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Insider

Programs on rise after Kelly's departure

1/16/2013

The narrative that many thought was coming to pass a year ago -- and then two weeks ago -- with Chip Kelly moving from college coaching to the NFL, is now (finally) reality. Whether his act works on the professional level is a question that will be answered in the next, oh, three years.

But what about the Oregon Ducks? And an off-shoot of that question, what about the league?

During the past decade Oregon slowly gained a stranglehold on the Pac-10 (and then Pac-12), beginning the rise with Mike Bellotti and then reaching it with Kelly. Now what? The jerseys and offense aren't changing, but it's a bit of a leap to say there won't be any shift in the program's footing.

Presuming there is at the very least a slight drop -- precipitated perhaps by the NCAA's ultimate ruling in the Will Lyles case (see Rod Gilmore's take on what could trip up Oregon, at right) -- that would seem to open the door for a number of Pac-12 programs to become the lead dog very much the same way the Ducks did around the time Kelly took over. Which ones will take advantage, if given the opportunity?

The Stanford Cardinal are already on Oregon's heels, even if Stanford was doing it in a diametrically different manner. David Shaw, and Jim Harbaugh before him, is the anti-Kelly. An exotic offense and a sometimes defense versus a power offense and a power defense.

Regardless of the how, it's worked at Oregon and it's working at Stanford. The Cardinal are what blocked the Ducks from the type of season that likely was chief among the reasons that Kelly ultimately did an about-face on the Bucs in favor of one more year in college ball.

Stanford proved in 2012 that system trumps specific personnel, even when that specific personnel includes a once-in-a-generation quarterback. But beyond Andrew Luck, Stanford lost two offensive linemen in the top 42 picks, guard David DeCastro and tackle Jonathan Martin, and tight end Coby Fleener in the second round. That's a lot of pieces. Despite a lack of sexiness in the final offensive stats (seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring, eighth in yards), the offense wasn't prohibitive in getting the Cardinal a conference title and their second BCS win in three seasons.

The point is, Stanford doesn't appear to be budging, especially with the revelation that freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan proved to be down the stretch. Those I've spoken with believe freshman running back Barry Sanders, who took a redshirt this season, is the real deal, as the program tips its cap to workhorse senior Stepfan Taylor.

It's an intriguing stylistic storyline, the potential baton-passing from Oregon to Stanford. But there are plenty of others in the Pac-12 who are more flip cards and neon uniforms than they are nerds and brash band members.

I've written some about the possible rise of the Washington Huskies, with Steve Sarkisian piling ace recruiters on his staff -- and the Huskies beginning to see the fruits of that, with future pros Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Shaq Thompson on the roster and potentially more on the way.

Both Arizona schools have to be on the watch list. It was an up-and-down 8-5 season for Rich Rodriguez in Year 1 with the Arizona Wildcats -- beat USC, lose inexplicably by 56 to UCLA -- but it was interesting and that's more than Mike Stoops could often say. High school kids like interesting.

The Arizona State Sun Devils came out of a four-game midseason slump to win their final three games, including against Arizona and the bowl. That's handsome momentum for a team that returns a lot of pieces, including exceptional defensive lineman Will Sutton.

I've also written a lot in recent weeks about the UCLA Bruins' prodigious start under Jim Mora. He's brought energy to a program that needed it, especially on offense. With Brett Hundley going into his sophomore year, that life should extend for a few seasons, enough to recruit additional talent.

And let's not completely write off the USC Trojans just yet. The talent level will slip with the close of the careers of Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald and others, but Lane Kiffin and staff are still recruiting at an extremely high level, even with restrictions.

It's not as if Oregon is being shipped off to the Mountain West without Kelly, but you know other programs in the conference do not have damaged feelings about his move to the NFL -- especially if it precedes NCAA sanctions being handed down against the Ducks' program. At the very least, there will likely be one fewer coach who will go for two after touchdowns.