Oregon Ducks football has the opportunity to become a top-five program in the nation.
In the past decade, Our Beloved Ducks football program has produced numerous top-ten picks in the NFL Draft, battled for recruiting supremacy on a national stage, and even molded a Heisman trophy winner (who will be an honorary captain next week, I might add). But we all know what Oregon’s been missing.
This little indie AMC program called Breaking Bad finished airing nearly a decade ago, featuring Jonathan Banks as the gritty and brutally honest Mike Ehrmantraut. One of his many memorable quotes that has stuck with me since that last airing and all through the Better Call Saul era has been, “No half-measures.” The message being that you cannot play it safe, or take the easy out in order to avoid what needs to be done.
That same ideology has to be what Oregon takes into building a championship-winning program. This season under our shiny new head coach Dan Lanning is going to be the first stepping stone in determining if that’s a realistic goal or not. But what do full-measures really translate to in football terms?
Key Components to Oregon Football Being College Football Playoff Contenders Under Lanning’s Regime
Get the Quarterback Right!
For one, we need the quarterback position solved. Preferably yesterday. Playing one of these top talents we’ve recruited in the past few off-seasons would be ideal to create a long-term solution at the position. I’m a firm believer in giving the kid playing time, and letting them struggle a bit in order to get the most valuable position in football right.
However, we have to be fair to Lanning. This is his first season, and first impressions are crucial to maintaining respect as a program’s undisputed leader. Also, we don’t exactly have the easiest season opener in the world. I just can’t sit through another game-managing season. I pulled Mr. FishDuck away from the best sports betting offers long enough for him to agree with me that Oregon fans can’t sit through it again as well.
If 2021’s answer at quarterback was Anthony Brown, our program was asking the wrong question. While he’s a decent option, he’s a safe option. A half-measure.
Luckily, I see the 2022 quarterback competition a bit differently. Since Kenny Dillingham has a strong connection with Bo Nix, it makes sense that Nix is the answer today. But if none of these immensely talented quarterbacks we’ve recruited have panned out just yet, I expect savvy veteran play from Nix immediately.
Play to Oregon’s Defensive Strengths
Now, I’m not expecting us to replace Kayvon Thibodeaux right out of the box. Our Ducks in 2022 just need to recreate some of the magic the New York Giants’ new superstar ignited in the past few seasons. The converted tight end DJ Johnson looks to be in for bigger contributions this year on the defensive line, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Keyon Ware-Hudson can do to build up his role as well.
However, I expect Lanning and his staff to play to the linebacking core as tone setters this year. With Justin Flowe back from injury and Noah Sewell making his case as a top linebacker in the nation, these field generals absolutely have to be in command of the defense early. They should be able to lead the team as powerhouse run-stuffers and lay the lumber in coverage. In terms of off-the-ball linebackers, I can’t imagine a better duo.
Additionally, Bennett Williams, Dontae Manning, and Jamal Hill look poised to be top playmakers for Oregon on the back end. Remember: picks win (champion)ships.
Set the Season’s Tone in Athens, Beat the Utes in Autzen
After a championship victory just seven months ago with the Georgia Bulldogs, Lanning faces his old team immediately. Woof. Despite the landscape of the Bulldogs’ roster changing considerably, they’re still one of the favorites in the country to go all the way back to the College Football Playoff (CFP) this year.
Let’s face it. While it isn’t a career-defining matchup, how Oregon plays week one will say a lot about what Lanning’s been able to manifest in one short offseason. I expect to be on the edge of my seat for an opener that comes down to the wire.
Now, we can’t forget about the Utes either. Fortunately, we’re playing them in Autzen. Our Ducks should be able to get off the blocks to a hot start in the first half, protect a lead and win a season-changing game at home. Honestly, I don’t even think we’d have to win that convincingly to earn more CFP capital. Even a win on the leg of a kicker should put us in strong playoff contention.
Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich, Mario Cristobal, and even Willie Taggart have all paved the way to about as great of a foundation as you can ask to inherit when building a program. All signs are pointing to Oregon peaking with Lanning, but whether it’s this season or soon after remains to be seen.
Regardless of how many of these boxes we check, the main feeling I want to avoid in the next six months is that more could have been done. No more half-measures, Ducks. Or no more tucked feathers, rather.
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Oregon Athletics
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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