Before the season began I predicted that the Ducks would go 10-2 and win the Alamo Bowl (click here). And I must say — I nailed it! That is, if about a hundred “woulda, coulda, shoulda” type things had actually happened. And we’ll get to a couple of those in a minute, but let’s first review the premise of my 10-2 prediction.
The 2016 Ducks were a portrait of dysfunction with about as bad of a defense as a big-time college football team could produce. They finished ranked 126th in total defense (out of 128). Here’s what I said back in August:
“… think about this: Last season the Ducks went 4-8, but just a play or two here and there against Nebraska, Colorado, and Cal–and if they had actually shown up against a really bad Beaver team–then they go 8-4. Kinda’ scary, huh?”
Again, a whole lot of things had to take place, but really, the Ducks–as dysfunctional and horrible defensively as they were–weren’t that far from being 8-4.
The 2017 Ducks, even with inexperience at wide receiver, were still going to have an offense that could put up points. With a more experienced Justin Herbert and a healthy stable of quality running backs, getting the ball into the end-zone wasn’t going to be an issue.
My thinking was that if the Ducks can remove the dysfunction (which they did in firing Mark Helfrich), replace the horrible defense with at least a mediocre one (which they did by hiring Jim Leavitt), and factor in the relatively soft schedule, then there was no reason the Ducks couldn’t cruise to 8-4. I felt predicting a six-win season was selling the Ducks way short.
And, with no USC on the schedule, bump that up to 9-3. Finally, in a rare display of optimism from a guy who is no stranger to being a total Debbie Downer (for which I blame my sister, Debbie), I reached for the stars in predicting a 10-2 season capped off with a win in the Alamo Bowl (would have been nice to play TCU again).
What Went Wrong
ASU: This was the most difficult loss of the season. Of course, the losses with Braxton Burmeister were worse games, but, using expectations as our measuring stick (and with Burm we had none), this was the most disappointing loss.
ASU was our first true test against a “middling” Pac-12 team, and the Ducks failed. The defense didn’t show up, and there were too many missed opportunities on offense. My feeling, at the time, was that any chance of a special season and 10 wins had been lost.
Or was it? With UW not being what they were in 2016 and Stanford looking far from invincible, the hope of 10 wins wasn’t completely dead.
Herbert’s Injury: Of course, when Herbert went down, any chance at 10 wins was completely decimated. My feelings on Herbert’s injury were made plain as day after the WSU loss (click here). The question is: How would the Ducks have fared in the four losses without Herbert against WSU, UCLA, UW, and Stanford? The safe money would probably be 2-2, which would have translated into a 9-3 season. The ASU loss foiled my 10-2 prediction masterpiece.
The Oregon defense was vastly improved in 2017. Here’s a look at the numbers:
Oregon Defense 2016 vs 2017
Total Defense (yards allowed per game): 518 in 2016, 360 in 2017
Passing Yards Allowed (per game): 271 in ’16, 230 in ’17
Rushing Yards Allowed (per game): 246 in ’16, 130 in ’17
Points Allowed (per game): 41 in ’16, 28 in ’17
Total Turnovers (season): 12 in ’16, 22 in ’17
Division 1-A Defensive Rank (128 teams): 126th in ’16, 45th in ’17
And all this happened with five games in which the Ducks had no offense, leaving the defense totally stressed out.
What to Expect in 2018
Looking ahead to next season, the Ducks have a very favorable schedule. They start out with three non-conference patsies (remember that the Ducks didn’t schedule weak; Texas A&M wimped out), and they don’t play USC (Colorado is their other miss). Arguably their toughest conferences games–Stanford, Huskies, UCLA, and ASU–are all at home.
Herbert will presumably be better protected and less susceptible to injury, while the young defense will have had a year to mature. For these reasons, the Ducks should be even better in 2018.
So, 12-0 it is.
OK, I’m not that crazy. In fantasy football, I tend to draft young players a year before they break-out. So, since I thought the Ducks would break-out in 2017 with a 10-2 season, naturally, it will happen in 2018.
And I think most Duck fans would be just fine with that.
Top photo credit: Kevin Cline