Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (10) signs a football for a fan after a game against Portland State at Autzen Stadium on Sep 8, 2018. The Ducks won 62-14. [Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY]

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: Justin Herbert may end up as No. 8 Oregon’s all-time passer

Move over, Marcus Mariota? Move over, Joey Harrington? Herbert is one monster season from the all-time record.

Posted July 20th, 2019

Advertisement

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?

Advertisement

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.

Oregon running back CJ Verdell (34) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning touchdown in overtime against Washington at Autzen Stadium on Oct 13, 2018. The Ducks won 30-27. [Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY]

Returning leaders

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)

FYI

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

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31Auburn (Arlington)
Sept. 7Nevada
Sept. 14Montana
Sept. 21at Stanford*L, 38-31 (OT)
Oct. 5California*W, 42-24
Oct. 11Colorado*
Oct. 19at Washington*W, 30-27 (OT)
Oct. 26Washington State*L, 34-20
Nov. 2at USC*
Nov. 16Arizona*L, 44-15
Nov. 23at Arizona State*W, 31-29
Nov. 30Oregon 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

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201413=2 / 8-13rd / 2ndCFP title game, L
20159-4 / 7-27th / 19thAlamo Bowl, L
20164-8 / 2-724th / —No bowl
20177-6 / 4-5— / —Las Vegas Bowl, L
20189-4 / 5-424th / —Redbox Bowl, W
Total42-24 / 26-195 bowl games (2-3)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State’s baromoter? Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State (again)

No. 13: Defense may determine Washington’s chances at another Pac-12 title

No. 12: Texas A&M must navigate a scheduled peppered with heavyweights

No. 11: Is Jim Harbaugh’s coaching seat at Michigan getting hotter?

No. 10: If Feleipe Franks continues his rise, Florida can make some noise in the SEC

No. 9: Texas is counting on Ehlinger — Sugar Bowl MVP, coverboy, potential Heisman candidate

No. 8: Oregon

Our Top 25, by conferences

5 schools:

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

3 schools:

SEC — No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn

2 schools:

Big 12 — No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State

1 school:

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.

Comments