Fashionistas can rate Oregon's myriad uniforms. Architectural Digest can critique the Ducks' opulent and excessive — take a bow, Nike — football support complex. Analysts can dissect the program's warp-speed, no-huddle offense.
Regardless of your tastes in color schemes, hardwood floors and Xs and Os, there's no questioning that Oregon, eccentricities and all, is a national curiosity and power.
The Ducks are the only program ranked among the final top five each of the past three years — they lost the national title game in January 2011 to Auburn. Oregon and Alabama are the only teams with five consecutive top-15 seasons, and entering Saturday's game at Virginia, the Ducks boast the nation's longest road winning streak of 15 games.
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Autzen Stadium, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97401, USA
"We believe wholeheartedly from top to bottom in what we're doing," coach Mark Helfrich said Tuesday during the Pacific 12 Conference's media call. "(Speed is) a program thing. It's not an offense. …
"We talk about live with a forward lean, whether you're sitting in geography class or you're attacking on third-and-8, or in the weight room, or dealing with the media. … Just kind of an attack mentality."
Helfrich is a rookie big whistle but steeped in Oregon's philosophy, and if history repeats, the Ducks will sustain their success under his leadership.
Declining an offer to walk on at Oregon, Helfrich was a NAIA All-America quarterback at Southern Oregon (class of 1996). He joined Oregon's staff in 1997 as a graduate assistant under Mike Bellotti before heading to full-time assistant gigs at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado.
Helfrich returned to Oregon as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2009, when Bellotti stepped down and the school promoted then-OC Chip Kelly to head coach. Kelly exited for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in January, and less than a week later Oregon elevated Helfrich.
"Obviously, there was all sorts of interest (in the job), and we wanted to make sure we canvassed the landscape and did a national search," Ducks athletic director Rob Mullens said Wednesday. "But we knew what we had here as a starting point with Mark. He understood the culture, he understood the philosophy, the system. He played a key role in the past success."
In Kelly's six seasons with the Ducks, the last four as head coach, they ranked no lower than 12th nationally in scoring and sixth in rushing offense, showcasing the likes of Dennis Dixon, Derron Thomas and LaMichael James. Add a 66-3 rout of Football Championship Subdivision lightweight Nicholls State last week in Helfrich's debut, and Oregon has scored at least 30 points in 67 of its last 80 games.
The Ducks are 66-14 during that stretch, 3-10 when scoring below 30. Virginia has scored 30 or more 18 times in its last 80 games.
"The expectations around the offensive style are very high," Mullens said. "We can put up big numbers, and people are still focused on why did we punt X number of times, or why did we only have 500 yards."
Helfrich wants the Ducks to play even faster than under Kelly, and for one week, albeit against minimal resistance, he was true to his aim. Oregon gained 772 yards Saturday in just 19:46 of possession time, an absolutely staggering pace.
Running backs De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall, plus quarterback Marcus Mariota, rushed for more than 100 yards each and combined to score five touchdowns. Reciting Mariota's skill set — speed, accuracy, arm strength, football IQ — as rapidly as his offense runs plays, Helfrich said the sophomore from Honolulu "would be good in any offense."
The no-huddle/spread is all the rage in college football — see Old Dominion and quarterback Taylor Heinicke for the local variety — but adaptation is not easy.
"You have to operate faster, but (be) more efficient," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said on the Pac-12 media call. "I think it takes three years to get in shape, mentally and physically to be able to handle the fast-paced, no-huddle. …
"Most people will go to the no-huddle, fast tempo and then they abandon it because they start to have more mistakes than they're accustomed to. And so it's got to be something you totally commit to."
Virginia knows all about embracing and aborting the spread. The Cavaliers did both in 2009 when embattled coach Al Groh hired Gregg Brandon as offensive coordinator. By season's end, Virginia was 3-9 and ranked 105th nationally in scoring, results that ended Groh's nine-year tenure.
With one losing season in the last 19 years, Oregon has endured far fewer recent hiccups than U.Va., or most any other program.
"We're not just a flash in the pan," Helfrich said.