Oregon Won’t Become Georgia Overnight

Joshua Whitted Editorials

By all accounts, the Oregon Ducks knocked it out of the park by hiring Dan Lanning. The young, talented coach is an ace recruiter, a defensive mastermind and a forward-thinker. Considering Mario Cristobal left the cupboard pretty full for Lanning and his staff, it makes sense to assume the Ducks are positioned to continue making a push toward the College Football Playoff.

But fans might want to temper expectations just a bit, at least in the short term.

As talented and well-coached as the Ducks are now, they still have a long way to go before they’re the undisputed leaders of the Pac-12 and a legitimate national championship contender. Success doesn’t happen overnight, not even for Lanning’s former boss, Kirby Smart.

But if Lanning follows in Smart’s footsteps — putting his own spin on things, of course — then down the road, Oregon will very much become a dangerous team.

Success Takes Time

For all of his flaws, Cristobal did manage to not only stabilize an Oregon program that was on the brink of falling into Pac-12 obscurity, but he also re-established it as one of the premier programs in the conference.

Cristobal led Oregon to multiple Pac-12 Championships and a Rose Bowl victory.

Much of his success was due to accumulating a roster full of talent, the likes of which the Ducks had never seen previously.

But as we all know, Cristobal’s Ducks had a ceiling: Pac-12 title contenders. If that’s the bar fans expect Lanning to reach, then it’s certainly reasonable to expect him to do so right away. Oregon’s roster is arguably the best in the conference, and if nothing else, his defensive expertise should help that side of the ball improve to a degree in year one.

But most fans want Lanning to make the Ducks more than just Pac-12 champions. They want Oregon to compete for, and actually win, a National Championship. If that’s the goal, then expectations might have to be tempered a bit, as the Ducks are more than just a year away from getting to that level.

Although Oregon’s recruiting has been historically good by its standards, it is still a step behind the perennial Playoff contenders, which routinely land top-10, and even top-five, classes. In the past five recruiting cycles, two of Oregon’s classes have finished in the top 10 nationally — a noteworthy accomplishment, but not one that will give the Ducks a roster that’s able to contend with the Alabamas and Georgias of college football.

Noah Sewell is one of Oregon’s recent blue-chip signees.

Talent acquisition is paramount in building a championship team, and Lanning and his staff know that it will take raising the recruiting bar even higher to get Oregon’s roster where it needs to be to win it all. They’ve done tremendous work already, salvaging what could have been a disastrous 2022 class and getting off to a good start with the 2023 class. But it will take multiple years of top-10-level recruiting for the Ducks to be a legitimate title contender.

Beyond recruiting, there’s the challenge of getting the most out of the players on the roster. We all know this is where Cristobal struggled, and it led to some instances of maddening underperformance.

Lanning certainly has the defensive chops to raise the bar on that side of the ball, and it appears he and Kenny Dillingham have a much better offensive approach, but even improved coaching on all sides of the ball doesn’t lead to instant, drastic improvement.

Oregon’s offense should be much more open in 2022.

For all of his defensive acumen, Georgia’s defense actually regressed slightly when Smart took over in 2016, dropping from seventh nationally to 16th. Mel Tucker, Smart’s first defensive coordinator, left to coach Colorado in 2019, and his unit suffered a similar fate, falling all the way from 52nd to 105th.

Both of these coaches have obviously proven themselves capable since, but it goes to show that success takes time. There’s a learning curve anytime a new staff comes in, and it takes more than a few games, or even a season, to completely get players to buy in, understand new schemes, and more importantly, new philosophies.

There might be instant improvement, specifically on defense, for Oregon in 2022, but we likely won’t see Lanning’s vision fully materialize until a couple of seasons down the road. That’s not cause for concern, it’s simply the nature of implementing a new system.

A national championship might not be right around the corner, but it might not be decades away, either. It will take some time for Lanning to recruit and develop the roster at a high enough level for Oregon to be a perennial Playoff participant. But if fans are able to hold out just a little longer, it certainly seems like Lanning will get the Ducks there in time.

Joshua Whitted
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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