Many fans feel unsettled by the lack of football in Autzen this fall and see this as a “cop out” season for the Pac-12 board, a “cowardly move” to avoid lawsuits. Missing out on some of our best players’ last seasons at Oregon may seem disappointing now, but head coach Mario Cristobal has prepared for this.
Sure, the Ducks have a few players forgoing the 2020 season (if it ever does come for the Pac-12) in favor of pursuing NFL careers. It would be easy to fault them, to feel robbed of seeing them suit up for a final 12 games this spring. But consider this: what would we be missing out on?
The Upside of No Fall Season
Star quarterback Justin Herbert has moved onto the NFL, leaving fans questioning the team’s future without a proven field general guiding the Ducks’ offense. With inexperience at quarterback, it’s fair to say most teams are at risk of faltering in the early goings of their season, leading to early losses and missed playoff chances. But in this “preseason” sort of setting, our current quarterbacks could get some much needed playing time, so is that really even an issue?
A displaced and condensed season will, of course, be an exciting break from the strange times we find ourselves in, but our expectations of the on-field performance will likely dampen quickly. Assuming there is still a College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 would be out of contention by virtue of not playing through the fall anyway. With no championship hopes, I consider this season a chance to see the new recruits, an opportunity to gain insight into the future of the program and also valuable development time for players who are going to be filling the voids left by some of the Ducks’ best.
The Best Is Yet to Come
The 2020 and 2021 Duck recruits are beyond talented, and even without the likes of Penei Sewell, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, Oregon has the potential to create an even more dominant roster than the 2019 Rose Bowl-winning team. Losing 17 seniors and a handful of juniors after the spring season will create ample opportunity for new starters and stars to emerge.
Coach Cristobal has transformed the program into one that can compete with the recruiting juggernauts at the top of the rankings. At the time of writing this, the Ducks’ recruiting staff has assembled a class ranked third in the nation through the 2021 season only behind the usual suspects, Ohio State and Alabama. Finally, the Ducks have a Keyser Söze of their own in coach Cristobal.
The Ducks were a high-tempo, energy-draining team that consistently put up 40+ points per game through the 2010s. They began to recruit at a much higher level in the 2010s, but they still weren’t able to beat the top teams in the nation. Top recruits like De’Anthony Thomas and Arik Armstead initiated a transitional phase. The Ducks went from a competitive West Coast team that could occasionally knock off a top 10 program to a perennial New Year’s Bowl contender, eventually competing for a National Championship (twice!).
But looking even deeper than that, the Ducks in recent offseasons have begun to snatch top-tier talent from all over the country. This is where we can truly separate and elevate to the level of a top 5 program, a place the Ducks have slowly been climbing toward for a long time. The talent pool is growing week by week, filling the empty roster slots left by our departing NFL talents.
Recruiting Beyond the West Coast
The Ducks have been able to consistently accrue stars out of California through their dominant West Coast presence, and it’s no different in the 2020 class. But to secure a five-star cornerback from Missouri in Dontae Manning, two four-star recruits from Alabama in Robby Ashford and Jayson Jones (how’s that, Crimson Tide?), and a four-star guard out of Florida in Jonathan Denis means the program has truly risen to a new level. Justin Flowe may not end up even being the most impactful addition from the 2020 class.
The 2021 class will be no different for the Ducks, as they have commitments from four-star recruits out of New York, Colorado, Mississippi and Utah. The key difference between these classes and those in recent years is the kind of players the Ducks are getting from the East Coast, luring top athletes away from SEC country.
COVID-19 and the lack of a fall season gives us Duck fans the perfect opportunity to remember how far we’ve come since Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, even though they were able to give us some of the best Duck seasons in recent memory. Cristobal and the Ducks’ recruiting staff are forging a new national image that is not going to simply go away with Sewell, Herbert and other departing players.
The Ducks are here to stay, and the star recruits of old look to have nothing on the Ducks’ future classes.
Santa Barbara, California
Top Photo from Twitter
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.
Alex Heining is a third-year student at the University of Oregon. He’s working towards a bachelor of arts degree as an English major and media studies minor in journalism. Growing up in the Los Angeles area of southern California, Alex ended up a Duck through family ties, a quality football program, and the beautiful green of Lane County. Currently finishing his first science fiction novel, he wants to end up in the sports world of journalism on the west coast. Particularly, covering high school football, recruiting commits, and all things Ducks.
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