Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich wouldn’t name Vernon Adams the Ducks’ starting quarterback if the Eastern Washington transfer didn’t impress in just two weeks of practice.
Likewise, Helfrich wouldn’t hand the reins of Oregon’s explosive offense to a one-year stand-in if the coach didn’t see national championship potential for the coming season.
Vernon Adams’ competition to take over for Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Jeff Lockie, has two years of eligibility remaining. Had Helfrich gone with Lockie over Vernon Adams, the former could have gained game experience in preparation for a national championship push in 2016.
And, after all, Oregon has pieces in 2016 capable of winning another Pac-12 championship and returning to the College Football Playoff. Star running back Royce Freeman will be a junior then; so, too, will talented wide receiver Darren Carrington. Oregon gets back Thomas Tyner in 2016, as well.
The Ducks could very well still be championship-caliber a year from now. But in tabbing Vernon Adams the Week 1 starter, Mark Helfrich is making the aggressive play for 2015. This is him pushing all his chips to the center of the table and waiting for the competition to blink.
The philosophy behind taking a one-year transfer quarterback is always “win now,” but sometimes it’s more an act of desperation. No one’s capable of effectively running the offense. That’s not the case at Oregon, where Helfrich gushed about Jeff Lockie’s spring performance.
Helfrich reiterated his stance on Lockie’s play at Pac-12 media days last month, though one assessment of the quarterback’s performance resonates today.
“Jeff had an unbelievably efficient spring,” he said. “The times he wasn’t efficient, it was just that: trying to do a little bit too much or create something that wasn’t there.”
Unbelievably efficient. Plug an effective game manager into Oregon’s offense, with the pieces surrounding the quarterback, and the Ducks still contend for 10 regular-season wins and the Pac-12 North title. But if Vernon Adams can unleash the big-play potential he demonstrated repeatedly at Eastern Washington against Pac-12 competition — which he did twice before — then there’s no telling what the Ducks can accomplish.
Adams is not going to score six or seven touchdowns a week every time out, like he did in games against Oregon State and Washington while at EWU. That he has the potential is the gamble Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost are willing to take.
Now, “potential” and “gamble” are keywords here. Adams faced some of the best of the Championship Subdivision while competing for national titles at Eastern, but no one he saw trotted out a defense like Michigan State’s.
He didn’t go from an assuredly physical contest on The Farm one week, to playing a potential make-or-break the next against a 5-star laden roster like USC’s. These are new challenges Vernon Adams was willing to bet on himself winning, and Helfrich is doing likewise.
The potential payout at the end is a Pac-12 title repeat and invitation to another College Football Playoff.