The Argument for Oregon to win the National Championship
Oregon has had an interesting saga regarding their football program over the past decade. The rise to National prominence under Chip Kelly and innovating a system that would forever change the game as we know it (College Football got faster and higher scoring partially because of Kelly). The continuing success under Mark Helfrich followed by the sudden collapse under Helfrich. Most recently, the resurrection under Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal that has brought Oregon back to being one of the best College Football programs in the country.
Oregon failed to win a National Championship in their two appearances in the previous decade but can this be the year? The Pac 12 hasn’t appeared in the College Football Playoff since Washington did in 2016 and have been the invisible conference in recent years with many of their games being at inopportune times (midnight on the East coast has been a non-starter for many fans wanting to watch the good teams in the conference). Oregon making the College Football Playoff might be what the conference needs in their return to relevancy, let's take a look at how the Ducks can get there and possibly beyond.
Last season, The Ducks were one of the best teams and probably a top four team when it came to their personnel. Their schedule was unkind to them and the primary reason they were left out of the Playoff. They played a good Auburn program in their first game and lost in the final minute of the game 27-21. Oregon was tripped up against Arizona State later in the year but those were the only two losses for a team that looked unbeatable the rest of the year. After the week one loss, the Ducks became one of the most improved teams in College Football, if they wouldn’t have the blown 21-6 lead that they had in the first game of the season they would probably be the final team in the Playoff and would have likely given LSU a tougher match-up.
Moving on to this season. The Ducks have to replace one of the top quarterbacks from last season in Justin Herbert (who went #6 to the Chargers in the NFL Draft). Between Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Shough and transfer Anthony Brown, Mario Cristobal is going to let one of them take the reigns and the decision will likely determine if the Ducks will become National Championship contenders (I personally see Cristobal going with Shough who has waiting two years behind Justin Herbert, he can open up the offense more so expect Oregon to roll with him if they have high high hopes). Whoever the quarterback may be, they should have much pressure with CJ Verdell in the backfield, Verdell has emerged as one of the best running backs in the country and could be one of the top running backs selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Ducks true strength on offense is in their O-Line, led by Left Tackle Penei Sewell, regarded as one of the best offensive lineman in the country and a possible top five pick. The offensive line is going to primarily provide needed protection for whoever the quarterback may be but it would be no surprise if the Ducks choose to become a run-heavy team this year and the line starts mauling the rest of the Pac 12 in the trenches. The receiving corp is a mix of vets and recruits which despite not having a true number one wide out provides whichever quarterback with enough viable passing options this season.
The true Strength of Oregon in recent years has oddly been their defense. What brought Oregon to National prominence in the previous decade was their offense (read-option, up-tempo). What might win them a National Championship is their defense, a group that has improved every year under Cristobal (in 2017, the defense allowed 29 points per game. Last season, the defense allowed 16.5 points per game which was 9th best in the country). The defense doesn’t have a glaring weakness as many of their starters return and the emergence of Sophomore Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux was getting worked into the roster last season as a true Freshman but showed incredible flashed of his talent in the snaps he was given, assuming he bulks up like many defensive lineman do in college, he could become on3e of the4 best defensive players in College Football and be the X-factor on the defense that make preparing for Oregon a tough task (like Chase Young last season, a great pass-rusher in College Football can be impossible to prepare for and make a good defense great). The secondary last season had 20 interceptions and all their starters are returning for their senior season which can make the secondary one of the best in the nation. Add a strong secondary to a great pass-rush and you have a defense that can compete for a National Championship.
Like last year, the schedule can make or break the Ducks season. They play Ohio State early in the season, one of the favorites to win the National Championship this season. An early upset by the Ducks can start a championship run with an easy path to follow. After the Buckeyes, Oregon plays the best team in Division 2 in North Dakota State, a game that can be a trap game for Oregon as the Division 2 powerhouse is known for their upsets against Power Five schools but then the Ducks play the Pac 12 conference. The Conference has some teams that will be surprisingly good this season but for the most part, the conference isn’t tough competition for Oregon. If Oregon beats Ohio State, even as a one-loss team they will have a strong case for the College Football Playoff and if they can sneak in, they can upset some of the powerhouse teams like Clemson or Alabama. Oregon currently has 30/1 odds to win the National Championship, while many are expecting Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State to be competing for the National Championship, Oregon can be a sleeper team this season and should be considered as one of the contenders for the title.