Former Daily Camera men's basketball beat writer Ryan Thorburn moved from Boulder to Eugene, Ore., this summer to begin covering the Ducks for the Register Guard newspaper. You might say he went from worst to first in the Pac-12 in terms of covering football.
Ryan agreed to provide some insight into the athletic department he now covers and how different it is compared to CU as well as some of his thoughts on Saturday's game at Folsom Field between the Buffs and the No. 2 Ducks.
It's clear Colorado is lagging behind in athletics facilities. It's also clear almost no school has what Oregon has because of Phil Knight. Is it your impression that Knight is making all the difference for Oregon or is there more going on there that doesn't get enough credit?
Ryan Thorburn: There is no question facilities like Oregon's new football complex have a significant impact on recruiting and help the coaches and players functionally on a daily basis. The ever-changing Nike uniform combinations have also helped establish this program as a national brand. When I was in Virginia for the Ducks' first road game, I saw a dad wearing his Cavaliers gear and his young son, a Virginian who has never even been to Oregon, was decked out in Duck gear because he's always been a fan of the uniforms from afar. Of course, the innovative offense, winning 12 games a year and scoring over 50 points a game helps. You have to give Chip Kelly, and now Mark Helfrich and his veteran staff, credit for the high-level play on the field.
Can you give CU fans some perspective on just how far ahead the Ducks are in facilities compared to what CU coaches and student-athletes have?
Thorburn: The list price for the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex was $68 million, but most estimate the actual cost, after the bells and whistles -- 145,000 square feet of meeting space, German-built lockers for a "no smell" ventilated locker room, a work station for NFL scouts, the 25,000-square foot weight room fortified with Brazilian Ipe wood floors, an in-house barber shop and the over-the-top amenities go on and on -- was in excess of $100 million. The Ducks also benefit from the best student-athlete academic center in the world. Matthew Knight Arena is an NBA-like venue. There is gorgeous baseball facility (PK Park) and Hayward Field is the international track mecca. Every program is trailing Oregon in the facilities arms race, but CU is light years away from competing in this world. Oregon's old football facility is nicer and more modern than the Dal Ward Center.
Mark Helfrich had some big shoes to fill when Chip Kelly left for the NFL. What is the consensus in Oregon about how he is doing? Is there still concern about his ability to sustain the success long term?
Thorburn: Right now Helfrich is driving a Ferrari. This program is built to win the national championship this season, and the offense is running faster and as efficiently as ever. The Ducks are deep at every position on the team. The real test will be when Marcus Mariota leaves for the NFL. Recruiting is going well, very talented players redshirt here and Oregon has a strong history of replacing highly productive quarterbacks in this system, but Mariota is a special player and they're hard to find.
Would Marcus Mariota be your Heisman Trophy pick if the season ended today? What does he need to do to win the award this season ?
Thorburn: I don't have a vote, but I can't imagine a more outstanding player in college football than Mariota. His statistics are off the charts and he never plays in the fourth quarter because the outcomes are decided before halftime. He's a humble Johnny Football with a better surrounding cast. And Manziel and Texas A&M are very good.
The Ducks have blown out every opponent this season rather easily. What would have to happen for the Buffs to even keep it close and give themselves a chance to win Saturday?
Thorburn: Oregon would have to turn the ball over about six times. And even then, CU's offense would have to execute at its highest level. Nationally, most people know about Mariota and the dynamic offense. But the Ducks might have the most dangerous special teams units in the country and a top-15 defense. I expect this team to be tested several times in the Pac-12 (Washington, UCLA, Stanford), but not on Saturday, even without De'Anthony Thomas (sprained ankle).