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What a soap opera going on with the Oregon football team. Lots of drama, fueled by issues and performed by characters young and older and starring the patriarch who many fans trolling the Internet want to see fired.


Some of it’s taken place with the curtain up — the Ducks are 2-3, losers of three games in a row — and some of it’s happened with the curtain down, as in closed practices that actually foster much of the speculation about the university’s football team.

But, hey, we’re still talking about coach Mark Helfrich’s maligned team. So, for an athletic department that puts much importance on attention and branding, it kinda works out.

It’s interesting to follow, actually, quite a bit different from when Chip Kelly teams — and some of Helfrich’s — used to just routinely rout opponents in systematic ways.

Which brings us to the second week of October, a joyous time (because it’s my birthday week). Not so joyous for the Ducks, who are scrambling to win a game, trying to figure out how to stop people on defense and be more consistent with their potentially high-powered offense — and trying to determine whether to play true freshman Justin Herbert or stick with transfer senior Dakota Prukop at quarterback. Or whether to enter the rivalry matchup with Washington (5-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium with some plan to use both QBs or one and then another should the first guy struggle.

Having covered the team since 2001, I’ve seen many machinations in Oregon quarterback play. I can remember asking Mike Bellotti in 2002 amidst a losing streak (six losses in seven games) whether he should consider playing Kellen Clemens rather than Jason Fife. Bellotti asked, “Why?” And, I said (paraphrased), for a different look and to provide a spark. He basically answered no.

Clemens finally got into some games and then took over as starting quarterback, with Fife relegated to trying to get reps at receiver by the end of his college career.

The point is I can understand what the Oregon coachess are doing, if they are indeed looking at Herbert seriously to play against Washington. Competition is good. By virtue of Herbert impressing in training camp to be the No. 2 QB, it told me that he was closer to Prukop in ability/talent than the other QBs were to him. So, it doesn’t surprise me that Herbert might get an opportunity to start and/or play more. (But, like some in the media, I question whether it’s a little bit of rivalry mind games and how much it’s really about preparing Herbert simply to take over for Prukop).

Because Helfrich has done many good things and because I understand the culture/character aspect of the program, don’t count me among the “Fire Helfrich” camp. It’s too early, let things play out. Unless something indefensible happens Saturday. If Helfrich and his offensive assistants go with Herbert as the starter and things go poorly against the country’s No. 5 team, which appears to have a bad-ass defense and very efficient offense, I’m thinking it’d be a nail in the coffin of Helfrich’s time as the head man.

What they should do is go with Prukop while preparing Herbert to play, should things go badly for Prukop. It takes pressure off the kid and doesn’t throw him into a firestorm against a pretty good team, and it shows a pragmatic approach to QB play — Prukop has not been awful, he has been decent, although he doesn’t run as well as advertised and throws inconsistently.

Then again, if the Ducks should stun everybody and extend their winning streak (12 games and counting) against UW by beating the ballyhooed Huskies behind their true freshman, it would assuredly save Helfrich’s job. Because, if they can beat the Huskies at home with Herbert, they can surely beat the likes of Arizona State and Oregon State and maybe another couple teams and go 7-5, right?

But, I’m not ready to pick Oregon to win. I had the Ducks winning the game to start the season. But the UO defense just hasn’t stopped much of anything all season — the unit gives up rushing yards and passing plays, lots of first downs and yards and points and, thanks to a philosophy that Kelly adopted of not paying attention to time of possession (Oregon again ranks last in the Pac-12), Brady Hoke’s unit has to be on the field way too much.

And, we’re not even talking about other parts of the Oregon drama — young players playing ahead of veterans, a mystery absence in recent games (Troy Dye), several injuries and suspect coaching, such as the five two-point conversion day at Nebraska.

I envision Washington QB Jake Browning leading the Huskies and relying on the ground game of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, while making some plays through the air.

Providing margin for error for the defense for years, the UO offense has sputtered, and it’ll probably continue to sputter against a UW defense that has rushed the passer with defensive linemen and not blitzes, covered very well and made its mark with impressive closing speed and sure tackling by linebackers and secondary players.

I’ve picked Washington before, I want to say it’s been three times in the past 12 years — picked wrong each time, obviously, including 2013 and 2015 when the Huskies played at home with some pretty good talent.

I’m one to think that, despite talk of Washington being fired up and looking for 12 years of revenge, that the Huskies will still carry some baggage into Autzen Stadium — the streak, the No. 5 ranking, an OT win in their only road game — and that the Ducks will actually play decently at times, including on special teams (see: Charles Nelson) and running the ball (see: Royce Freeman) and offense in general (perhaps coordinator Matt Lubick and Helfrich can be creative with their skill talent?).

The Huskies will control the line of scrimmage, grind out the win, but not overwhelmingly blow out the Ducks. A loss is a loss and the drama continues at Oregon, the Ducks face their first losing season since 2004 and Helfrich haters keep pushing for the coach to exit stage left.

THE PICK: Washington 38, Oregon 20

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