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Monday, November 5, 2012
Ducks' due diligence pays off on the field

By Brandon P. Oliver

After a second straight offensive masterpiece in the LA Coliseum, the Oregon Ducks have now won four of the past six meetings with USC. Since Oregon's modern era of football began in 1994, the Ducks have won nine of the 15 meetings with the Trojans. In that same time period, USC has beaten the Ducks for numerous recruits. With all of USC's success on the recruiting trail and its ideal location, how have the Ducks been able to have the edge on the field?

Herman Lathers
LaMichael James was a two-star recruit, but starred at Oregon.
Oregon's success can be attributed to coaching, player development and finding the right players who buy in to the system. In spite of all the flash and recent success, the Ducks still have to fight harder for recruits than nearly every program out there. Having unlimited recruits within a couple of hours drive of your campus gives programs like USC a built-in advantage that can't be understated.

Each year, USC could essentially pick a recruiting class full of elite prospects who grew up dreaming of playing for the traditional powerhouse. On the other hand, the Ducks usually have two or three local recruits to choose from.

With a geographic disadvantage that will never change, the Ducks have to fight hard to go into the backyards of other programs to get their future stars.

What the Ducks have been able to do is adapt -- in some ways -- to the ever-changing recruiting landscape. After some off-the-field issues and lackluster careers by highly touted recruits, the Ducks likely take the most patient and unique approach of any elite program. Schools like LSU, Florida, Ohio State, USC, Texas and Alabama usually have their classes mostly filled by the time their seasons kick off. With so many elite recruits within a few hours of each respective campus, they are able to host dozens of top prospects during the spring and summer on unofficial visits. The prevailing trend is to commit early to guarantee a spot in a school's recruiting class. Many prospects hear about other recruits going on official visits and wonder if they made a mistake by not evaluating all of their options.

The Ducks usually have a handful of Oregon-level recruits on campus on unofficial visits each spring and summer. They seem to lay in the weeds and wait for the right time to strike. In the previous two recruiting cycles, Chip Kelly has been able to sign away impact players from other elite programs just before signing day. Jake Fisher, De'Anthony Thomas, Bralon Addison and Chance Allen all switched to the Ducks from Michigan, USC, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, respectively.

The Trojans have signed dozens of players who were heavily recruited by the Ducks over the past 15 years, but the Ducks have wound up developing numerous players who USC overlooked into All-Americans who went on to -- or are on their way to -- NFL careers.

The Trojans would likely have benefited from players like Walter Thurmond III (West Covina, Calif.), Spencer Paysinger (Beverly Hills, Calif.), Casey Matthews (Westlake Village, Calif.), Patrick Chung (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.), Nick Reed (Mission Viejo, Calif.), Steve Smith (San Pedro, Calif.), Samie Parker (Long Beach, Calif.), Keenan Howry (Los Alamitos, Calif.) and Kenjon Barner (Riverside, Calif.), among others. All of them attended high school within an hour's drive of the USC campus, but none of them received an offer from the Trojans.

It would be unfair to call the coaches at any of the aforementioned schools lazy, but it seems that certain schools buy into "recruiting on paper" more than others. The Ducks take their time and do their due diligence in order to make offers to the right players. It can be easy for schools like Texas, Miami and USC to rest on their tradition of success and sign the highest-ranked recruits from the top high school programs in their immediate area. Many recruits develop late or grow up in areas not heavily recruited by the blue bloods of college football.

Scan any roster in the country and you'll find plenty of four- and five-star recruits that star for their teams. You'll also find guys like LaMichael James (San Francisco) and Jairus Byrd (Buffalo), both of whom were two-star recruits overlooked by most top programs. When you look over NFL rosters, a large percentage of the players come from non-BCS or FCS programs.

The Ducks have slowly increased their on-field success over the past 15 years. While their recruiting rankings have improved dramatically, the Ducks still rank in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 in terms of recruiting rankings.
The Ducks have sent more two-star recruits on to the NFL than they have five-stars. That likely stems from the fact that they look for kids who are hungry to prove themselves and are willing to buy into the team-first attitude that the Ducks have adopted.

With their fast rise toward the top of the college football world, it has become apparent that the Oregon coaching staff works smarter than most other coaching staffs. Once the recruits get on campus, the Ducks have been able to develop players better than almost any program in the nation.

If you were to ask Chip Kelly about recruiting rankings, he would likely give you a smirk and say, "What are those?" The only rankings he cares about are the ones in January. In beating USC in three out four games en route to a 43-6 record overall -- and a 31-2 conference record -- it's fair to say that Kelly has things under control in recruiting, and on the field.