As it is time to reveal my 2016 Oregon football predictions – and the reasoning behind them – I look back to the last two weeks and marvel at how some notable sports journalists got called out here on FishDuck.com.
Senior Editor Mike Merrell eviscerated Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports and then skewered Todd McShay of ESPN a few days later. Yours truly called out John Canzano of The Oregonian two weeks ago, and now I take issue with Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sports NW in his assertions about the path of upcoming season for our beloved Ducks, while offering up my own intrepid predictions.
One difference? I’ve always liked Fentress, and I enjoy his sense of humor and yes, his charm on camera. I have little regard for the other aforementioned journalists, and like you, enjoyed how Mike revealed the incompetence of two of them.
In the case of Fentress – I could overlook his massive errors if he were a hack (like me), but when he gets paid to know Oregon football and is actually labeled as an insider by Comcast? Then the declaration of my CPA friend, the aforementioned Mike Merrell, surely applies:
“Such nonsense cannot go unpunished.”
What did Aaron say that was so objectionable? After our disastrous bowl game last season, he wrote that Oregon fans need to get used to this; nine-win seasons are the new norm and Duck fans will have to adjust (I’m paraphrasing).
On television recently, the discussion was about whether Royce Freeman had a good shot at the Heisman, and Fentress asserted that “it was possible if Oregon had 10 wins or more … but they won’t.” Oh, geez, another nine-win season prediction in line with all other Pac-12 media buffoons?
Remember last year’s predictions?
What I did NOT see was a defense that was so porous all season, and what I wrote in last year’s predictions would up getting quite a bit of ridicule from many quarters. I doubled-down by stating that Vernon Adams would break many of Mariota’s season’s records, which got people howling when it was written in July … long before anyone watched him play. Yet that is what a real prediction is – done before the season and not in October – and not a “we’ll see,” or other hedged nonsense that wussies hide behind. Be a man and stand your ground (Pac-12 media, anyone?).
What the world saw was a quarterback (Adams) who led the nation in Passing Efficiency, and when healthy (as most now agree), could have led us to a 12-1 season and into the 2015 College Football Playoffs. We were one play away from beating Michigan State with an injured Adams, and one first down away from beating Washington State with Jeff Lockie at the helm. So, an 11-1 regular season record and a berth in the Pac-12 title game could have easily occurred even with an all-time weak defense. From there, just one more win and it’s PLAYOFF TIME!
I could spend a ton of time building up to my ultimate prediction, but let’s get on with it so you know precisely what I am thinking …
Oregon is going to the 2016 College Football PLAYOFFS!
Oh yeah. We are, and let’s see why I would believe that.
Special Teams will be Special
Has Oregon ever had a complete total package of talent and experience on Special Teams like it has this year? Aidan Schneider is money (33-of-36 career field goals) as the placekicker and Matt Wogan has punched more kickoffs into the back of the end zone than anyone in recent memory. Ian Wheeler did not have great distance last year but was superb with placement inside the 20-yard line, and I believe he will improve upon his 39.5 per punt average.
Seeing a back-up tailback returning kickoffs (Tony Brooks-James) is a talent placement that works, but noting Charles Nelson also on kickoffs and punt returns? This feels like the glory days of excitement for these plays returning as Nelson will have some giddy-up in his steps from not having to make tackles at safety as last year. Veterans Tanner Carew (long snapper) and Taylor Allie (holder) fill out an experienced Special Teams squad that could vault Oregon to victories the way we saw in the 2010 season.
OK, Big-Boy … what about the new 4-3 Defense for 2016?
People forget that prior to last year’s team giving up 37 points a game, the 2014 defense gave up 23.6 points per game - second in the conference for scoring defense. When the Ducks are scoring an average of 45 points, they will win most of their games, as they did in 2014 en route to the National Championship game. I wrote extensively this spring about the philosophy of the new defense and how it manifested itself in the Spring Game. I believe we can be in the top five in the conference for scoring defense this season.
I am targeting an improvement down to giving up 26 points per game (which is not that great, but we face a ton of Spread Offense teams), and I believe this defense will put the Oregon offense on the field for more snaps in the first three quarters, thus scoring more - like a 46-47 point average per game.
