It took 10 years but Oregon finally had the recruiting class (on paper) that one would associate with the success the Ducks have had in recent years.
Just what was the key to Oregon garnering national headlines this past February?
"I think it was because of our locker rooms," said Mike Bellotti, the dean of Pac-10 coaches with nine years service.
The much-publicized $3.5 million state-of-the-art home away from home for Ducks football players was the reason Oregon signed the toprated player in the West (according to the Long Beach Press Telegram Best in the West) and three of the top 20.
"We expanded our stadium. We improved the weight room, the practice field is better, and all that. All those things from an athlete’s viewpoint, that’s well and good," Bellotti said. "But the locker room is something for their creature comforts. It was not something that could make them work harder."
In prior years, Bellotti has been candid about Oregon’s inability to take that next step to signing players that even USC would want.
It didn’t happen after the Rose Bowl season of 1994.
It got particularly frustrating after the Ducks in 1999-2001 won 30 games, finished the season ranked No. 18, No. 9 and No. 2, won two Pac-10 championships and defeated Minnesota (Sun), Texas (Holiday) and Colorado (Fiesta) in bowls.
"With our extraordinary success I don’t feel we’ve achieved that (success) with the recruiting classes," Bellotti said. "We’d been second or third (on high-profile recruits), but that doesn’t help you.
"I think this year we got over the hump a little bit."
So much so that if every one of the Ducks’ 30 signees qualifies academically, as many as a dozen of them will likely play this year, Bellotti said.
With Nike founder Phil Knight’s jet at its disposal, Oregon has branched out east. Last year the Ducks signed a cornerback from Tallahassee, Fla., this year they got a defensive back from Illinois and a defensive lineman from Dallas.
"We’ve gotten better responses (from national prospects) over the years; the world has gotten to be a smaller place," Bellotti said. "You have to differentiate what’s real interest and what’s a passing fancy. You have to gauge, is it worth our time?"
The Ducks, who’ll likely be picked to finish third in the Pac-10 this season, have an interesting matchup this season visiting Oklahoma. The last time they met, in 1975, Oklahoma won 62-7. Not even Dan Fouts could save Oregon from a 68-3 whipping in ’72.
Oregon won’t have a whole month to out-scheme the Sooners as they would in a bowl; it won’t have the element of surprise; it won’t have the Autzen Stadium factor; it won’t have an edge in coaching.
The game will be more about man-on-man personnel.
"Oklahoma is a different animal," Bellotti said, dismissing comparisons with Oregon’s wins over elite programs Texas and Michigan. "This will be a great test. We want to test ourselves against the best."
If Bellotti looks out on the Memorial Stadium turf on Sept. 18 and sees Oregon holding its own physically against Oklahoma, logic suggests he has players who can compete with the USC Trojans.