It wasn’t surprising that the Oregon Ducks fired head football coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday night, given Oregon’s 4-8 overall record, its 2-7 mark within the Pac-12 and the fact that the team lost eight of its final 10 games to close the season. Even by the standards of a school that rarely changes coaches, this was a fireable type of season. What was surprising, however, was how quickly things unraveled for the Ducks. Exactly 700 days — and 26 games — ago, Oregon was coming off a 59-20 shellacking of the then-undefeated, defending-champion Florida State Seminoles, and the Ducks were 7-point favorites in the national title game against Ohio State.
Then the wheels fell off. What followed was the fourth-biggest decline — at least, according to the Elo rating system we like to use here at FiveThirtyEight — for any school over a 26-game span since the AP poll ushered in college football’s modern era in 1936:1
No. 1 comes with its own special circumstances: SMU was given the NCAA’s “death penalty” in 1987, canceling an entire season and severely damaging the school’s football program for years after. Other cases involve a new coach coming in with disastrous results, such as when Southern Miss fell from 12-2 to 0-12 in a single season after replacing Larry Fedora with Ellis Johnson. But Helfrich oversaw the high and the low — even if the high was built from the foundation laid by Chip Kelly during his four seasons in Eugene. Now the Ducks must find a new coach for only the fifth time in four decades, and rebuild the pieces of what was a great program until very recently.