Oregon still a title contender?

Many programs slide when a coach leaves, but Oregon might be different

Updated: March 4, 2013, 1:09 PM ET
By Brian Fremeau | Football Outsiders
HelfrichKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCan new Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich keep the Ducks atop the national rankings?

The Oregon Ducks have established themselves as one of the premier college football programs in the country. Only Alabama and Boise State have won more games over the last five seasons. Further, Oregon has finished among the top four in the final Associated Press poll in each of the last three seasons, the only team to accomplish that feat.

What happens when a program on top of the college football landscape has to deal with a head-coaching change? Chip Kelly flirted with departing Eugene multiple times in the last few seasons but finally made the leap to the NFL in January when he joined the Philadelphia Eagles. In his place, former Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich has been appointed the team's new head coach. What impact will Kelly's move have on the expectations and future success of the Oregon program he took to the top?

There is a sample-size issue with this particular question. Oregon ranks No. 3 in our Program FEI (PFEI) ratings, a measure of five-year possession efficiency. In the last five seasons, only three other top-five programs (based on PFEI rankings) experienced a coaching change. Florida (transitioning from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp following the 2010 season), Ohio State (transitioning from Jim Tressel to Luke Fickell following the 2010 season) and USC (transitioning from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin following the 2009 season) were the only programs that ranked as high as Oregon at the time of their coaching changes. All three took a step back, losing at least five games the next season.

But it's not all bad.

Brian Fremeau

ESPN Insider
• Has been a contributor to ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine since 2009
• Creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a measure of college football team efficiency
• Contributor to Football Outsiders and his own site, bcftoys.com