Helfrich: We're in scout team mode
EUGENE – Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich wouldn’t take the bait when asked if he would prefer to open the season against a ranked opponent rather than an FCS program such as Nicholls State University coming off a 1-10 season.
“I have no preference…” Helfrich said. “I like playing football. It doesn’t matter.”
Sounds familiar. The phrase "Super Bowl" also was uttered. Former coach Chip Kelly would be proud.
Okay, fair enough. But in actuality, the opening opponent can matter just a tad.
Helfrich will be 1-0 after his head coaching debut, 1 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.
It's a lock. Mark it down.
And that’s how a team expected to contend for a national title should start the season.
Virtually every other sport/league offers something in the way of a preseason or tuneup for at least the top teams. It makes perfect sense. No team should be expected to A) be at its best to start the season, and B) be at its best while playing against another top-tier opponent to open a season.
Oregon, coming off its loss to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, began the following season against top-five LSU in Dallas. The Ducks lost 40-27 and appeared out of sync all evening.
The following week, UO blasted Nevada, 69-20 and then handled Missouri State, 56-7. It’s reasonable to believe that UO might have performed better against LSU had the game taken place after UO had already pocketed one or both of those easy victories. Then again, LSU would also have had a tuneup game to prepare it. Still, it’s one thing to lose because another team is better. It’s another thing to lose because you’re not at your best.
Another example: The Ducks began the 2009 season with a 19-8 loss at Boise State. Chip Kelly’s debut almost appears to be a misprint on a career filled with high-scoring, blowout victories. But the Ducks, on that day, were a mess and had some wondering if Kelly taking over for coach Mike Bellotti was a mistake. It wasn't. But opening the season at Boise State was.
Saturday's game certainly will become forgettable at about the precise moment of kickoff. But it's the proper way for UO to begin a season filled with great promise.