Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014 and he certainly had a resume that's very deserving of that honor. He led the Ducks to bowl games in all twelve seasons as a head coach and all the way up to a number two ranking and Fiesta Bowl win in 2002.
And ironically, the greatest part of his Oregon legacy may eventually be that he hired Chip Kelly as an offensive coordinator.
Belotti did an outstanding job of building on what his predecessor Rich Brooks did before him with the Ducks, but Chip Kelly, and now Mark Helfrich, have transitioned the Ducks into a national power during their tenure. Since Kelly got promoted to the head coaching job in 2009 by Belotti and continuing with Helfrich taking the reigns in 2013, Oregon's program has reached new heights of sustained success.
It's no surprise that the level of recruiting has gotten better during the Kelly/Helfrich era and that has coincided with that success. During that time Oregon became the team expected to win most of their games, partially because they had more raw talent than their opponents. Since 2009, the Ducks have only played nine games in which their opponents have recruited better than them. So while the scheme and coaching certainly has had a massive impact on how well they have performed on the field, it can't be ignored that they are playing with more tools than the majority of their opponents.
One of those opponents who clearly had a raw talent advantage over the Ducks was Florida State. Unless you were sleeping off a hangover, I'm sure you know that that game went heavily in the Ducks favor. Since this year's Ohio State squad is also considered to be more talented than this year's version of the Ducks as well, I figured it would be worth it to take a look a the previous eight games before Florida State when the Ducks took on programs that have recruited better than them. The results were mixed, but there are a few interesting things that are noteworthy.
Let's go back to 2009 and work our way back up to now. (The 247Sports composite team and star rankings were used for all of information below.)
If taking the average ranking of the four classes (2006-2009) that compose the majority of the roster for that team, the average four year class ranking is 27th in the nation.
The number of blue chip (4 and 5 star players) Oregon signed over that same four year span was 17.
The Ducks played two teams that season with more raw talent than them. The beat USC 47-20 during the regular season and lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl 26-17.
USC had an four year average class ranking of 2nd in the nation with 56 blue chip players signed. Ohio State had an four year average class ranking of 12th in the nation and with 50 blue chip players signed. By those numbers, I think it's fairly obvious that the Ducks were far and away the lesser talented teams in both of those matchups so we can put their record at 1-1 during the Kelly/Helfrich era.
The four year average class ranking was 19th in the nation with 25 blue chips signed.
They played two teams with more raw talent that season, beating USC 53-32 and losing to Auburn 22-19 in the national championship game.
The most interesting thing about this is that USC clearly had more talent again (average class rank of 3rd nationally and 55 blue chips signed), but Oregon was much closer in talent level to Auburn. The Tigers had an average class rank of 15th and had 30 blue chips signed during that time. Even though the narrative may have been that the SEC recruits better than just about everybody, the Ducks weren't far off from the Tigers overall in that area and the result of the game kind of backs it up.
The Ducks record against teams with more raw talent moves to 2-2.
The four year average class ranking was 18th in the nation with 28 blue chips signed.
They played two teams that recruited better than them that season and lost to both. LSU was their first game of the season and the Ducks lost 40-27. I think a lot of Oregon fans will remember the turnovers in that game as a deciding factor, but the Ducks were clearly outgunned in terms of overall talent on the roster. LSU had a four year average class ranking of 7th and had 49 blue chip players signed in those classes.
The other game was a close loss to USC, 38-35. USC had a four year average class ranking of 3rd and had 57 blue chips signed over that time.
What game is missing from here? The Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin (45-38). Wisconsin is not even in the same league as any of the other schools in terms of national rankings and number of blue chip players signed. They just do a heck of a job developing talent and were boosted that season by a transfer in Russell Wilson. It turns out he's a pretty good player and I would say he's the best 5th year transfer in the history of college football.
Unfortunately, the Ducks first BCS bowl victory in the Kelly/Helfrich era does not not count towards their record versus teams that recruited better and they dropped to 2-4.
The four year average class ranking was 16th with 33 blue chips signed over that time.
The Ducks actually only played one team all year that recruited better than them. Yup, it was USC again. They beat the Trojans 62-51 in a game that did some serious damage to Monte Kiffin's legacy as a defensive coordinator. USC had a four year average class ranking of 5th. Even though some may point to this being the first year of scholarship reductions affecting USC, they still signed a whopping 56 blue chip players over that four year span.
Two games notably absent from this list are the Stanford loss (17-14 in overtime) and the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State (35-17). As our own Jack Follman pointed out in the comments of his 10 biggest games in the Kelly/Helfrich era piece, Stanford was a massive underdog going into that game. They weren't expected to win that game and did not have the same amount of raw talent on their roster as Oregon.
As for Kansas State, the Wildcats have never been known for recruiting top players. Bill Snyder has made a living finding gems and signing junior college players. The Ducks second BCS bowl win, and last win ever under Kelly, was not a game where the Ducks were outmatched in terms of talent.
Oregon improved to 3-4 in games where they had less raw talent.
The four year average class ranking was 14th with 38 blue chips players signed.
With USC off the schedule, there were no regular season games in which Oregon was facing a talent deficit. The only game they played all season against a team that recruited better than them was Texas in the bowl game. The clearly underachieving Longhorns four year average class ranking was 4th with a massive 63 blue chip players signed during that time period. The Texas team is exhibit A in the case against recruiting rankings, but also flashed the kind of talent they had on the roster when they beat down Oklahoma earlier in the season in the Red River Rivalry. That's the same Oklahoma team the put it on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The two other games of note during the season were the two losses Oregon suffered to Stanford (26-20) and Arizona (42-16).
With the Texas win, Oregon moved up to .500 in games where they had less raw talent at 4-4.
This brings us to this year's version of the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks did not play a team during the regular season where they were playing catch up in terms of talent. Their only loss during the season was to Arizona, a team that has not recruited nearly as well as the Ducks, and they avenged that loss in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Both playoff games were going to be matchups where Oregon didn't have the same amount of raw talent as their opposition. They showed that it didn't matter against Florida State. We'll find out on Monday how much it matters versus the Buckeyes.
Oregon is 5-4 against teams with more raw talent during the Kelly/Helfrich era. That's a pretty good record, but it has to be mentioned that for four of those wins, three came against Lane Kiffin's USC and the other came against the final team in the Mack Brown era at Texas.
That's what makes last week's win versus the Seminoles so significant. They took down a more talented team that was the defending national champion and had a Heisman trophy winner at quarterback. It can be argued that Oregon has not had a bigger win in the history of their program. It was an unprecedented win for the Kelly/Helfrich era. On Monday we'll find it if the Ducks can make it a trend rather than a one-off.