The Pac 12 Football Media Days were held this week in Hollywood, CA and with that, the conference finally announced its pre-season media poll rankings. Unfortunately those rankings did not bode well for Oregon as the Ducks found themselves as pre-season underdogs for the first time in a number of years.
In the North Division, Oregon is ranked third while Stanford and much-improved Washington hold the first and second spots. In the South Division, UCLA, Utah and USC hold the first three spots.
Stanford, who was last season’s conference Champion is predicted to take home the trophy once again, while Oregon is ranked fifth in the conference. The good news for Ducks’ fans is that while the media poll has correctly identified the conference champion 29 out of 55 times, they have been wrong 7 out of the last 9 times.
Of course it’s early but the polls at least give teams and fans something to talk about. Coaches and players across the board, however, steered clear of putting too much stock in the newly-released rankings. This was especially true for Oregon Head Coach, Mark Helfrich.
“I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned the BCS, I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned the College Football Playoff, I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned any poll,” Helfrich told reports today. “ No offense, but it just doesn’t happen.”
Helfrich’s statement did not surprise anyone close to the program and perhaps he’s on to something.
“Since my first day at Oregon, the first game at Oregon against Boise State, everybody wrote us off for dead back then and have done it every single year, every single recruiting cycle, every single spring since then,” Helfrich said. “ “That’s great. We can’t focus on that. We can’t live that way.”
It seems whether the Ducks are favored or not, they stick to their “Win the Day” mentality rather than listening to the critics. The approach has obviously worked well for them in recent years given their continued overall success- give or take a couple of bumps in the road.
While the team manages to mostly block out the outside noise, Oregon’s top producing running back, Royce Freeman, did offer some insight and initial thoughts about the pre-season poll. During an interview this week with gridirongirl, Freeman opened up about whether or not he thought Oregon’s ranking was fair.
“I don’t feel we are underrated,” Freeman said. “I feel like honestly we haven’t deserved anything by the performance we had last year. We weren’t playing up to our caliber or standard.”
So what does Freeman think will help turn things around? Coming together on both sides of the ball.
“ I feel like as a group, we need to come together. . . offense and defense being on at the same time, “ Freeman said. “ The games that we were both on, we dominated.”
And Freeman is right.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Oregon likely finds itself as an underdog in the polls because of the many question marks leading into this year’s fall camp. There are big changes and on both sides of the ball, including a brewing quarterback competition and significant defensive changes.
That being said, although the quarterback position is a key question mark, the strengths on offense are incredible. With play makers like Freeman in the backfield, huge depth at receiver and tight end, and major improvements on the offensive line, the offense should be ready to do its part.
The bigger questions might be on defense. With the hiring of new Defensive Coordinator, Brady Hoke, the defense has been completely shaken up- hopefully for the better. The scheme is different and the mentality is changing from a “bend don’t break” approach to one that is more aggressive or as Sr. linebacker, Johnny Ragin III, told gridirongirl this week, becoming the “Predator and not the prey.”
But will the defense be ready? Will they be able to quickly get through the growing pains? For now, that’s anyone’s guess but in the meantime, Freeman may have just given fans a little bit of hope.
When asked what fans might be most surprised to see this season, Freeman simply said, “The defense.
“It’s a different style, a different attitude for them.”
After last year’s defensive struggles, the Ducks need him to be right. If he is, that pre-season poll’s success rating may just take another hit.
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Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl