The National Championship.
The CFP Trophy.
The Holy Grail for every college football fanatic in the country.
The pinnacle that us Ducklings have been oh so close to achieving twice (2010 and 2014), but have ultimately fallen short of. Oh, the horror of those last few minutes of the Auburn loss!
My esteemed fellow FishDuck.com writers Mike West and Jon Joseph have recently gone on record here and here, respectively, with their thoughts on Oregon’s national championship chances this year. Check them out! They’re good reads.
Spoiler: They do not agree.
We’re all talking about it almost every day now. To anyone who is willing to listen. And none of us are getting tired of talking about it. There is a palpable electricity surrounding this season. One factor that heightens our anticipation is what we have seen the past few years in regard to recruiting. Harnessing horses is the sine qua non for a serious shot at the title. Our stable used to be pedestrian, but it is no longer.
As we now know, Mario Cristobal has emerged as the patriarch of our recruiting juggernaut. Our current class, by the way, is variously rated seventh or eighth in the nation, and will likely finish higher. One statistic highlighting the Ducks’ recruiting success is found on the list of the highest rated recruits that Oregon has ever netted. Of the five highest rated recruits we have ever signed, three are currently on the roster: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell. A sophomore edge-rushing demon and two freshmen line-backing monsters who will be hard to keep off the field this year.
Our roster is loaded. We have depth. Additionally, we have arguably the best coaching staff we have ever seen at Oregon. And the gurus who crunch these kinds of numbers all year seem to agree. They see Oregon as a player this year. The Ducks’ preseason rankings are as follows:
PFF No. 12; Athlon Sports No. 10; ESPN No. 6; NCAA.com No. 6; USA Today No. 4; Sports Illustrated No. 6.
Let’s Neither Bend nor Break
At last, Oregon is fielding the kind of defense that proverbially wins championships. We return 18 of 22 on the defensive two deep from last year, which was better in total defense than Alabama. And we are adding to that group a serious posse of 5-star recruits and transfers. 247 Sports projects our 2020 defense as the No. 2 in the nation.
I recently wrote an article taking exception with a PFF columnist who made the hyperbolic claim that our returning secondary was the best that any team has returned in the past decade. Now, while I still have to demur at “best in the decade” language, there is, nevertheless, good reason to believe that our secondary will finish the 2020 campaign in the top three.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, as a sophomore, is widely seen as one of best returning edge rushers in the nation.
Not since Gang Green have I been this excited about our defense. It really is legit.
But Can We Put Points on the Board?
“Herbs is gone, playing on Sundays,” you say? “Tyler Shough is unproven,” you say? Am I concerned? Only mildly. Do you remember the year that LaMichael James was red-shirting? Do you remember how much was coming out of the scout team reports about how good LaMike really was? The team knew what they had. They had no doubt. We are hearing similar remarks about Tyler Shough. And the limited snaps he played in 2019 seem to reinforce that. He went 8/9 for 92 yards and two TDs against Nevada. Then, against USC, he went 2/3 with a TD, a very nice one to Mycah Pittman. But what if Shough gets hurt? We have a very serviceable back-up in Boston College grad transfer Anthony Brown, whose stats are respectable.
And receivers? That room improved dramatically last year. Drops were reduced substantially. We have some “dudes” coming back. The addition of Troy Franklin, however, the No. 2 wide-out in the nation, adds to the anticipation for this group. Yes, we are all well aware of how hard it is for true freshmen to come in and make an impact, but it does occasionally happen. And because our recruiting has been on steroids lately, it should happen for us more and more. Remember Marquise Lee? Robert Woods? True freshmen who both turned it on during their first years at USC. Look at Troy Franklin’s tape and tell me that he doesn’t remind you of those two. The dude is a separation machine. YAC is his middle name.
With Joe Moorhead overseeing our offense, along with solid rooms at running back, O-line and receiver, I actually see us improving offensively.
So, Do We Honestly Have A Chance?
I think we do. Admittedly, it’s not a great one. But if we play close with Ohio State, win or lose, I think we will have a reasonable chance at running the the table. A one-loss Pac-12 champion, whose only loss would have been to Ohio State, would be hard to keep out of the the Final Four. At that point, we’d have a “puncher’s chance” at winning it all.
Yes, that prediction does assume that we win that nasty road game against Cal that I earlier noted as a potential loss. I confess that I am a two-fisted drinker. Lemon Kool-Aid is in one hand and Lime in the other. But I do, somewhat objectively, think we have a shot at it this year. A remote chance, perhaps, but it’s certainly not off the table.
Long term? I see the Ducks as serious, perennial contenders. Mario doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. He has proven himself. He checks all the boxes for being a CEO type HC. (His hiring of Joe Moorhead, for example, showed me that he is willing to “hire his weaknesses.” He is not afraid of having another alpha coach in the room). We have never seen sustained recruiting at this level, both the recruiting of assistant coaches and of players.
So, if not this year … soon.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
Lou was raised in Eugene. He moved there in 1959, at the age of nine, when his father joined the faculty at the U of O. The first Duck football game that he can remember occurred at Hayward field: a 1963 loss to San Jose State. After serving in the Army from 1968-70, he returned to Eugene, worked in the woods for a few years; and then eventually earned a degree in Mathematics Education from the U of O in 1976. For the past 43 years he has taught secondary mathematics, mostly in southern California. He lives there with Shawn, his wife of 37 years, who is also an Oregon alum. Together they have two sons and a daughter. He retired in June of 2019. When Shawn retires in June of 2021 they will be moving to Pueblo, Colorado.
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