For the upperclassmen on this team, they have seen three different coaches in three years. For new coach Mario Cristobals’ sake, the players hope the third hire will be a charm. Cristobal inherits a team that was good on offense but really inconsistent in 2017. The offense finished third, second and fourth in scoring, rushing and total offense. Junior signal-caller Justin Herbert returns and is a key piece to keep the offense humming. The offensive line returns three starters and several receivers with experience and production are back. The defense returns seven starters and should be better in 2018 with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt staying put.
Team strengths: Rush defense. The Ducks finished second in the Pac-12 and 25th nationally defending the run. Five starters return in the front seven led by All Pac-12 performers Jalen Jelks and Troy Dye. The two playmakers combined for 166 tackles, including 28.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and 10.5 sacks.
Team weaknesses: Pass defense. The secondary ranked 88th nationally allowing 240.6 pass yards per game. Only two starters return, which spells for disaster when playing against prolific passing teams in the Pac-12.
Players to watch: Quarterback Herbert, wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, tight end Jacob Breeland, and cornerback Thomas Graham. Herbert proved to be a valuable commodity to the offense when he played, going 6-1 as a starter. He’s a true dual-threat after throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 pass touchdowns. He also added 183 yards on the ground and five rushing scores. Mitchell led the team with 42 receptions, for 517 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll be the go-to receiver this fall. Breeland led the team in touchdown receptions with five on only 18 catches for 320 yards. Graham had 62 tackles and three interceptions as a freshman last season.
The schedule: Favorable. The non-conference slate features three cupcakes before a key north division showdown at home with Stanford. All the tough games are at home and the road games are winnable.
My take: Oregon might surprise a lot of people this season. The defense will be better and the offense may stay the same. As long as Herbert stays healthy, the sky’s the limit for this team. All the preseason love has gone to Stanford and Washington, but the Ducks schedule sets them up nice to be in the thick of things once November rolls around.