The best coach in the conference is gone - so now there's a power void the Cardinal can fill
Well, that escalated quickly.
Yesterday, we thought the biggest news story of the day would be Chip Kelly heading to Oregon - but boy were we wrong. However, seeing as that Kelly's move has the most tangible impact on Pac-12 football, let's talk about that first.
Chip Kelly is headed to the Eagles - far, far away from the West Coast and even farther away from the friendly ecosystem of the Pac-12 - so what's going to happen to the conference power structure?
As tempting as it may be, let's not bury the Ducks just yet.
Don't expect Oregon to fall off the map all of a sudden because their roster is still full of young, dynamic players, all of their coaches won't be picking up and leaving and they still have a ridiculous infrastructure built around football. (Primarily based on the largesse of Phil Knight.)
Assuming everything goes to plan, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will take over the Oregon program, and his promotion ensures that the team will have a smooth transition to the future. The Ducks will still have that same fast-paced tempo and those same neon uniforms.
But at the same time, let's not skip over what this will mean to Stanford and the Pac-12: It's hard to see the Ducks posting Chip Kelly's 46-7 over the next four years.
The Cardinal has battled tooth-and-nail with the Ducks over the last few years for conference titles and BCS bowl berths - and now the best coach in the conference is gone. It's going to be hard for the Ducks to keep up the ridiculous pace they have set.
Think of it this way: I can dance around with white tigers on stage and wear tight leather pants, but I ain't gonna be Siegfried and Roy. And Mark Helfrich will probably not be Chip Kelly. That's not bashing Helfrich - that's just an acknowledgement of how good of a head coach Kelly was.
That's the Chip Kelly effect in action. For example, as soon as Kelly decided to come back to Oregon, media pundits and fans pretty much assumed that the Ducks would be the favorites in the Pac-12 again. But now that he's gone, the title of "preseason Pac-12 favorite" has probably moved to the Cardinal. (Sure, that can be a pointless or even dubious distinction - see USC 2012.)
It's also worth considering that sanctions may be coming ahead for the Ducks (remember how the last best Pac-12 coach hit the road right before a two-year postseason ban took effect?). They'll have to defend their involvement with "recruiting guru" Willie Lyles against the NCAA soon, and trouble in Eugene would additionally benefit the rest of the conference.
In a way, Kelly's departure may benefit USC the most - the Trojans compete with the Ducks for recruits every year, and more players from Southern California might start turning back to the Men of Troy. Maybe it would have made a difference for them this season if LA natives Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas were on their team and not on Oregon's.
Altogether, yesterday's news was good news for Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12. For the past few years, the only team that gave the Cardinal fits (and losses on the scoreboard) was the Ducks. Maybe the power relationship in the Pac-12 won't change all at once, but I'm willing to bet that Oregon's stranglehold on the conference will loosen.
Now, David Shaw is now the only coach in the Pac-12 that has won a conference title - and there's going to be a power vacuum that Stanford can fill in the Pac-12.