The speed with which Oregon football declined from playing for a national championship with a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, to finishing 4-8 and the administration completely uprooting a coaching tree that went back more than four decades, rivaled the most up-tempo of Ducks offenses.
Willie Taggart's tenure was similarly blink-and-you'll-miss-it, with the head coach leaving for Florida State between the Civil War and Las Vegas Bowl, and less than one calendar year after his introduction. But Oregon maintains some stability in 2018, with offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal ascending to head coach, and the retention of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
Cristobal is back as a head coach for the first time in 2012, when his successful stint at Florida International ended abruptly. Cristobal spent time under Nick Saban at Alabama, a job that adds some exciting possibilities when integrating the Tide's philosophy with the lingering vestiges of Oregon's revolutionary hurry-up days.
Add a returning quarterback with Heisman Trophy potential in Justin Herbert, and the Ducks have the pieces to contend for the Pac-12 title. Indeed, the return to prominence could come as quickly as the initial decline. The first step comes Saturday night in Autzen Stadium against Bowling Green from the MAC.
Bowling Green at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network
Spread: Oregon -32
Three Things to Watch
1. Blending philosophies
At Pac-12 media days, Mario Cristobal described the 2014 Sugar Bowl in which Oklahoma hung 45 points on the vaunted Alabama defense as a turning point for the Crimson Tide's offensive identity. Former USC head coach Lane Kiffin came on as offensive coordinator the next season, and quarterback Blake Sims -- an exciting, dual-threat playmaker -- beat out the more traditional Alabama pocket quarterback Jacob Coker. Sims put up record-setting numbers behind an offensive line coached by Cristobal.
In much the same way Alabama adopted hurry-up and zone-read principles to blend with the smash-mouth style for which it was long known, Cristobal's presence promises a similar prospect at Oregon, just reversed.
Justin Herbert is not the dual threat past Oregon quarterbacks like Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas or Marcus Mariota were. Operating behind a big and deep offensive line, the speedy principles customary of a Ducks offense will have hints of an NFL look. It's the next evolution for the program that innovated offenses of the 21s century.
2. Year 2 under Jim Leavitt
Leavitt inherited an Oregon defense coming off a woeful 2016. Much like when Leavitt arrived at Colorado, however, he worked some fast magic to turn the Ducks around. What's interesting with Leavitt's two quick rebuilding jobs is that Colorado was one of the worst defenses in college football when it came to generating interceptions before his arrival; in 2016, the Buffs ranked among the nation's best.
Likewise, but in a different area of emphasis, Leavitt oversaw immediate transformation in the Ducks' run defense in 2017. With outstanding returners Troy Dye, Jordon Scott and Jaylen Jelks, Oregon has the potential to be one of the best front sevens in the Pac-12. Saturday, they face a Bowling Green offense that gave up 82 tackles for a loss in 2017 to rank No. 95 in the nation.
3. A tone-setter
Coming off a 2-10 season a year ago, Bowling Green has a lot of work to do independent of preparing for Oregon. While certainly anything can happen, the Falcons are not likely to spring the upset. More so, Saturday is an opportunity to set a positive tone for more winnable games in the slate to come.
Third-year head coach Mike Jinks needs to show improvement; the good news is that he returns some high-potential players, like quarterback Jarret Doege. Doege came on as a freshman in 2017 to pass for 12 touchdowns against just three interceptions in seven games. He is the brother of Bowling Green special teams coordinator Seth Doege, who was a standout quarterback for Texas Tech earlier this decade.
There's a family track record for putting up some big numbers; little brother can do that for the Falcons in 2018 if he continues building off '17.
Oregon is likely to impose its will early against a Bowling Green that looks to be, clearly, the best opponent on the Ducks' non-conference schedule. Mario Cristobal has a prime opportunity to get numerous reps for his reserves in the coming weeks, so long as the Ducks handle business early.
Expect Justin Herbert to get some quick scores and get out to avoid the risk of injury (he was sidelined for half of the 2017 season, which was not-coincidentally Oregon's worst spell of the campaign).