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:
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.
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.
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)
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)
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST 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. 22||Stanford*||L, 49-7|
|Sept. 29||at Cal*||W, 45-24|
|Oct. 13||Washington*||L, 38-3|
|Oct. 20||at Washington St.*||L, 33-10|
|Oct. 27||at Arizona*||W, 48-28|
|Nov. 3||UCLA*||L, 31-14|
|Nov. 10||at Utah*||W, 41-20|
|Nov. 17||Arizona State*||L, 37-35|
|Nov. 23 (3, FS1)||at Oregon State*||W, 69-10|
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
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||11-2 (7-2)||3rd / 9th||Alamo, W|
|2014||13-2 (8-1)||3rd / 2nd||CFP title game, L|
|2015||9-4 (7-2)||7th / 19th||Alamo, L|
|2016||4-8 (2-7)||24th/ —||No bowl|
|2017||7-6 (4-5)||— / —||Las Vegas, L|
|Total||44-22 (28-17 Pac-12)||2-3 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.
Our Top 25, by conferences
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.