The Oregon Ducks run onto the field as they are introduced before taking on the Boise State Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 38-28. The Ducks have a new coach this season for the third time in as many years. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 23 Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

From Kelly to Helfrich to Taggart to Cristobal, maybe what the Ducks really need is just some consistency — on the field, but on the sidelines too.

Posted July 6th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

Today’s team: No. 23 Oregon

The Ducks’ best-case scenario: Quarterback Justin Herbert establishes himself as the Pac-12’s top quarterback with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk now in the NFL. Oregon fans also wouldn’t mind seeing Mario Cristobal provide some coaching consistency after two straight offseasons of changes.

Their worst-case scenario: Does three years make a trend? The Ducks would prefer not to find out, but a backslide on defense could make for a third straight season of Oregon being an afterthought in the Pac-12 race — the Ducks’ last conference title was in 2014.

RELATED COVERAGE: Ten things to know about the Oregon Ducks

RELATED COVERAGE: A look at Oregon’s 20 best recruits since 2002

Inside the Ducks

Coach: Mario Cristobal (first year, 0-1; 27-48 overall at FIU, Oregon)

2017: 7-6, 4-5 in the Pac-12 (lost to Boise State 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: HC Willie Taggart (Florida State); RB Royce Freeman (3rd round, Broncos); OT Tyrell Crosby (5th, Lions)

Spring cleaning: Receiver Tabari Hines, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, chose Oregon over Texas and USC. … After no Ducks were drafted in 2017, Oregon sent Freeman and Crosby to the NFL this spring. … Thanks to the signing of 11 four-star recruits, Oregon’s recruiting class ranked third in the Pac-12 and 16th nationally according to 247Sports’ composite ratings. …Chip Kelly, who coached at Oregon from 2009-12, now leads a UCLA team that travels to Eugene on Nov. 3.

Tony Brooks-James (20) of the Oregon Ducks is lifted up in the air by teammate Tyrell Crosby (73) after scoring a touchdown against the Utah Utes at Autzen Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Justin Herbert, 139-206-1,983, 15/5 (1st); Braxton Burmeister, 44-77-330, 2/6 (2nd)

RUSHING: Tony Brooks-James, 93-498-2 (3rd)

RECEIVING: Dillon Mitchell, 42-517-4 (1st); TE Jacob Breeland, 18-320-5 (3rd)

TACKLES: ILB Troy Dye, 107 (1st); CB Thomas Graham Jr., 62 (3rd)

SACKS: DL Jalen Jelks, 6.5 (1st); ILB Troy Dye, 4 (4th); DL Justin Hollins, 3.5 (5th)

INTERCEPTIONS: CB Thomas Graham Jr., 3 (T-1st)

Returning All-Pac 12 players (7)

Offense: TE Jacob Breeland (hon. mention), OL Jake Hanson (hon. mention), OL Calvin Throckmorton (hon. mention)

Defense: DL Jalen Jelks (2nd team), ILB Troy Dye (2nd), S Ugochukwu Amadi (hon. mention)

Special teams: AP/ST Brenden Schooler (1st)

FYI

Third time’s a charm?: Following Mark Helfrich’s firing and Willie Taggart’s hiring at Florida State, Cristobal becomes Oregon’s third head coach in the past three seasons. Cristobal was Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator in 2017; he retained five of Taggart’s assistants. One of those returning coaches is defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who saw Oregon allow 12.4 points per game less than it did in 2016. At 29 points per game, Oregon still ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense.

Picking up where he left off: Two years ago, Herbert became the first true freshman to start at quarterback at Oregon since 1983 and he had a six-touchdown game against Cal and a 489-yard game against Arizona State. A collarbone injury slowed his progression in 2017 and led to the reminder of Burmeister on Oregon’s depth chart. Herbert, however, enters this season having thrown for a touchdown in each of his last 15 games. No quarterback in school history has gotten to 3,000 career passing yards quicker than Herbert.

Running game questions: The Ducks will have a tough time replacing Freeman, the school’s all-time leading rusher who trailed only Heisman Trophy finalist Bryce Love and Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay on the conference’s all-purpose yards chart in 2017 (136.6 per game). No Duck ran for more than 45 yards in the team’s spring game. Brooks-James, though, ran for nine touchdowns and averaged 7.6 yards per carry during his sophomore season in 2016.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 18th (36.0 ppg) — right above No. 19 North Texas, right behind No. 17 Washington

Points allowed: T-81st (29.0 ppg) — tied with Western Michigan, right behind No. 80 Florida International

Passing: 94th (189.9 ypg) — right above No. 95 Ohio, right behind No. 93 Iowa

Rushing: 12th (251.0 ypg) — right above No. 13 Alabama, right behind No. 11 Mississippi State

Total offense: 30th (440.9 ypg) — right above No. 31 Appalachian State, right behind No. 29 Alabama

Total defense: T-46th (369.2 ypg) — tied with Notre Dame, right above No. 45 Miami (Ohio)

A general view of the stadium during the game between the Washington State Cougars and the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks play five of their first six games in 2018 at home. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (7, P12N)Bowling Green
Sept. 8 (7, P12N)Portland State
Sept. 15 (1, P12N)San Jose State
Sept. 22Stanford*L, 49-7
Sept. 29at Cal*W, 45-24
Oct. 13Washington*L, 38-3
Oct. 20at Washington St.*L, 33-10
Oct. 27at Arizona*W, 48-28
Nov. 3UCLA*L, 31-14
Nov. 10at Utah*W, 41-20
Nov. 17Arizona State*L, 37-35
Nov. 23 (3, FS1)at Oregon State*W, 69-10
*Pac-12 game

The key game: Sept. 22, Stanford. Is Oregon back? The Ducks won’t know over the season’s first three weeks (their non-conference foes combined for a 4-32 record in 2017). But Stanford, a perennial power that has won its last two matchups with Oregon by a combined score of 101-34, will provide a much tougher test.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201311-2 (7-2)3rd / 9thAlamo, W
201413-2 (8-1)3rd / 2ndCFP title game, L
20159-4 (7-2)7th / 19thAlamo, L
20164-8 (2-7)24th/ —No bowl
20177-6 (4-5)— / —Las Vegas, L
Total44-22 (28-17 Pac-12)2-3 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.

Our Top 25, by conferences

1 school:

Pac-12 — No. 23 Oregon

SEC — No. 24 LSU

Big 12 — No. 25 Texas

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 22 team

Want a hint?

This school produced future Broncos/Dolphins/Bears/Jets/Giants/Seahawks wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

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