For the first time in six years, Oregon is not predicted to win the Pac-12 North. Instead, that honor goes to the Stanford Cardinal.

If you think Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff feel pressure about that, well, you’d be right.

Then again, they would feel pressure even if the Ducks were favored.

“I feel pressure going into every day,” Helfrich said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Of how we can do things better, myself first and foremost, our staff, everybody around our players that supports these guys. But yeah, every single day we’re competing.”

Last year, the Ducks went 9-4. They started 3-3 and won six straight before losing to TCU, 47-41, in triple overtime in the Alamo Bowl – a game in which Oregon squandered a 31-0 lead.

Ducks fans had to be disappointed but not shocked. After all, Oregon finished last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last season.

Was that due to having a fast-paced offense that results in more defensive possessions, or was that simply a failure on that side of the ball?

“Well, if there’s any failure, it’s my failure, my fault,” Helfrich said. “We don’t need to look any further than that. We certainly took some steps to address that in the offseason in bringing in Brady Hoke as our new defensive coordinator. As good as you can be in an offseason managing all the ins and outs of that through spring ball, installing a defense, instilling an attitude and an discipline about the way we’re playing – he’s been phenomenal. We haven’t stopped one person yet, but we’re sure hoping that carries over. Everybody wants a better product on the field, and that was a place where we just needed a little bit different voice, different direction. So far, so good. But that remains to be seen.”

Hoke, 57, was Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2011, when he led Michigan to an 11-2 record and a  Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

“He’s a very confident guy, he’s an enthusiastic guy, he was out of coaching for a year, and I know he was refreshed and excited to be back out there,” Helfrich said. “We had done some things differently on defense over the last several years and needed to kind of tighten it together and move in a slightly different direction. The way that we’ve done that while still keeping a little bit of the past and moving forward has been really good.”

Hoke, at the very least, will have time to get his defense prepared for Stanford. The Ducks host the Cardinal in Eugene on Nov. 12.


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