We’re 40 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.
Our No. 8 team: Oregon
The Ducks’ best-case scenario: After booking trips to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and Las Vegas for an appearance at the 2020 NFL draft, Justin Herbert ends up as beloved in Eugene as Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota. College GameDay will be at Oregon-Auburn in Arlington on opening weekend, so the Ducks will be provided with an early showcase as they hunt for their first conference crown since 2014.
And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Oregon could be in trouble if Herbert’s Heisman hopes are DOA by midseason. Then there are the questions about the defense. In the span of three seasons, Oregon went from allowing 41.4 to 25.4 points per game. But with a new defensive coordinator adjusting to his first real Power 5 job, is regression or continued progression in the cards?
Last year, Oregon was 23rd on our preseason poll.
Inside the Ducks
Coach: Mario Cristobal (2nd year, 9-5; 36-52 overall, 7 years at Florida International and Oregon)
2018: 9-4, 5-4 in the Pac-12 (beat Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl). The Ducks haven’t finished a season ranked since 2015.
Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense
Shoes to fill: WR Dillon Mitchell (1,184 yards, 10 TDs); LB Justin Hollins (led in sacks); DL Jalen Jelks (2nd team all-conference)
Spring cleaning: Receiver Dillon Mitchell left school early after a 1,100-yard, 10-touchdown season; he was drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round. … Oregon parted ways with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt in February. He was replaced by Boise State’s Andy Avalos. … Jovon Bouknight (receivers) and Ken Wilson (linebackers) were also added to the coaching staff. … Graduate transfer Juwan Johnson caught 25 passes at Penn State in 2018.
PASSING: Justin Herbert (led team), 240-404-3,151 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs
RUSHING: CJ Verdell (1st), 202-1,018-10; Travis Dye (2nd), 140-739-4
RECEIVING: Jaylon Redd (2nd), 38-433-5
TACKLES: ILB Troy Dye (1st), 115
SACKS: DL Gus Cumberlander (2nd), 4.0
INTERCEPTIONS: S Jevon Holland (1st), 5; CB Thomas Graham Jr. (T-2nd), 3; CB Deommodore Lenoir (T-2nd), 3
Returning All-Pac 12 (8)
Offense: OL Shane Lemieux (2nd team), RB CJ Verdell (hon. mention freshman offensive player of the year), OL Jake Hanson (hon. mention), OL Penei Sewell (hon. mention), OL Calvin Throckmorton (hon. mention)
Defense: ILB Troy Dye (2nd), DL Jordon Scott (hon. mention)
Special teams: ST Brenden Schooler (1st)
Quack attack is back: Herbert, coming off a 3,151-yard junior season, is 18-10 as a starter and his run of 28 straight games with a touchdown pass is the nation’s longest active streak. He needs 3,727 yards to overtake Mariota as Oregon’s all-time leading passer, and he’ll face only two teams that boasted a top-50 passing defense in 2018.
Still running: Oregon also averaged a respectable 179.4 rushing yards per game in 2018, so defenses will have to pick their poison. CJ Verdell is back (1,018 yards, 10 touchdowns) as well as Travis Dye (739 rushing yards). Verdell’s 1,000-yard season was the 24th in school history, and the Ducks have produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher in 11 of the last 12 years.
Impact freshman: Oregon added 11 four-star recruits thanks to a 2019 signing class that ranked seventh nationally. Then there was five-star defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux, who 247Sports rated as the nation’s second-best overall prospect (ESPN had him at No. 1). Thibodeaux is the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Oregon; the 6-5, 240-pounder enrolled early and was responsible for a sack in the spring game.
2018 national stat rankings
Scoring: 25th (34.8 ppg)
Total offense: 41st (427.2 ypg)
Passing: 49th (247.8 ypg)
Rushing: 54th (179.4 ypg)
Red zone offense: 64th
Time of possession: 105th (27:55)
Scoring defense: 48th (25.4 ppg)
Total defense: 55th (385.9 ypg)
Pass defense: 82nd (241.6 ypg)
Rush defense: 28th (131.4 ypg)
Red zone defense: 74th
Turnover margin: T-35th
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Aug. 31||Auburn (Arlington)|
|Sept. 21||at Stanford*||L, 38-31 (OT)|
|Oct. 5||California*||W, 42-24|
|Oct. 19||at Washington*||W, 30-27 (OT)|
|Oct. 26||Washington State*||L, 34-20|
|Nov. 2||at USC*|
|Nov. 16||Arizona*||L, 44-15|
|Nov. 23||at Arizona State*||W, 31-29|
|Nov. 30||Oregon State*||W, 55-15|
|* Pac-12 game|
The key game? Oct. 19, at Washington. The first half of the schedule is mixed with gimme games (Nevada, Montana, Colorado) and tougher tests (Auburn, Stanford, Cal), but keep an eye on the two-game stretch against their rivals from the state of Washington. First up is Washington, which has won two of the last three Pac-12 titles. Washington blew out Oregon in 2016 (70-21) and 2017 (38-3), but the Ducks found revenge in overtime last year.
The last 5 years
|2014||13=2 / 8-1||3rd / 2nd||CFP title game, L|
|2015||9-4 / 7-2||7th / 19th||Alamo Bowl, L|
|2016||4-8 / 2-7||24th / —||No bowl|
|2017||7-6 / 4-5||— / —||Las Vegas Bowl, L|
|2018||9-4 / 5-4||24th / —||Redbox Bowl, W|
|Total||42-24 / 26-19||5 bowl games (2-3)|
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 8: Oregon
Our Top 25, by conferences
Pac-12 — No. 8 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford
Big Ten — No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska
SEC — No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn
Big 12 — No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State
AAC — No. 16 Central Florida
Independents — No. 18 Army
ACC — No. 23 Syracuse
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 7 team
Want a hint?
This school opens its season Sept. 2 on Monday Night Football, college-style.