Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Oregon Ducks
If Autzen Stadium had a roof, it would have caved in last season in Eugene. The fault was centered around the entire offensive line playing freshmen at one point, grad transfer Dakota Prukop being injured, forcing true freshman Justin Herbert into action, and a defense that could not stop a herd of infants. Mark Helfrich became the first Oregon coach to be fired in 40 years, and a massive shift had to be made. Oregon went outside the football family and hired Willie Taggart, who has been credited with massive turnarounds at Western Kentucky and South Florida. Taggart, a former QB, is also a Jim Harbaugh guy, as he had worked with Harbaugh at Stanford. He is trying to infuse some energy into the program, and brought Mario Critobal and Marcus Arroyo to run the offense, and even managed to poach Jim Leavitt as DC from Colorado. Can the Ducks motivate a terrible defense to improve, and can the young players that got in some time last fall pick this thing up and move the needle in year one?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Herbert may have just been a freshman last fall, but he was a very good one. He passed for 1936 yards and tossed 19 TDs to just four INTs on the season, and showed he has what it takes to be the next great Oregon QB. With a full season under him now, and with a full season under the belts of the linemen in front of him, he could really rocket up the charts this fall.
Royce Freeman is a massively talented and explosive back who finally appears to be healthy as we head into fall camp. He played in 11 games last fall, and ran for 945 yards and nine scores, while averaging 5.63 yards per carry. When he was healthy in 2015, he rushed for over 1800 yards, so there is massive potential here if his body is right. Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit, and Taj Griffin also all return to give the Ducks one of the deepest pools of backs in the nation.
That young line that was a burdon last fall is starting to grow up, and even though four starters are sophomores, there are not four more experienced sophomores on one line anywhere in the nation. All five starters had serious starting experience last fall in LT Brady Aiello, LG Shane Lemieux, C Jake Hanson, RG Tyrell Crosby, and RT Calvin Throckmorton. Crosby is the "old man" of the group as a senior.
Adrian Schneider is back at PK after hitting 9/12 FG attempts last fall, and shoud see more opportunities this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
What was already a thin receiving corps took another hit a couple of weeks ago when Darren Carrington was suspended indefinitely for a DUI stop that caused an arrest. Charles Nelson is now the lone returning starter until, and if Carrington is reinstated to the team. Nelson caught 54 passes last fall for 554 yards and five scores, but again, there is very little depth after that.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The hiring of Leavitt alone was enough to make cheers erupt all through the forest. For the last two seasons, the defense has been a fast sinking ship, and it hit the coral reef last fall under the watchful eye of Brady Hoke, the former Michigan head coach. Leavitt will instill some pride in this unit, and get things back in track much as he did at Colorado.
Troy Dye is back at LB after leading the team with 91 tackles last fall, and will start inside in the 3-4 defense, and Jimmie Swain is hanging around as well after racking up 77 total tackles.
The line will be in decent hands with the return of DE Henry Mondeaux, who finished with 35 tackles and four TFLs last season. The Ducks also won a derby of sorts in Clemson grad transfer Scott Pagano, who chose the Ducks over Oklahoma last spring. Jalen Jelks is projected to start at the open DE spot after finishing with four TFLs of his own last season.
Three starters are back in the secondary in CB Arrion Springs, CB Ugo Amadi, and S Tyree Robinson. Thomas Graham, a freshman, could push Amadi out of his starting job, while there are several options at Safety that may change projected starter roles as well. One such option is freshman Brady Breeze, who is projected to win a starting job.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Depth, across the board, is at a premium. The Ducks have no shortage of reserves coming back across every position, but with as bad as this unit was the last two seasons, can they be trusted to turn it around in one year? That is a huge question. I think that Leavitt is an amazing DC, but he is not a miracle worker, and this transition from a 3-3-5 look to a 3-4 will take some time, and expect some bumps in the road.
Punter is a position of problem as well, Ian Wheeler was mostly awful last season, and a battle is going on to replace him between Adam Stack and Blake Maimone.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Southern Utah, 9/9 Nebraska, 9/16 at Wyoming, 9/23 at Arizona State, 9/30 California, 10/7 Washington State, 10/14 at Stanford, 10/21 at UCLA. 10/28 Utah, 11/4 at Washington, 11/18 Arizona, 11/25 Oregon State
Don't expect the world to change in just one season. Taggart is a pro at getting programs turned around, but it has taken him until year three at both of his stops to make the transition complete. He has never had the resources that he will have at Oregon, however, so pressure will likely not take long to mount. Oregon, which had been an abysmal program for so very long, has now gotten used to winning over the last 20 years, and there is no interest in backtracking to the old days.