GREYBEARD UPFRONT DISCLAIMER: I admit that I have been indicted in the past for the crime of “sunshine pumping.” I probably could have been convicted on certain charges: specifically, having been huckstered by Brady Hoke. Later, the charisma of a certain ex-FSU coach beguiled me way longer than I care to admit. I am, by nature, optimistic. And, yes, sometimes that clouds my objectivity. Especially when Duck Football is involved.
But not always. Last summer, when many of us were salivating over the upcoming season (not without a good measure of empirical evidence, I might add), the over/under Vegas line was 8.5 wins for our Ducks. Some of us at the time were predicting an appearance in the Final Four. That seemed a bit of a reach to me. As fall approached, “facts being stubborn things” (a John Adams quote), it looked like nine wins, a North title and a decent bowl was an optimistic, but reasonable ceiling.
My, how pleasantly surprised I was when our 2019 campaign regaled us with a Pac-12 Title, a Rose Bowl win, a pounding of the dogs at their kennel and a serious smack-down of USC. All of this while going 5 of 7 on the road (neutral site games included). Expectations exceeded … IN SPADES!
So while the blush is still on the Roses, why don’t we take a few minutes to open up that proverbial can of worms (Ducks like worms, right?). What would a reasonably sane and objective observer say our expectations should be for next year? And why? Let’s look at some of the moving parts.
Defense in Elite Territory
Our defense ended the season ranked ninth in the country in points allowed (PA), giving up 16.5 PA, which was four more points per game than No. 1 Georgia (12.57 PA) and about three points per game more than No. 13 Clemson (13.53 PA) and No. 14 Ohio State (13.71 PA). We gave up about two points per game LESS than No. 13 Alabama (18.62 PA). As an entire team, we may not be ensconced in “elite territory” yet, but we certainly seem to be walking through the door on defense.
All of Duck Nation got great news recently when we learned that Austin Faoliu, Jordon Scott, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir will all be returning next year. Correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe we are returning 18 of 22 on our defensive two-deep. Add the impact of the recent recruiting classes, which have been heavy on the defensive side of the ball, and prospects for next year look very nice.
It’s going to be hard, for example, to keep 5-star ILBs Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell off the field. We are finally getting the kind of freshmen that can actually come in and make an impact year one (looking at you, Kayvon Thibodeaux). Add to that mix cornerback Dontae Manning, and we have THREE 5-star defensive recruits arriving!
PREDICTION: Color me solidly optimistic on this side of the ball. I think our defense will improve next year, giving up an average of somewhere between 14 and 15.5 points per game.
Offense Still Murky
Last year’s Duck offense drove many of us to banging holes in drywall with our foreheads. Valid criticisms were raised on this site regarding the offense’s predictability, lack of imagination, lack of serious aerial threat, etc. Add the loss of Justin Herbert, and we carry into the off season genuine concerns. Ironically, the concern is not with our ability to keep points OFF the board, as it had been for years, but putting points ON the board. What a flip of the Oregon script!
While finishing the season a “respectable” No. 16 in points per game, putting up an average of 35.36 PPG, we fell well out of the ranks of the elite: LSU, ‘Bama, OSU and Clemson put up 48.4, 47.23, 46.86 and 43.93 PPG, respectively. Clearly we have some ground to make up. We may be on the porch, but we aren’t knocking on the “elite” door. We need to add two TDs per game to be valid contenders.
Now, don’t go cueing up the William Tell Overture yet, but I am convinced that the hire of Joe Moorhead as our new OC was a MASSIVE COUP! His command of the RPO, particularly the way he runs it from limited personnel packages designed to hide intentions from the defense, has the potential to put us above the 40 PPG mark next year.
Our prospects will improve significantly if some serious talent separates itself at the TE and WR positions. Tyler Shough, who is not yet battle-tested, is clearly a concern. What is comforting, however, is that we are hearing the same sort of praise for him on the practice field as we did LaMichael James when he was redshirting.
In previous years, the loss of so many O-line seniors would be a huge concern. Fortunately, our depth there gave us tremendous opportunity this year to rotate in significantly from the depth chart. Losing seniors like Jake Hanson and the versatile “Doc” Throckmorton will hurt, but the O-line is packed with talent. We should be fine.
PREDICTION: We certainly have the potential to improve dramatically. But concerns associated with our aerial game force me to cautiously predict that we only improve incrementally to an average of about 40 PPG. Close, but not quite there yet.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
We have shown this year that we can win on the road. That is huge. It’s what great teams do consistently. Next year’s home schedule looks to set up nicely. We get Ohio State at home. Our toughest road game will probably be at Cal, now that Mike Leach left Washington State (ironically, to replace Moorhead at Mississippi State).
OVERALL PREDICTION FOR 2020: We win a wing-biter against defending FCS champs North Dakota State. We lose a close game to Ohio State and enter conference play 2-1. We lose one Pac-12 game, likely that Cal road game, but exact revenge against ASU at home with a 20+ point margin. We repeat as Pac-12 Champs, but since the 2021 Rose Bowl is a CFP semifinal, we will not be able to repeat as Rose Bowl Champs.
… Unless of course the stars align and we make the Final Four!
Fontana, CaliforniaTop 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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