Christmas is around the corner, but Mario Cristobal already gave Duck fans the biggest gift of all by surprising many and winning the Pac-12 in just his second season. Cristobal has gotten off to a fast start, building a roster capable of competing at the highest level in just a couple of years.
But a Pac-12 title hasn’t been the only gift that the Ducks have given fans this season. Let’s look at 12 reasons why Oregon fans should be joyful this holiday season.
12 Games Scoring 20 or More Points This Season
Oregon was held below 20 points just once, against California. Despite persistent complaints about play calling and numerous injuries to the receiving corps, the Ducks were able to score 20+ against every other team.
All 2019 Oregon football games have concluded, and the Ducks won 11 of the 13 on the year. Cristobal increased the winning total by two over his 2018 season. A strong final season of the decade has set the Ducks up nicely for the 2020s.
Oregon has a chance for a huge 12th win against Wisconsin on New Year’s Day.
10’s Senior Season
With 3,333 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, only five interceptions and his first conference championship, QB Justin Herbert has ended his career with one of the best passing seasons in school history.
Herbert has 10,403 career passing yards and 95 career passing touchdowns — both good for second in school history. Herbert sits behind Marcus Mariota in both stats despite playing an additional season, but Herbert dealt with a significantly worse receiving corps, multiple coaching changes, a less explosive offense and only started during portions of his first two seasons.
9 Sacks For Thibodeaux
Kayvon Thibodeaux had nine sacks on the season, one shy of his preseason goal. The true freshman led the team in sacks despite not recording one for the first four games. Thibodeaux will have a chance to achieve his goal against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
8 Four- and Five-Star Linemen
The Ducks have re-branded themselves as a program where great lineman come to play, with a whopping eight four- and five-star linemen signing with the Ducks over the last two seasons. The contrast to the old Oregon model has been evident from the start, with players including Thibodeaux dominating the trenches.
7 Fumbles Forced
The Ducks had an impressive 19 interceptions on the year, but managed to recover only four fumbles, leaving them tied for 113th nationally. The defense often found itself poking the ball free, but failing to recover it.
If Oregon had recovered all seven fumbles forced, they would have been tied for 66th nationally — a large improvement over their actual placing. The defense is likely to see a couple more balls bounce their way over the next few seasons, and the fumble recovery ranking should improve because of it.
6 Departing Offensive Linemen
The impressive offensive line run has finally ended for Oregon. Cristobal coached a unit that led the nation in combined starts on the line, and the Ducks were better for it. With the probability that at least three players will be drafted from the group, Oregon will look back on this departing class of lineman as one of the best in school history.
5 Spots Over the Preseason
Prior to the 2019 season, Oregon was projected as the 11th best team in the country according to the AP Poll. After a jarring Week 1 loss to Auburn, the Ducks rallied to win nine straight and 11 of their 12 remaining games.
Oregon is 11-2 through the conference championship game, and is ranked No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. After such a devastating start to the season, Cristobal refocused the team and turned in several legendary defensive performances on the way.
4th in Turnovers Lost
Only tallying 10 total turnovers, the Ducks were fourth in the FBS in turnovers lost. Five fumbles and five interceptions led Oregon to the 7th-ranked turnover margin at +13. As the Ducks build a program, continuing to hang on to the football on offense will be important.
3 Ducks in the First Round?
Walterfootball.com has three Oregon players projected to go in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Considering the senior class won an unimpressive four games as freshmen, having three players taken in the first round of the draft speaks volumes about the developmental abilities of the staff and the work ethic of the players.
Herbert is an obvious Top-10 pick, and will likely impress scouts to no end at the NFL Combine. Troy Dye is projected at 24th overall, as the senior linebacker has put together four impressive seasons in Eugene. Shane Lemieux is projected at No. 31 overall after four consecutive years starting and being part of the best left side of an offensive line in college football.
2nd-Ranked Recruiting Class in the Pac-12
Oregon currently sits at second in the Pac-12 on all major recruiting outlets for the 2020 class. The Ducks haven’t quite surpassed the impressive depth of their 2019 class, but they will bring in arguably the two best linebackers in the country in 2020, and might add a third five-star recruit to the class.
Kelee Ringo signed a letter of intent with a school during the early signing period, and the Ducks are squarely in the mix for the top uncommitted prospect. Dontae Manning is widely believed to have signed with Oregon during the signing period, and will announce his decision during an upcoming All-American game. Securing both players would likely push the Ducks back to first place in the conference despite several de-commitments surrounding the recent signing period.
The level of recruiting Cristobal has brought to Oregon has led the program out of the “coach up average players” era, and into the “if you want to beat the best you have to be the best” era.
1 Happy Fanbase
Cristobal brought the first conference championship in half a decade, and two of the best recruiting classes in history, to Eugene. He brought Oregon back from the brink of obscurity to the national stage, and he has the chance to add “Rose Bowl victor” to his list of accomplishments over two seasons with the Ducks in a few weeks.
The Oregon fan base has much to celebrate in what is left of 2019. What’s more, the future of Oregon football is just as bright.
Yuma, ArizonaTop Photo Credit: Tom Corno
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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