Tyler Shough is the only player since Marcus Mariota to start in multiple seasons for Oregon after not starting as a true freshman.
Sure, Mariota is the greatest Oregon Duck of all time, but he left the team nine years ago, and during that time only Shough has pulled off what seems to be a pretty simple feat? So what has happened during that time?
First, break down the players who have started since Mariota departed. In addition to Shough the list consists of: Vernon Adams, Dakota Prukop, Justin Herbert, Braxton Burmeister, Anthony Brown, and Bo Nix. A strong list of players to be sure, but why have none of them redshirted or taken a backup role for the Ducks?
Second, we consider their background. Adams, Prukop, Brown, and Nix were all multi-year starters before transferring to Eugene. Add in Dillon Gabriel, who will start next year after transferring from Oklahoma and UCF, and the picture is clear: Oregon primarily starts transfers at quarterback now.
Many thought that 2024 would see an end to this trend, with the expectation that long-time backup Ty Thompson would finally get the opportunity to start for the Ducks. The coaching staff went in a different direction, and continued to send a clear message to the college football world: if a QB can’t start for them on day one, the team isn’t interested. Sure, they are bringing in Luke Moga, who pairs with 2023 recruit Austin Novosad, but after Gabriel is out of eligibility next winter, don’t we just expect Dan Lanning to get yet another portal QB?
But that’s the point these days, isn’t it? Why would a coaching staff spend the time and go through the growing pains of bringing up a young QB when they can just take one from one of the best offenses in the country? With Thompson at QB, Oregon would be viewed as an upper tier Big Ten team, but with Gabriel, who originally committed to play at UCF in 2018, they might just be favored to make the conference championship.
The days of bringing in a young QB, sitting them for a year or two to develop and then making them the starter are gone. Gabriel has been in college football since Herbert was in his senior season, and has only 3,000 fewer yards in college than the former Ducks has in the NFL.
Sure, eventually Oregon will have a player start for them who they have developed, but it will only likely happen if they get turned down by all of their top portal options in a particular recruiting cycle. Right now, Lanning has the staff recruiting at a level rarely seen in Eugene, and he feels like the school is ready to compete at the highest level. For that purpose, he probably feels like he needs a “sure thing” under center, leading Thompson to transfer recently.
Now the question needs to be asked, will Lanning be able to continue selling high schoolers on the prospect of eventually starting for the Ducks, or will they catch on to not only his track record, but that of the school?
Sure, Akili Smith Jr is a legacy player who might be fantastic when he arrives in Eugene in 2025, but is it realistic for him to believe that Lanning won’t just bring in a top tier player who doesn’t have an NFL future like Gabriel, or a supremely talented reclamation project like Nix?
For the young developing QB’s on the roster, the answer to that question is paramount, but for Duck fans, we win either way. On one hand, we might have a freshman ready to light up the league, and on the other we might have a grizzled veteran who is in their sixth or seventh year in school.
Personally, I would have loved to see Thompson out on the field wearing green and yellow for an extended period of time, but it wasn’t meant to be. Whatever the coaching staff saw wasn’t enough to convince them to let him have his shot next year. Sure, we get a more “sure thing” in Gabriel, but we missed out on a player who made it abundantly clear that they wanted to be in Eugene and nowhere else.
Maybe the next multi-year starter will be on the roster during bowl season. Novosad and Moga will both be around the team, and it is possible that either one of them will do enough to secure the starting spot in 2025. Maybe Smith Jr will be able to unseat the two of them.
If none of that happens, we will all have to get comfortable cheering for another mercenary.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
Top Photo by: Kevin Cline
Ryan Robertson is a defense contractor for the United States Marine Corps. A lifelong Duck fan from Grants Pass, he joined the Army out of high school. After four years as an Intelligence Analyst he decided it was time to further his education and pay more attention to his Ducks. One of Ryan’s first memories is of watching the Ducks, led by Joey Harrington, beating up on the Utah Utes in 2001. His grandfather ran track at Oregon in the ‘50s. He loves the Ducks, and has a passionate interest in reading every scrap of analysis centered around the football team.
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