in college football -- and Oregon is firmly in that group of schools that thinks winning a national championship is possible -- you need players. Big-time, blue-chip, NFL-first-three-rounds-of-the-draft players. And Willie Taggart aside -- because he cast himself aside so quickly -- the Ducks haven't really had a recruiting dynamo as the leader of the program. Ever.

Again, excluding Taggart, who departed prior to actually landing his first highly regarded class.

Cristobal has long been considered one of the top recruiters in the country and while at Alabama was instrumental in the Crimson Tide hauling in prized recruits year after year.

It's about time the Ducks brought in a premier recruiter, isn't it? For years, all I've heard is how difficult it is to bring top players to Oregon, which is so far from where all the top high school players live. So why not seek out one of the best recruiters in the country? Once you realize a top-flight sales job is needed, why not hire a very good salesman?

The Ducks have come close to a national championship a couple of times in recent years and I don't think they lost title games because of on-field coaching mistakes. I'm not saying the strategy and hands-on work with players isn't important. But I do think there are plenty of coaches capable of getting a team through a season without messing up the weight-room requirements, who to start at safety, defensive sets and third-down play calls.

Where the Ducks have usually fallen short is in the talent area. Frankly, they just haven't quite been good enough. Chip Kelly's schemes were great and I think his teams were disciplined, played hard and were well-coached. But they were always just a few big-time players shy -- especially up front on both sides of the ball -- from climbing all the way to the top of the college football world.

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Cristobal may be able to rescue a majority of the recruiting class that Taggart put together this year. But if he doesn't, that's not the end of the world. The Ducks need big-time recruits EVERY season. And ie appears to me Cristobal is someone with the credentials to make that happen. At least it's worth a try. My only real concern about the hire is that he's another guy from the opposite corner of the country who may be, like Taggart, another candidate for an early exit.

Oh, his record as a head coach leaves something to be desired at first glance. But if you dive deeper into his situation at Florida International, you will find extenuating circumstances.

And recruiting to Nike U. will surely be easier than it was at FIU.