Hence, this new defense (with the change in philosophy) will help the offense score more points this year, while the biggest defensive improvements will come in 2017 as personnel is better matched up with Brady Hoke’s objectives and defenders have their assignments refined. Nonetheless – we will see fewer points scored, more turnovers generated and more time of possession for the Oregon offense due to Hoke and his new scheme (you see … that is a prediction, and not an observation after-the-fact by the chicken hearts who call themselves sports journalists).
The 2016 Offense is the most loaded, deep and talented skill group at Oregon EVER.
Let’s look at who will not or may not be on the 2017 team next year to give you perspective: Nelson (possibly going early), Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington (going early), Devon Allen (possibly going early), the freak Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis, Tyrell Crosby (likely going early), Cameron Hunt, Dakota Prukop, and Freeman (going early).
These are all exceptionally talented players; and this is only on offense! In other words, we are absolutely stacked this year at the skill positions. Up front, did know Oregon has five veterans on the offensive line that either started in the past or have played extensively? With redshirt freshmen passing three of them on the depth chart (not to mention a grad transfer who was an all-conference player last season), one can assume these young guns are very, very talented.
I think that some of the upperclassmen had a religious experience as they were Left Behind.
Imagine you are a Pac-12 defensive coordinator who tells your corners that they must match up in coverage on Nelson and Carrington, but watch out for “Mr. 3rd-&-8” converter, Dwayne Stanford, who will mess you up on the short routes. The Freak will have special play packages for him (as in 2014), and is truly a match-up nightmare because of his blocking ability. But when he blows past a linebacker with his WR speed and route-running, it plays havoc on your game plan.
However, you’ve worked long and hard and have your plan on defense set to slow the Oregon passing game and all of its weapons. Congratulations, and well done. But you forgot about a 230-pound battering ram of a Heisman candidate in the backfield. I’ve heard of stretching the field, but this is simply insane to try to stop. Oregon can hurt you at every spot on the field, and with the field so stretched, huge holes will open in the run game to gash you further (oh, yeah … we are the conference rushing champion – for the past decade).
This offense will set new scoring records at Oregon where the bar is already pretty darn high, but the quality and depth of talent on the field and in the coaching booth is too good to ignore that inevitability.
FishDuck … you always predict greatness for Oregon because you are a brown-nosing, boot-licking, suck-up to the UO Athletic Department, and a sunshine-pumping tool who is the biggest homer ever on the web.
Well … I’ve been called worse.
It is not all cushy for Oregon, as I am very concerned about both safety positions; when Nelson had to move to defense after only four games last year? That was the most dramatic band-aid done for immediate effect that I’ve ever seen at Oregon, but it was well justified.
When I see a safety doing a chicken-wing tackle in game replays – I just go nuts. Williams has potential, but not much game experience and the other position? Don’t get me started. If those positions don’t play better than last year (significantly), then the defensive predictions I made are in serious jeopardy.
Have you thought about 2017? Don’t.
That talented offensive group listed above is going to be missed like never before; all bets are off for the next year, as we’ll have a massive rebuilding year. So I will state the negative when I see it, but for 2016 - I smell Roses - and more!
So what about Aaron Fentress?
He is but just a part of the entire cabal of Pac-12 journalists that makes me feel like I’m surrounded by idiots.
On that aforementioned television program where he spoke of Freeman’s Heisman chances? He went on to say that “this year will not be great for Oregon, (under 10 wins) but next year the Ducks would be much better!”
I could not believe my ears; he has predicted precisely the opposite of reality!
How can you be any more wrong … and be paid for this un-researched, banal gibberish?
Oregon’s Secret Weapon
The ignorance of the pundits has a hidden benefit in that for the first time in a very long time, Oregon will be the underdog. This team has been dismissed, disregarded and disrespected – and it is not just the roster of players. This is a coaching staff that has watched everyone predict Oregon’s demise for a very long time. “You’ll be toast without Jonathan Stewart, or Dennis Dixon, or LaMichael James or Marcus Mariota.” The list is long. In addition to the lack of confidence expressed in the players, the media expresses near contempt for the Oregon coaching staff.
So, let’s see … a loaded, talented team that has players and coaches with a chip on their shoulder? Wow. Look out!
I can hardly wait.
“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com
Top Photo from Comcast NW Video