For the first time since 2004, the Oregon Ducks football team concludes the regular season with a losing record and no postseason bowl appearance. Oregon finished the season 4-8 after a 34-24 loss in the Civil War rivalry game with Oregon State.
The poor results of the 2016 season led to the firing of head coach Mark Helfrich. It was only two years ago that Helfrich took the Ducks to the BCS National Championship Game.
In a statement about Helfrich’s firing, Athletic Director Rob Mullens said, “We want to thank Mark for his eight years with the University of Oregon and appreciate his efforts on his behalf of Oregon football. We wish Mark and his family the best.”
While nobody expected eight losses, Oregon did enter the season with some serious question marks that should have made Duck fans a little leery. For the second year in a row, Oregon would start the season with a new quarterback. The Ducks also had a new defensive coordinator, Brady Hoke, who would have to work with an inexperienced unit. Despite these questions, Oregon figured to have a formidable ground game led by junior running back Royce Freeman.
Dakota Prukop, a transfer from Montana State, was named Oregon’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. Prukop played reasonably well in Oregon’s first two non-conference wins against UC Davis and Virginia but struggled in the Ducks’ final non-conference game against Nebraska. Oregon fell to the Huskers 35-32. Freeman sustained a leg injury in the loss.
Things went from bad to worse for the Oregon once Pac-12 play started. In the conference opener, Colorado knocked off the Ducks 41-38. Most considered the loss a major upset at the time. In the next game, Washington State amassed 651 yards of total offense in a 51-33 blowout of the Ducks.
After the Washington State game, freshman Justin Herbert replaced Prukop at quarterback for Oregon’s home matchup against Washington. The Ducks, who entered the game on a 12-game winning streak against the Huskies, were humiliated 70-21 for their fourth loss in a row. A fifth loss in a row came two weeks late in as the Ducks fell to California 52-49 in overtime.
The five-game losing streak ended against Arizona State in a game where Herbert threw for 489 yards and four touchdowns. However, the defensive struggles continued for the Ducks in back-to-back losses to Stanford and USC.
The bright point of the season for Oregon came in Week 12 when the Ducks knocked off #12 Utah 30-28. A healthy Freeman carried the ball for 128 yards in the victory. However, the upset loss to Oregon State the following week ended the Ducks’ season on an abysmal note.
Three days later, it was announced by athletic director Rob Mullens that Helfrich was out at Oregon. While the move was not unexpected, some, such as Sports Illustrated’s Lindsay Schnell, see Helfrich as a victim of his own success.
Regardless, Oregon must find a new head coach to lead it forward after its first season to forget in a long time.