Oregon coach Mario Cristobal received more questions about one particular subject during Pac-12 media day today in Hollywood, Calif.
Not about quarterback Justin Herbert, although several were asked. Not about the defense. Not about the tough competition in the Pac-12 North Division.
No, the topic Cristobal was most asked about revolved around recruiting.
Maybe that's because if there is one aspect of being a major college coach that everyone knows Cristobal has down it is recruiting. Oregon landed four four-star recruits in the past week to launch its national class ranking up to No. 3 on Rivals.com and to No. 4 on 247sports.com's composite rankings.
"Talent acquisition is always going to be one of the three parts that make a program what it is," Cristobal told reporters. "So we're very aggressive, but we're aggressive when we identify something that we see that really fits us at Oregon, what we want to be and what we want to become."
What UO wants to become is champions, something that hasn't happened since the Ducks won the Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl playoff game in 2014, two head coaches ago. Cristobal enters his first season at the helm of UO's program facing the daunting task of living up to those expectations.
The Ducks turned to Taggart's former co-offensive coordinator, Cristobal, named recruiter of the year in 2015 while an assistant at Alabama. His one prior stint as a head coach resulted in a 27-48 record at Florida International, but that record includes lean years while rebuilding one of the nation's worst programs, one that didn't have an adequate weight room when he arrived.
Cristobal has the state-of-the-art everything at Oregon. He parlayed that into a No 18 ranked recruiting class in February after salvaging what he could after Taggart's departure. But another thing Cristobal did after Taggart left was lose 38-28 to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
That is the only time Cristobal has taken the field as Oregon's coach and it resulted in an ugly mess. Even with Herbert at quarterback, the Ducks managed just one offensive touchdown through 57 minutes of action. The team averaged 51 points in the seven games Herbert started under Taggart.
The Pac-12 media poll pegged the Ducks to be the third best team in the North Division. That's fair. There is no reason why Oregon should fall behind California or Oregon State. But with Herbert a year older, there is also zero reason why the Ducks can't finish second behind seemingly unbeatable Washington, reach nine victories with an embarrassingly soft non-conference schedule and win a second-tier bowl game.
Those are realistic expectations for a team that went 7-2 with Herbert healthy last season.
Oregon's talent won't overwhelm the top teams in the conference. Where Cristobal will be tested is in his ability to out-scheme opposing coaches at this level and steal a win or two against the top teams on the schedule. Cristobal got that done for the most part at FIU and his ability to turn that program around bodes well for his potential to win with the Ducks. Still, this is a different level. The Pac-12 boasts coaches the caliber of Stanford's David Shaw, Washington's Chris Petersen, Arizona's Kevin Sumlin and UCLA's Chip Kelly, to name a handful.
The latter, of course, won three conference titles at Oregon and created the somewhat warped expectations that helped lead to Helfrich losing his job and now hang over Cristobal.
If Cristobal is going to make a splash, he'd better do it quickly because there is no guarantee that he will ever have a quarterback of Herbert's level on the roster again, even if the team's overall talent level continues to rise thanks to quality recruiting under his watch.
None of this is to say that Cristobal will fail. The hunch here is that he will not run the program into the ground. But delivering a championship will be a tall order in an era where Washington and USC are humming. We just don't know if Cristobal is ready to guide a winning program in an FBS conference, or how long he will be given to figure things out should he fail to do so right away.
But we're about to find out. And the journey should prove to be quite entertaining.