College

Are Oregon A National Championship Sleeper?

There is a keen sense of excitement in Eugene OR this spring. The Oregon Ducks known for the crazy Chip Kelly offense that took the college world by storm in 2014. Or their even crazier uniform choices that usually number above three per season and always feature bold colours, fitting for a school that exists in the shadow of Nike’s headquarters. Have a chance to once again be relevant on the national stage.

Returning Talent

SBNations Bill Connelly ranks the Ducks 32nd in his returning production metric that covers the whole of the FBS. Whilst this may not seem high. Of the usual CFP contenders, only LSU (15) is ranked higher. Senior Quarterback Justin Herbert returns to school on a quest to make himself the number one overall pick in next years NFL Draft. The squad returns seven senior offensive linemen and added senior wide receiver transfer Juwan Johnson from Penn State. The offense is stacked with talent and primed to slice up the Pac-12.

Offense Holds the Key

The key to success for this Ducks team in 2019 will be Herbert. The coaching staff, run by former Miami Hurricane Mario Cristobal did great things with the Junior signal-caller last season. The returning offensive linemen will keep Herbert upright and give him the chance to slice apart opposition defenses. They should also open up enough holes for talented redshirt sophomore running back CJ Verdell who returns on the back of a 1,000+ yard red shirt freshman season.

However the piece that could take this offense over the top is transfer wide receiver Juwan Johnson from Penn State. The giant receiver transferred from the east coast program due to lack of targets and now gets a chance to stake his NFL Draft claim in an offense that will utilise his talents. Expect him to emerge as Herbert’s number one target should this offense be successful.

The Defense is Young and Hungry

Former Boise State defensive co-ordinator Andy Avalos comes in to try and squeeze as much juice as possible from a young defense that ranked 67th in the FBS last year. Star pass rusher Jalen Jelks left college for the NFL this spring but in his place the 2019 #2 overall recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux will come in and make an instant impact as a freshman.

Avalos called his outside linebacker corps his “STUD Corps” in a recent media interview. Led by Senior La’Mar Winston Jr, they will be key to bringing the pressure on that side of the ball. The secondary should grow again into 2019, giving this unit formidable potential.

Schedule From Hell

If one thing derails the Oregon train this season it may be the schedule. To sum it up in two words, “it’s brutal!”. The Ducks open up the season against Auburn in the annual Jerry World Classic (not the official title of the game). It’s a stern test of this sides title credentials, but not as tough as it may seem on the surface. Auburn will likely start a true freshman at quarterback and will be there for the taking.

The PAC-12 schedule doesn’t make things any easier for the Ducks. They face Washington, USC and Stanford on the road, however do avoid PAC-12 South favourite Utah in cross conference play. The rivalry game against Oregon State on the last day of the regular season should be a good way for the Ducks to finish off the season. However, upsets do happen in rivalry games. It’s clear that if an unbeaten Oregon team comes up against State on November 30th then Oregon fans will be in for a nervous afternoon.

Picture – The Spokesman-Review

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