Was loss to Cardinal a pivot point for Ducks?

SEATTLE — Jordan Williamson's field goal split the uprights Saturday night in Eugene, and Stanford's stunning upset of Oregon was complete. Chip Kelly, the Ducks coach, was left to say he wished there were words to make it feel better.

These two words won't salve the wounds around Eugene and Portland today, but they seem worth asking:

What's next?

The case can be made that when people look back five or 10 years from now, the Stanford loss will have proved to be a symbolic pivot point in the fortunes of Oregon, the one that served as a shift in the power structure of the Pac-12.

In the near-term, the Ducks still have a shot at the national-title game, albeit a slim one. They could still be the ones hoisting a crystal football in early January.

But two events loom: Kelly's future, and the interminable NCAA investigation of the program.

It's almost startling how widespread is the feeling that Kelly is gone for the NFL after this season. It's not regarded as a possibility as much as it is a likelihood.

"There's no doubt Oregon's head coach has never been a brighter star," Rob Moseley of The Eugene Register-Guard wrote awhile back, "all the more reason to enjoy the ride Oregon's on now, because he probably isn't long for Eugene."

Veteran Ken Goe of The Oregonian wrote recently, "From where I sit in the Portland suburbs, it seems likely that Oregon coach Chip Kelly will fly the coop for the NFL after this season."

When I asked him Tuesday on the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference whether he hears concerns from recruits, Kelly said, "You're the first person who's ever asked me the question. So I guess the answer would be no."

Indeed, Kelly seems like a short-timer, somebody who doesn't easily suffer all the inconveniences associated with college coaching. When his Rose Bowl winners were introduced at an Oregon basketball game last winter, he declined to take the mike and say even a few perfunctory nice words about them.

Then there's the probe that began with Oregon's relationship with Willie Lyles. That's become a long-running subplot, and a lot of people assume the lack of news means it has slowly died off.

Some of those same people thought the same thing about the USC/Reggie Bush investigation. But no prejudging here; the investigation could amount to nothing, or a lot.

Last winter, when Kelly had everything but a pen and a contract in hand to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs, Oregon was poised to appoint offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich as its new coach. Whether that happens if/when Kelly leaves, or whether Oregon pursues a big name, it's not going to be easy duplicating Kelly's 44-7 record in four years (32-3 in league games), or three BCS bowls.

One program certain to have an eye on Eugene is the local one, the one that seems on an uptick, that has a big roster returning next year and moves into a remodeled stadium.

Washington has been beaten like an old carpet for nine straight years by the Ducks. The Huskies are fervent advocates of the idea that nothing is forever.

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