The 2020 college football season is two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.
Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.
No. 10 Oregon
Last season, the Ducks won the Pac-12 and closed with wins over top-10 teams Utah and Wisconsin. Fans, however, may have spent some time this offseason thinking about what could have been. Oregon’s 27-21 and 31-28 losses to Auburn and Arizona State kept the Ducks out of the College Football Playoff picture. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oregon doesn’t have any non-conference games on this year’s schedule. But whenever the defense of its conference title does gets underway, the Ducks will have a new quarterback leading the way.
Oregon was ranked No. 8 in our preseason poll last year.
About the Ducks
2019: 12-2, 8-1 in the Pac-12; beat Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl
Coach: Mario Cristobal (48-54 overall, 21-7 in two years at Oregon)
Returning starters: 4 offense, 8 defense
Shoes to fill: QB Justin Herbert (No. 6 overall draft pick, Chargers); LB Troy Dye (all-conference, 4th round, Vikings); OL Shane Lemieux (all-conference, 5th, Giants); C Jake Hanson (6th, Packers)
Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo left to become head coach at UNLV; he was replaced by former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead, who’ll be the Ducks’ OC and quarterbacks coach. Oregon also added cornerbacks coach Rod Chance and receivers coach Bryan McClendon. … The Ducks signed three five-star defensive prospects in their 2020 recruiting class that ranked 12th nationally (the nation’s No. 3-rated cornerback and the top two-rated inside linebackers). And the 2021 class is currently ranked fifth. … in wake of the national conversation on race, Oregon and Oregon State announced this summer that their annual rivalry game will no longer be called the Civil War.
Passing: Tyler Shough (2nd on team), 12-15-144 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: RB CJ Verdell (led team), 197-1,220-8; RB Travis Dye (2nd), 106-658-0
Receiving: WR Johnny Johnson III (led team), 57-836-7; WR Jaylon Redd (2nd), 50-465-7
Tackles: DB Jevon Holland (2nd), 66; DB Thomas Graham Jr. (3rd), 64
Sacks: DL Kayvon Thibodeaux (led team), 9
Interceptions: DBs Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III (tied for team lead), 4
Offense: OL Penei Sewell (1st team); RB CJ Verdell (2nd)
Defense: DB Thomas Graham Jr. (hon. mention); DB Jevon Holland (hon. mention); DB Deommodore Lenoir (hon. mention); DL Jordon Scott (hon. mention); RS Mykael Wright (hon. mention); DL Kayvon Thibodeaux (hon. mention, freshman defensive player of the year)
Special teams: AP Brady Breeze (1st)
Who’s next?: Herbert, who was drafted sixth overall by the Chargers, was the fifth Ducks quarterback to be taken in the top 10 (No. 1 George Shaw in 1955; No. 3 Akili Smith in 1999; No. 3 Joey Harrington in 2002 and No. 2 Marcus Mariota in 2015). Now Oregon must look for Herbert’s successor. Cristobal said in April that Shough, a redshirt sophomore, “entered the spring as the starter; he leaves the spring as the starter.” Anthony Brown, a graduate transfer who started 28 games at Boston College, and four-star signees Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford are other options.
Quack attack: The Ducks likely did not receive Christmas cards from many quarterbacks in 2019. Led by the instant impact of Thibodeaux, who was the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Oregon, the Duck’s defense ranked 13th nationally in sacks. And sacks weren’t the only way that Oregon frustrated quarterbacks during Andy Avalos’ first year as the defensive coordinator. Of the 130 FBS-level defenses, only Florida Atlantic (22) intercepted more passes than Oregon’s 20. The Ducks bring back nearly 71% of their 41 sacks and 85% of their picks.
Altered schedule: When the Pac-12 pulled the plug on non-conference games, Oregon lost out on a series of intriguing home dates. The Ducks were going to open with North Dakota State, which has won the last three FCS national titles. The following week, Autzen Stadium would have hosted Ohio State as well as many of the nation’s eyeballs. A game against Hawaii also was axed. The trip to Colorado on Sept. 26 now marks the beginning of Oregon’s season, and home games still exist against Washington, Stanford and USC teams that have won four of the Pac-12’s last five titles.
2019 national stat rankings
Where Oregon ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Ducks ranked in 2018.
Scoring: 16th (2018 — 25th)
Scoring defense: 9th (48th)
Total offense: 40th (41st)
Total defense: 22nd (55th)
Passing: 41st (49th)
Pass defense: 53rd (82nd)
Rushing: 51st (54th)
Rush defense: 13th (43rd)
Red zone offense: t-96th (64th)
Red zone defense: 23rd (T-74th)
Turnover margin: 5th (T-35th)
Time of possession: 103rd (105th)
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 10: Oregon Ducks
Our No. 9 team. Want a hint?
This school battles the same team for the “Jeweled Shillelagh” trophy. But not this year …