- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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You know the final scene of the classic 1978 horror film "Halloween," when Dr. Loomis thinks he has gunned down inexorable slasher Michael Myers, knocking him through a second-story window into the yard below? Only when he looks down after consoling Jamie Lee Curtis -- "Was that the boogeyman?" she asks -- he sees ... nothing.
Cue eerie piano music.
Now substitute the Pac-12 and college football nation for Curtis, the NCAA for Dr. Loomis and the Oregon Duck for Myers.
Cue eerie piano music.
After the NCAA ruled on Oregon's infractions case Wednesday, we now know the Ducks' football program is alive and well, as its penalties were relatively minor and included no postseason ban. That favorable verdict essentially announced the Ducks as national title contenders in 2013 ... again.
The Ducks are not only alive, saddled with a single scholarship deduction the next two years after already surrendering one last season, but their recruiting might actually improve. That's despite a handful of restrictions handed down by the NCAA, including a reduction in official visits and evaluation days.
For the past two-plus years, Oregon has recruited under a cloud of uncertainty. A-list recruits who followed the news would know that the NCAA was investigating the program, which brought into play the specter of a potential postseason ban and crippling scholarship reductions. Those, a recruit might reason, could make a college career less enjoyable. And if those recruits didn't follow the news and know of that dark cloud over Eugene, other schools competing for the affections of those said recruits would make sure to let them know.
As in a rival recruiter noting: "Hey, I know Oregon is on a roll, but look at how USC fell after the NCAA did its thing. Do you really want to play for a team that's on the slide, one that might not be able to play in bowl games while you are there?"
That was the sort of thing Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens was referring to Wednesday when he talked of Ducks football coaches battling "plenty of negative recruiting" during the 27-month investigation.
Oregon's latest recruiting class from February ranked 26th, fairly low for a team that had finished ranked in the top five three consecutive years. It was 18th the year before and 14th in 2011, the latter class being signed before news of the Willie Lyles inquiry broke.
It's fair to assume that the NCAA ruling might ease some worries among top recruits who were uncertain if they wanted to give Oregon a serious look. And if Oregon rolls this fall under new coach Mark Helfrich, that would ease concerns about the post-Chip Kelly transition.
That latter point is all Oregon can ask for after this NCAA ordeal: to be judged for the program itself and what it does on the field.
The program that Kelly left behind, by the way, looks pretty salty, and we're not going to even mention a new, blingy football operations center that is a further upgrade for already sparkling facilities.
The Ducks, who welcome back 15 starting position players from a team that finished 12-1 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama, are laden with star power on both sides of the ball.
On offense, there's quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas, also a Heisman candidate. Three starters are back on the offensive line, and each is an All-Pac-12 candidate. Josh Huff leads a solid crew of receivers, including multitalented tight end Colt Lyerla.
Questions? Linebacker, kicker and running back depth. And, of course, the coaching transition.
Yet that transition doesn't seem so big when you consider that eight of nine assistants are back from a staff that has been notable for its continuity. Helfrich knows his team and its culture, and he intends to maintain the vast majority of the practices, principles and routines that have become the foundation of a four-year run of 46-7.
Kelly's promotion from offensive coordinator worked out well, just as the promotion of Mike Bellotti from offensive coordinator did before him.
The Oregon juggernaut showed no signs of abating on the field, so many were eager to see the NCAA defenestrate it, a la Dr. Loomis.
But the Duck got up after the NCAA ruling, set its bill into an evil grin and let out an eerie, "Quaaaaack!" And it's a lot quicker than Michael Myers.
1dKevin Gemmell and Erik McKinney