The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the eighth of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 18 Oregon Ducks.
Mario Cristobal takes over after Willie Taggart’s one season in Eugene. Cristobal coached Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, which resulted in a 38-28 loss to Boise State. They finished 7-6 last season and have the personnel to do much better in 2018.
Seven starters return from a solid unit. They ranked 18th in scoring, 12th in rushing and 94th in passing last season. There are some shoes to fill with the loss of Royce Freeman, one of the best players in Oregon history, and Tyrell Crosby, a solid tackle.
The good news for Oregon is that Justin Herbert returns at quarterback. Oregon’s offense averaged over 50 points when Herbert was healthy, but struggled without him. In eight games, Herbert threw for 1,983 yards,15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 67.5% passing. His yards per attempt rose by two full yards from his first to second season. If he plays well this season, there is no doubt he will get a shot at the NFL.
He will need some receivers to elevate their levels of play this season. Dillon Mitchell was the most productive receiver last year and Johnny Johnson also made some plays. Behind them, other receivers will be jockeying for position and reps. Tight end Jacob Breeland had five touchdowns on 18 catches, and will be a red zone threat once again.
Tony Brooks-James will have the best chance to fill in for Freeman in the running game. He rushed for 498 yards and two touchdowns last season. Brooks-James will be fighting for a bunch of other players for reps in the backfield next to Herbert.
Three starters return on the offensive line. Calvin Throckmorton is a solid tackle who can play on either side of the line, while recruit Penei Sewell was one of Oregon’s best recruits this season. He will provide depth in his first season most likely.
A healthy Herbert means the Ducks will have one of the best offenses in the country.
The Ducks allowed too many points per game last season. Some of that is because they score so fast on offense though. They tied for 81st in points allowed per game and were 89th against the pass. They were surprisingly solid against the run ranking 25th in that category. Seven starters come back to Eugene and with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s improvements last season, there is reason for optimism.
Two players will reclaim their starting spots on the three-man defensive front. Jordon Scott will man the noseguard position and doesn’t accumulate a lot of stats, but is disruptive. Jalen Jelks is looking to add to his 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season from the defensive end position. Austin Faoliu got some playing time last season and is expected to step into the starting lineup.
Three of four starting linebackers will be back for Oregon. Troy Dye will be the leader of the defense after accruing 107 total tackles in 2017. Justin Holins and La’Mar Winston had 6.5 sacks between them from the linebacker position. Another inside linebacker will need to be found to support Dye in the 3-4 scheme.
The pass defense has two starters back, but they are hoping to improve on their lackluster output last season. Ugochukwu Amadi will start at safee ty after moving from corner. He will need to lead the secondary from the back. Thomas Graham was third on the team in tackles from the cornerback position with 62. They don’t have much depth and need some inexperienced players to make an impact to succeed.
Leavitt has some talent to work with and another year in charge could lead to some big results.
The non-conference schedule will be ridiculously easy for Oregon. They have games against Bowling Green (home), Portland State (home) and San Jose State (home). Oregon should be able to win each game by at least 20 points if not more.
The Pac-12 will be competitive throughout the schedule for the Ducks. Their tough games will be Stanford (home), Washington (home), Arizona (away) and Utah (away).
With the easier non-conference schedule and Herbert leading the offense, Oregon should be able to win nine or 10 games. Unfortunately for fans of the Ducks, this still means they will finish behind Stanford and Washington in the Pac-12 North.
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