It’s a common phrase at the NFL level to say your team is a “quarterback away” from being a playoff contender. The same could be said about many college football programs, and although the Ducks may not be particularly needy at the quarterback spot, they may be one all-time great player away from being a College Football Playoff contender even in 2020.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and just think about the game ahead with Iowa State. I’m going to give you an opportunity to ensure a Ducks victory over the Cyclones by giving you a golden ticket choice: return one former Oregon player from any of the past 20 seasons to our 2020 Ducks roster.
You can pick any player since 2000 to be a part of Our Beloved Ducks program for one more game and suit up for the Fiesta Bowl. You have the potential to choose a player that wills our young Ducks to a statement victory, or perhaps corrupt the team’s chemistry and costs them the game. While I assume there wouldn’t be many players that could arguably cause the latter, here are a few assumptions I thought we’d make to ensure as fair of a playing field as possible.
This player of course would not be their current age in 2020, but they would be playing at the age (and ability!) they were in the season of your choice (for example, Marcus Mariota from his Heisman season). We’re also assuming they’re familiar with the playbooks, the coaching staff, etc. (as if they’d been there the whole season but injured or unable to play up until this game). And lastly, they can be a part of the opt-outs group from this year. There is no right answer in my book, but perhaps we could agree on one.
My take: I’d like to bring back Deforest Buckner from his senior season. I put a lot of thought into how the team has been playing, and although the defense is clearly the lacking side of the ball in experience, it was hard not taking a veteran quarterback or getting a premier tackle back on the field like Penei Sewell or Justin Herbert for the offense. I think Buckner is one of the easiest plug-and-produce options of the last 20 years for the Ducks, and would pose the lowest threat to potentially damaging any built up confidence within the position group.
Many fans I’m sure would plug a quarterback in place of sophomore Tyler Shough, but I personally like what offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was able to do with the team against the Trojans. A real passing presence wasn’t felt all game, but the split quarterback play of Shough and senior transfer Anthony Brown came up big when the Ducks really needed it. We can all agree the Pac-12 Championship wasn’t the prettiest of games for the new Oregon offense, yet the Ducks were still able to find a way to win. I think they can beat the Cyclones if they produce a strong rushing attack again like they did against USC. On the other side, the defense played much more cohesively and managed to finally force a few turnovers against the Trojans, but a lot was left to be desired from the front seven.
Although a linebacker like Joe Walker or Kiko Alonso was a tempting position leader to consider, I just can’t imagine how much better the Oregon run defense would be with Buckner back out on the field. Iowa State running back Breece Hall has been running wild for the Cyclones all season and to win the Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks must (at the very least) slow him down. Imagine how much better Kayvon Thibodeaux would play soloed up against Iowa State’s tackles. Without all the attention from the Cyclone’s offensive line, I could see the pair combining for 5.0+ sacks and many, many tackles for loss.
Even considering the production I think they would have together, I’m sure there are some incredible options out there I’ve overlooked. I’m still a student at the U of O, so even though I tried to put recency bias aside, I may still have indulged it to an extent. I don’t believe the Ducks are in dire need of outside help from a player like this to beat the Cyclones, but it certainly could guarantee a bowl victory.
Which Duck would you plug-and-play this weekend in the Fiesta Bowl? Do you believe only one player could push the Ducks over the top against Iowa State, or better yet, could have saved the season and helped the Ducks make a College Football Playoff push?
Top Photo By Kevin Cline
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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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