The Amway Coaches Poll came out yesterday. Most of the usual suspects are on the list filled out by assistants and graduate students around the country. Sure, Tennessee got a first-place vote, but Alabama is right there at #1, where they have been most of the last eight years.
So I’m here to defend the team that coaches seem not to appreciate for how good the program has been in the last decade–the Oregon Ducks. Oregon had, by its program’s standards, a lousy year in 2015. They got embarrassed at home by Utah, giving up 62 points. They lost at home to Washington State. The bowl game saw them blow a huge halftime lead against TCU in the Alamo Bowl. All of that still resulted in Oregon being ranked 19th at the end of a 9-4 season, the lowest final ranking for the program since they were 23rd at the end of the 2007 season.
Oregon is ranked 22nd by the coaches to start this year.
Look, there are plenty of questions to be answered, but that same standard does not seem to be applied to other programs. Maybe it’s the bright ever-revolving uniforms, maybe it’s a lack of trust in Mark Helfrich.
The defense had major issues a year ago, and former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has been brought in to address that, but defense is the easiest side of the ball for getting a quick turnaround.
The offense will be changing quarterbacks for the second year in a row, going from Marcus Mariota to Vernon Adams, and now either following that same route to bring in Montana State transfer, senior Dakota Prukop, or redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen.
Whoever the QB is will be part of a loaded offense. Royce Freeman is an NFL-caliber running back. Pharaoh Brown and Olympian Devon Allen will be back and healthy as receivers.
But this program has been among the best for almost a decade, consistently, never winning fewer than 9 games. Others aren’t held to same standard, to wit:
LSU #6, where Les Miles has shown us more than enough to know he can take NFL-level offensive talent and make it look quite pedestrian against good defenses
Notre Dame #9, the last time Notre Dame had back-to-back seasons ranked inside the top 15? 1992-1993. Oh, and they lost more NFL talent in the draft last year than any year in that span.
Ole Miss #12, fewest returning starters in SEC and also had largest draft losses and best NFL draft class in recent history.
Georgia #16, most overrated program of last decade, consistently underperforming and with a new coach.
USC #17, right behind Georgia in underperforming. Now coached by Clay Helton in his first full season, brutal schedule.
Washington #18, Chris Petersen still getting benefit of doubt, program hasn’t started and finished in top 25 since before the internet, roughly (okay, since 2001).
Maybe Oregon can’t answer their questions. Maybe this is the year they fall off a cliff. Here, though, is a list of every program since 1990 that had at least four straight years finishing in the Top 10, then finished outside the Top 15, and what happened next.
Only USC in 2010, in Lane Kiffin’s first year, failed to follow up by finishing ranked. Every other program bounced back to finish Top 12. The only one to be ranked lower the next year than Oregon was Kansas State in 2002 (unranked), and the Wildcats were another program that didn’t fit the mold of traditional power. I think Oregon’s earned a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, and I would take a bet they finish better than their coaches poll ranking by season’s end.