- With an elite offensive line protecting QB1, Justin Herbert and the Ducks are ready to fly in 2019.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 9 Oregon.
THE BIG STORY
The Ducks have their swagger back. Since losing to Ohio State in the national championship game five years ago, they have averaged less than eight wins. But with quarterback Justin Herbert back for his senior year, an offensive line among the best in the country and the program's best-ever recruiting class ready to contribute, Oregon is the favorite to win its first Pac-12 title since 2014.
A lock to be a top 10 pick after throwing for 3,151 yards and 29 TDs in 2018, the 6'6", 237-pound Herbert came back for a reason: He needs to improve his accuracy on deep throws, which was evident in back-to-back losses to Washington State and Arizona. Still, with his big right arm and surprisingly quick feet, Herbert is the most polished QB in the country.
Will Marcus Arroyo open up the playbook? The offensive coordinator infuriated fans in Eugene with conservative play-calling in big games. This year's Ducks are loaded at wide receiver, including graduate transfer Juwan Johnson from Penn State and true freshman Mycah Pittman. Those additions are even more reason for Arroyo to be more aggressive—and imaginative—with his attack.
All eyes are on Herbert, the projected No. 1 pick in 2020, but if Oregon is going to make a run at the playoff, the defense must make huge strides. The Ducks ranked 55th in total D in '18 and were most susceptible to big plays. Andy Avalos—the team's third coordinator in four years—will run the same 3–4 scheme but plans on using multiple fronts to apply pressure in hopes of limiting the long strikes. The key to his success is senior inside linebacker Troy Dye, who has led the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. The 6'4", 226-pound Dye is a freak athlete who excels at getting to the quarterback. Under Avalos, he'll have to help his teammates do the same.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 9.5 wins. A road win in the opener against a quality Auburn team will boost Oregon's national profile, plus help offset an upset during conference play. The Ducks will be favored in every game except possibly their midseason matchup at Washington.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After the ups and downs of the four-year Mark Helfrich era, Mario Cristobal will build on his 9–4 rookie season with Herbert, and return Oregon to Pac-12 supremacy it enjoyed from 2009 to '14.