Oregon will be in the 2019 playoffs, as some of us here have been talking about 2019 since early in the 2017 season. We discussed how after a steady rebuild, and if Justin Herbert came back for his senior season, we’d have a chance to play for championship. Given the performance of 2018, and the level of player and coaching experience that will be present in 2019, no amount of hyperbole is too much.
Let’s start with the schedule. We begin 2019 with a non-conference road game (despite its “neutral” location) against Auburn. After winning the Music City Bowl 63-14 against unranked Purdue (6-7 record) Auburn ended its season on a high note with an 8-5 record. Not too shabby, but let’s dig deeper. Auburn’s losses were to LSU (10-3, won bowl game), Mississippi State (8-5, lost bowl game), Tennessee (5-7), Georgia (11-3, lost bowl game), and Alabama (14-1, lost championship game on Jan. 7).
Every one of those teams is good or great except Tennessee. In fact, three of them are at the top of the SEC. They also beat Washington 21-16 and Texas A&M 28-24, and their loss to LSU was by a single point.
Bottom line: Auburn is a good-to-great team that will be a difficult early test for Oregon. Over the past five years, Auburn’s recruiting class has been in the top 10 three times and top 15 the other two times. Arby’s has the meats, Auburn has some ballers. To me, this a toss-up game, but I don’t think it hurts the Ducks’ overall outlook for the season. Even if they lose, it’s the first game to a team that will likely end up with a winning record. In terms of the Rose Bowl, it doesn’t matter, and to the Playoff Committee, it’s an early loss to good team, so it shouldn’t matter much.
After Auburn, we’ll have two wins against Nevada (8-5 in 2018) and Montana (6-5 in 2018) — those two teams just can’t compete with us talent-wise — before going on the road to Stanford. Bryce Love is off to the NFL, but K.J. Costello will be back at QB, and he’s a good quarterback (65.1% completions, 29 TDs, 11 INTs in 2018). Like most years, Stanford projects to be a solid team that will start ranked and likely struggle on offense at inopportune times. Schedule-wise, however, they’ve got a doozy that starts with hosting Northwestern, followed by back-to-back road games at UCF and at USC. It’s very conceivable that the Cardinal has a losing record when it hosts Oregon. I have no problem calling this a win.
Following a bye week, the Ducks play California and Colorado (not in their class, both wins) before traveling to Washington. They’ll beat Washington easily in Seattle next year. No Jake Browning, no Myles Gaskin, no way. The following week, they host Washington State. The Mustache, a.k.a. Gardner Minshew II, won’t be driving that ship, and in Autzen the Cougars will have zero chance. I can’t wait to avenge four straight losses to them.
Oregon then plays at USC, and as long as Clay Helton is coaching, beats that team (thanks Lynn Swann!). That game is followed with a bye and then wins against Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon State. Why wins against Arizona (who won 44-15 last year) and Arizona State (who barely lost to us)? Because of Oregon’s players and coaching, that’s why. Read on.
The real difference in 2019 is the players and coaching staff. As I showed in this article from 2015, the variables that predict championships are coaching, recruiting and quarterback play. Oregon has all three in spades and is hands down the favorite to win the Pac-12 title in 2019. You can’t make a good argument for any team to reasonably challenge the Ducks for the title. Utah? They couldn’t score a touchdown against Washington in the Pac-12 title game in 2018, and got thumped by Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl, including getting shut out in the second half. Oregon is returning 10 of 11 starters in offense, everyone except Dillon Mitchell.
On defense it’s not so rosy, with Ugo Amadi, Kaulana Apelu, and Justin Hollins graduating. Even so, that still leaves the team with several great players and lots of experience, including Troy Dye, Jordon Scott, Thomas Graham, and Deommodore Lenoir.
Why am I not worried about so much talent loss on the defense? Recruiting and scoring. On the scoring side, we have Herbert and CJ Verdell, among others. Herbert ended the season with 3,151 yards, 29 TDs, and only 8 INTs. Verdell, meanwhile, eclipsed 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on the ground to go along with 315 yards and 2 TDs through the air — as a true freshman. Fans are also hopeful Jaylon Redd can step into Mitchell’s shoes (with more targets no doubt coming his way) as he is coming off a strong performance in the Redbox Bowl (7 catches for 65 yards). Scoring a lot of points can offset issues on defense.
On the recruiting side (using Rivals.com rankings), Oregon has the 17th ranked class in 2015; the 25th ranked class in 2016; the 18th ranked class in 2017; the 13th ranked class in 2018; and the 7th ranked class in 2019. Notice a trend? The caliber of player that has been coming to Oregon and makes up most of the current players has steadily been going up, and this year we landed the consensus number one 5-star player in the country in Kayvon Thibodeaux.
This means that the players who were second and third string in 2018 who will be starting in 2019 are among the best in the country, and several of our redshirt and true freshmen could see the field as well, given our rankings in the last two years. A ton of our recruits are also enrolling early, giving them a jump on conditioning and practice.
In summary, I believe the Oregon Ducks football program has a clear path to a 12-1 (loss to Auburn) or 13-0 season (beat Auburn) and a selection to the playoffs. There will probably be a couple of games where they must outscore our opponents, but they have the offensive firepower to do that and a defense that can get enough stops to help them win that type of game. The outlook for the future began several years ago, merely as an idea fomenting around improved recruiting, Justin Herbert, and a Jim Leavitt-led defense.
This year that nascent thought becomes reality for Oregon Ducks football on the road to the 2019 playoffs.
Washington D.C. Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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