Mario Cristobal undoubtedly earned his most impressive win for the Oregon Ducks last week when he knocked off powerhouse Ohio State, the third-best team in the country. It felt like a massive sigh of relief for the entire Pac 12 conference. After so much has gone wrong for this group over the last five seasons, it feels like they got their biggest win since Oregon knocked off FSU in the Rose Bowl to advance to the National Championship in 2014.
And the biggest reason for the win and the recent success is to be rightfully shouldered by none other than Mario Cristobal. He has turned an Oregon program that has seen a lot of uncertainty in past years into one of the most elite programs yet again. His recruiting classes speak for themselves, and the talent that he has loaded onto the field is the reason for their celebration.
“Hard to express in words the magnitude of coming out here down a couple of guys due to injury and just playing really gritty, gutsy football, executing at a high level. A tremendous job of preparation and turning that into game reality by our players, by our coaching staff.Hat’s off to Ohio State, great football team. I mean very elite talent everywhere. They’re very well-coached, and that was a tough game. That game kept going back and forth in that second half. A tremendous amount of credit to the players and the coaches for accomplishing our 1-0 goal for the week,” he said after the win.
Cristobal was asked about the Pac 12 after the win and the impact that his win would have on the conference. He started by saying that it’s up to the media to decide that but also mentioned this:
“Last year, we found a way to win the conference, but we didn’t play to our standard, and we wanted to get right back on track. We feel that we’ve been building towards this for a while now, but we’re not there yet. I don’t want to, in any way, shape, or form, give that impression. We’re not, and our guys know that too, but we’ve taken massive steps. I think even more importantly; we’ve taken massive psychological steps understanding how important that is going to be on Saturdays and how important that’s going to be when the weather is not real good. You can’t throw the ball a little bit when you got to establish the ground game, and how important it is to hold off a tremendous pass rushing unit as they have over there. All those things, they come into play, and they further strengthen the culture and the direction of the program.”
Well, as the “media,” I am here to say that the win may have hurt Oregon because the Pac 12 did what the Pac 12 does after it takes one step forward; it immediately took two steps back. As soon as Oregon beat Ohio State, Colorado lost a heart-breaker to Texas A&M, Cal blew a lead to TCU, Utah lost to BYU, Arizona lost to SDSU, Washington lost to Michigan, and then USC suffered a terrible loss to Stanford when they have been Pac 12 favorites all along.
That last loss hurts Oregon so badly because, after the game, the Trojans fired Clay Helton after seven seasons at the helm. It happened far too late, and the Trojans are worse for it. But as one team continues to rise in the Pac 12, another could now be looking at its head coach.
Cristobal is going to be a name tied to USC all season now. And, of course, he will be. USC stole Steve Sarkisian from Washington just a few years ago. They took Lane Kiffin from Tennessee. So why wouldn’t they try to take Cristobal from Oregon?
The Ducks pay Cristobal an okay salary, but it is nowhere near the top of college football like it should be. When the two parties agreed to an extension last December, the AD made it clear that they would use private funding to pay Cristobal despite the UO budget deficit. WHAT! If you are using private funding, at least get him in the top-10.
USC is going to come after Cristobal with money, fame, and anything he wants. The Trojans desperately want to be relevant again; they want to be the USC of 2004 and rule college football. But despite all the money, Cristobal leaving Oregon for USC doesn’t make that much sense.
Since Chip Kelly revitalized Oregon back in 2009, the Ducks have had a better record than the Trojans in every single season besides two. They have reached more major bowl games, been to more National Championships, and won more player awards. The Ducks had the most recent Heisman Trophy winner and are seen as one of the favorites year after year.
There is a history of Oregon coaches leaving after taking the job. Chip Kelly went to the NFL before returning to coach UCLA; Willie Taggart went to FSU, which didn’t work out so well either. The best bet for Cristobal to be a successful and winning head coach is to stay. He took over a Ducks team that went 4-5 and has gradually improved them each year.
Now, he has them as one of the most talented programs in the country, thanks to his recruiting skills. He would throw all of that away if he headed to USC. Oregon has the 6th best class this year and the 7th best class in 2022. USC will have the 29th best class next season in comparison.
Cristobal has built something special at Oregon, and for him to leave now before it is really about to take off would be a shame.