The Mario Cristobal era is entering its fourth full season in Eugene. The Ducks have had success under Cristobal, mainly in the form of two Pac-12 titles, a Rose Bowl victory, and the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 in each of the past two cycles.
But the program isn't satisfied. The fans aren't satisfied. And you know Mario Cristobal isn't satisfied. They all want more.
So the question remains: When will Oregon contend for a national title?
In 2013, Bud Elliott of 247Sports invented the Blue-Chip Ratio and has used it to determine which teams are most capable of winning a national title. The metric essentially tracks the percentage of scholarship players on a program's roster which were rated as four and five-star high school prospects.
Elliott points out that no team has won a national title with under a 50% Blue-Chip ratio, meaning that a roster filled with highly rated prospects is necessary to reach the top of the sport. The Oregon program has produced two of the teams which have come closest to overcoming the Blue-Chip Ratio, making national title appearances in 2011 and 2015 without meeting the criteria.
Heading into 2021, the Blue-Chip Ratio has narrowed the field down to 16 teams with the capabilities of winning a national title. For the first time, Oregon has been included in that list, with a 56% Blue-Chip Ratio.
Elliott wrote about the Ducks:
“Mario Cristobal has done strong work with Oregon’s roster. Talk to those on his staff and they’ll tell you that he finds a way to bring up the importance of recruiting in almost any meeting. The results on Signing Day have followed. Surprisingly, this is the first time the Ducks have been over the threshold. Oregon fans were quite salty in the comments last year and proclaimed that they would quickly overtake Washington. Washington fans said that their Huskies would take advantage of a super talented year in the state and clean up. Duck fans were right.”
Notably, Oregon took over the claim for the top spot in the Pac-12. Last year Washington sat at 54% and USC was at 50%. This year the Huskies dropped below the national title contenders threshold. Meanwhile, the Trojans rose their rank slightly to 53%, thanks to an impressive 2021 recruiting class.
Oregon was barely at 40% in last year's edition, but this time the Ducks shot all the way up to 56%. The huge jump was spurred on by Oregon’s incredibly successful 2021 recruiting cycle. 19 of Oregon’s 23 signees achieved blue-chip status. That’s a whopping 82.6% for the 2021 recruiting class by itself.
To put that number in context, only Alabama has a higher total blue-chip ratio and the Tide sit just over a tick higher at 84%.
The Ducks' ascent also tells an interesting story about the relationship between success on the field and success in recruiting. While talent can often lead to more wins, the inverse relationship is also present.
When teams have success on the field they are able to recruit at a higher level. That is actually the defining narrative of Oregon’s rise as a college football power.
There’s a strong case to be made that Oregon’s success in the 2021 recruiting class was a product of the momentum built on the field in 2019. The Ducks’ return to the top of the Pac-12 and their victory in the Rose Bowl brought the program back to the national stage. That team had tons of talent, but its two most prominent leaders were overachieving three stars in Troy Dye and Justin Herbert.
Looking forward, it seems likely that Oregon’s Blue-Chip Ratio will continue to rise as Cristobal elevates the standard with each class. The other three classes factoring into this metric for the Ducks are 2018, 2019, and 2020. Those cycles had Blue-Chip Ratios of 50%, 46%, and 43% respectively when they were signed, but the classes have seen some departure and attrition since.
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Of course we should note that this metric is fairly simplistic. Importantly, it grades getting the number one ranked player in the country equal to getting the lowest ranked four star, likely found somewhere in the mid 300’s. However, the purpose of the metric is to capture the depth of talent necessary to win a title and judging by the results it does that pretty well.
So what should be the main takeaway for Oregon fans?
First, they should appreciate the position this program is in. The level of recruiting that Mario Cristobal has achieved in recent years was unimaginable for this program before his arrival.
However, with these recruiting accomplishments comes greater expectations on the field. As I said earlier, the question on most fan’s minds in recent years has been simple: When will Oregon be back to national title contention? The Blue-Chip Ratio suggests that the answer to that question is now and I agree.
Does that mean that this year is a failure if Oregon doesn’t win it all? No, certainly not.
But the fact is Oregon has amassed the talent necessary to compete at the top of the sport. It’s time for the discussion within the fanbase about this team not being ready to compete in the playoff to change.
Recruiting classes like the one Oregon signed in 2021 simply don’t come around very often and there has to be a sense of urgency to win now while that group is in Eugene.
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