Coming off a season plagued with injuries, coaching changes, a mid season quarterback carousel, and ultimately a heartbreaking loss in the season finale Alamo Bowl versus TCU, the Oregon Ducks are looking to rebound for the 2016-17 season.
The Ducks so far have had an incredible offseason with acquiring new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke and Graduate Transfer Quaterback Dakota Prukop, but a ton of questions still loom for the young Oregon team. For instance, the Ducks find themselves in a bit of uncharted territory being ranked 24th in the Preseason AP Poll. This is the first time since 2008 that Oregon has been ranked outside the top 20 in the preseason polls.
So why is college football sleeping on the Ducks this year?
First and foremost, Oregon currently hasn’t named their starting quarterback halfway through fall camp. So far FCS Montana State graduate transfer Prukop seems to be in a head to head battle with Redshirt Freshmen Travis Jonsen for the starting position. Throughout the last couple of weeks it has been rumored that Prukop seems to have the upper hand in the competition.
However, throughout the last two weeks there have been some rumblings of former Sheldon High School quarterback Justin Herbert becoming a household name, impressing teammates such as Darren Carrington. The Ducks are scheduled to announce their starter for this year’s season sometime this week.
In addition to the quarterback competition, the Ducks struggled on defense last year, and are one of the youngest defensive groups in college football. Furthermore, since Hoke’s entrance, the Ducks have shifted to a 4-3 defense, and that change seems to be headed in the right direction, as they have been dominate throughout fall camp.
Also, the Duck’s secondary will be more aggressive now that they have a year under their belt and a big offseason. And with U.C. Davis and Virginia coming to town in the first two weeks, Oregon will have time to fix any quirks before they have their first real test versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Another reason why the Ducks are being slept on is the unknown strength of the offensive line, after losing graduates Tyler Johnstone and Matt Hegarty. As we all saw in the Alamo Bowl, having communication between the offensive line and quarterback is KEY, because without it there is no offense.
As a matter of fact, the Ducks seemed to have erased that question mark by bringing in Graduate Transfer Zac Morgan and having Redshirt Freshmen Jake Hanson step up to fill in the gaps. Furthermore, returning players Tyrell Crosby, Cameron Hunt, and Jake Pisarcik will fill the leadership roles and look to have breakout years.
So let’s talk about the areas where the Ducks are strong, but should not be overlooked going into the season.
The Oregon Ducks running game is phenomenal, but I don’t think College Football really believes that it is as high caliber as Stanford with Christian McCaffrey or Florida State and Dalvin Cook. Moreover, the Oregon running game is so unique and deep with running backs such as “Rolls” Royce Freeman, Charles Nelson, Taj Griffin, Tony Brooks-James, and Kani Benoit, any of whom can turn out the lights against any opponent that is trying to keep up with the fast paced, high scoring offense that Oregon Football produces. With a new quarterback this season, don’t be surprised if Oregon is more run heavy this year, or produces a Heisman Trophy candidate out of Freeman.
Another huge strength that the Ducks have is the depth at their receiving core and how many options they have for long yardage plays. Although Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall graduated and went on to the NFL, the Oregon wide receivers are deep with returners Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, Alex Ofodile, Jalen Brown and recent Olympic Track Finalist Devon Allen. Likewise, the Ducks recruit Dillon Mitchell has been a clear standout from the moment fans saw him stretching out for one-handed, diving catches during the Spring Game in late April.
In Addition to the wide receivers, Oregon’s tight ends are three men deep with Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt returning for another season, and making his way back from a gruesome injury two years ago, Pharaoh Brown is expected to be the starter of the group. No matter who starts at quarterback this season, the Oregon Ducks are loaded with a talented group of tight ends and receivers.
Last but certainly not least, the Oregon Ducks’ new Offensive Coordinator Matt Lubick is a genius, and will provide a very exciting but unpredictable offense. From what we have all seen in the Spring Game and in the Alamo Bowl, it looks like the Ducks once again will have a few tricks up their sleeves such as fake punts, flea-flickers, or even having two quarterbacks on the field at times.
Correspondingly, Oregon’s new Quarterbacks’ Coach David Yost is pulling his weight by bringing in new ideas so that quarterbacks can be more precise and quicker with their throws. Yost also brings knowledge and innovation for big yardage plays, which is very beneficial for the Ducks. With his excellent resume at Washington State, there is no doubt the Oregon Ducks could very well be the most deadly offense in the Pac-12 or even in the nation.
So there you have it. Although the Ducks are being overlooked early in 2016, watch for them to be the sleeper in this year’s college football season.