At the gym yesterday I picked up a worn copy of Sports Ilustrated to read on the elliptical machine, from March 10, and a few pages in there was a blurb on college football's second season, spring practice, the issues and highlights of a new year. Three players were pictured, Jameis Winston, T.J. Yeldon, and Marcus Mariota.
We knew it already, but Marcus Mariota is one of the marquee stars of college football. A headliner. A poster boy. The kind of talent that when a national magazine looks for an angle to highlight a new season they naturally pick him.
Before ESPN, Sports Illustrated was the bible of sports, but it's a digital world now, and the Worldwide Leader dominates. But it's eye-opening to consider that Mariota's return, and his talent and stardom, is one of the biggest stories in college football. The lead-in to any preview. He's been solid and steady and amassed great stats and 23-3 record as a starter. After this season he's likely to be the all-time leader at Oregon in almost every quarterback category.
If he has the kind of junior season that he could have, Oregon's modest, team-oriented signal caller may just take the Webfoot success story to an entirely new level. He already has the country's attention.
Always stirring the pot, John Canzano wonders today if Oregon fans should cut Mark Helfrich a break after his first year. Yes and no, I think. I'm a long-time Duck fan who remembers the bad old days, and 11-2 and a bowl win over Texas would have been the stuff of dreams when we were watching games in a half-empty stadium and getting blown out regularly by the conference's big boys. But the Ducks faltered in November last year, looked dazed and confused versus Arizona and had to rally late against the Beavers. Recruiting was good but not spectacular.
I think most of us are watching closely this season. While we're nowhere near hot seat territory fans want to see renewed energy and commitment from the 2014 team, getting the job done against Michigan State, Stanford, and UCLA, with none of those slip-ups, overlook-the-opponent type games that kill a season. Helfrich will be judged on how he closes the deal with a veteran offensive line and an offense loaded with megawatt talent. Fans expect to see better discipline and execution, and more cohesion from the coaching staff.
Evaluations of Helfrich invariably start out with a reference to how smart he is. He's certainly glib and articulate, but a truly smart guy recognizes problems and solves them, adapts and improves an organization, finds better ways to get better results. The second-year Oregon coach is by all accounts a decent guy and a family man and dedicated to his job, which he calls his dream job. The entire operation ought to be smoother and efficient in year two, and the method and the message should be dynamic, consistent and relentlessly purposeful. Getting the backpacks lined up in a row is a start. Let's see how they do on 3rd down, in the red zone, and in the standings. This should be one of the great years in Oregon football history, and it's right to have great expectations.
Calvin Broadus, the son of hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, who is admittedly not in my play list, is emerging as one of the top wide receiver talents in the Western United States. A senior this fall at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Broadus is 6-4 with good hands, a long, smooth stride and the ability to make big plays in the passing game.
It's always a two-edged sword when you consider an athlete with a celebrity father. You have to consider not only his ability but the impact that the potential sideshow will have on the culture in the program. The Ducks had a tremendous experience with Kyle Long, who came in and had an immediate impact on a team that won a BCS bowl. The Long family, with a long history of excellence in football, stayed chiefly in the background and the association benefited both parties; Kyle became a first-round draft pick of the Bears and made the pro bowl as a rookie.
Snoop Dogg, or Broadus Senior is passionate about football. He underwrites a Pop Warner league in the Los Angeles area and coaches, an early mentor to De'Anthony Thomas.
One the question marks has to be the famous rapper's wink-wink/nudge-nudge association with marijuana, including reports that he readily indulges with his teen-aged son. Marijuana use has been a factor in discipline issues for Oregon in the past, prominent in dismissals and suspensions. The weed culture brushes up against the sports culture, not always with positive results.
The Ducks only have around 15 scholarships available in the 2015 class, plus or minus depending on attrition, early entries and the like, so they'll only be looking for one or two wide receivers. Christian Kirk of Arizona is number one on everyone's list.
The Oregon coaches excel at putting together a class that works hard, represents the school well and demonstrates speed, ability and character. Broadus is a 4-star player with offers from Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA, and USC.