Defensive back Tyree Robinson #2 of the Oregon Ducks dives into the crowd before the game against the Arizona State Sun Devilsat Autzen Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 24 Oregon

The Ducks, 13-12 the last two years, have a new coach; can Willie Taggart reproduce his South Florida success?

Posted July 6th, 2017

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff.

Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 24 Oregon (Related coverage: Seven months after exit, Willie Taggart still winning big in Florida)

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Best-case scenario: The Ducks show that last season — only the school’s second sub-.500 campaign since 1994 — was an aberration and new coach Willie Taggart, formerly of South Florida, gets things back on track. Fans must hope the surplus of defensive returning starters just gained experience, and not bad habits, in 2016.

Worst-case scenario: Last year’s abysmal defense — Oregon ranked 126th nationally in points allowed, with only Cal and Texas Tech ranked lower — can’t be fixed and the Ducks realize they’re just a better dressed Oregon State, which has had two winning seasons since 2009.

The key game: Sept. 30, Cal. As both schools attempt to bounce back from disappointing seasons, the Ducks and Bears will each have a new coach on the sidelines (Justin Wilcox replaced Sonny Dykes at Cal). Expect a lot of points to be scored in the schools’ second Pac-12 game; they combined for 101 points in last year’s double-overtime battle.

INSIDE THE DUCKS

Coach: Willie Taggart (first year; 40-45 overall at Western Kentucky and South Florida)

2016: 4-8, 2-7 in the Pac-12 (no bowl)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 10 defense

Goodbye: Head coach Mark Helfrich; TE Pharaoh Brown; QB Dakota Prukop

Spring cleaning: Oregon suspended its strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde in January for one month without pay after three players (OL Doug Brenner, OL Sam Poutasi and TE Cam McCormick) were hospitalized after a series of grueling workouts. … Despite the 4-8 season, Oregon still signed a top-20 recruiting class. … The Ducks didn’t have a player taken in the NFL draft for the first time since 1985. … Taggart cleaned house when putting together his new staff at Oregon; all 10 major coaching positions are new this year. Helfrich has not been hired anywhere, former offensive coordinator Matt Lubick is now Washington’s co-OC and WRs coach, and former defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is now Tennessee’s DL coach.

Linebacker Cody Barton #30 of the Utah Utes tackles quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Oregon Ducks during their game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

RETURNING STAT LEADERS

Passing: Justin Herbert, 162-255-1,936, 19/4

Rushing: Royce Freeman, 168-945-9 (1st); Tony Brooks-James, 101-771-9 (2nd)

Receiving: Charles Nelson, 52-554-5 (1st)

Tackles: LB Troy Dye, 91 (1st)

Sacks: LB Troy Dye, 6.5 (1st)

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (6)

Offense: AP/ST Tony Brooks-James (2nd team), RB Royce Freeman (hon. men.), OL Jake Hanson (hon. men.), WR Charles Nelson (hon. men.), OL Calvin Throckmorton (hon. men.)

Defense: LB Troy Dye (hon. men.)

Running back Royce Freeman #21 of the Oregon Ducks battles Leo Jackson III #52, Justin Solis #57 and the Colorado Buffaloes defense as he rushes three yards for a touchdown to take a 24-17 lead in the third quarter at Folsom Field on October 3, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. The Ducks defeated the Buffs 41-24. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

OREGON: FYI

Who’s the QB?: Taggart declined to name a starting quarterback following the spring game. Herbert, a sophomore, threw for 327 yards in that scrimmage and looked good in the seven games after he replaced the Austin-bred Prukop in 2016. In last year’s win over Arizona State, Herbert set a school record with his 512 yards of total offense. (His 489 passing yards tied Oregon’s all-time high).

Defensive overhaul: Before 2015, Oregon had never allowed more than 370 points in a season. The last two years, the Ducks have surrendered 441 and 497 points. Jim Leavitt is Oregon’s third defensive coordinator in as many years, and he’ll need to fix a unit that gave up four 50-point games in 2016.

Chasing James: Royce Freeman was held to 945 rushing yards last year, but his 1,836 yards in 2015 is an Oregon single-season record. A senior, he needs 937 yards to overtake LaMichael James’ career record of 5,082 yards.

Oregon's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 2Southern Utah
Sept. 9NebraskaL, 35-32
Sept. 16at Wyoming
Sept. 23at Arizona State*W, 54-35
Sept. 30Cal*L, 52-49
Oct. 7Washington St.*L, 51-33
Oct. 14at Stanford*L, 52-27
Oct. 21at UCLA*
Oct. 28Utah*W, 30-28
Nov. 4at Washington*L, 70-21
Nov. 18Arizona*
Nov. 25Oregon State*L, 34-24
* Pac-12 game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL49-17 (32-13)3-2 in bowls
201212-1 (8-1)5th/2ndW, Fiesta
201311-2 (7-2)3rd/9thW, Alamo
201413-2 (8-1)3rd/2ndL, CFP title game
20159-4 (7-2)7th/19thL, Alamo
20164-8 (2-7)24th/NRNo bowl

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

 

2016 NATIONAL TEAM STAT RANKS

Scoring: 27th (35.4 ppg)

Points allowed: 126th (41.4 ppg)

Passing: 31st (265.3 ypg)

Rushing: 27th (226.4 ypg)

Total offense: 15th (491.7 ypg)

Total defense: 126th (518.4 ypg)

OUR TOP 25 SO FAR

No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Coming Friday. Want a hint? This school had three first-round picks of the 2002 NFL draft — John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Donte Stallworth.

BY CONFERENCE

1: Mountain West (25-Boise State); Pac-12 (24-Oregon)

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