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Know Your Enemies: Could Oregon Three-Peat as Pac-12 Champs?

The Ducks appear as strong as ever, and are looking to make noise on a national level.

Know Your Enemies is a series where AllSunDevils interviews reporters from across the conference to gain insight on their respective teams. After previewing the reigning Pac-12 North champion Washington Huskies, we focus our attention on the Oregon Ducks. 

Team: Oregon Ducks
Division: Pac-12 North
2020 Record: 4-3

After getting off to a strong 3-0 start, the Oregon Ducks appeared very much on their way to another season worthy of College Football Playoff consideration. The Ducks managed to score no less than 35 points in each of their three opening games, and looked promising despite opt-outs from players such as Penei Sewell, Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze. 

However, two straight road losses at Oregon State and Cal diminished any hopes of joining the national championship conversation. Winning the Pac-12 after defeating USC was a nice consolation prize, but a Fiesta Bowl loss to Iowa State showed head coach Mario Cristobal still had work to do. 

In Eugene, they prefer to use the term reload rather than rebuild. With a top-10 nationally ranked recruiting class coming in for the Ducks this season, it certainly feels as if Oregon is the team to beat in Pac-12 this year. 

However, a handful of questions still need to be answered in order for Oregon to not only conquer the conference for a third straight season, but also make the leap to playoff conversations. 

While Oregon prepares itself for the upcoming season, Ducks Digest staff writer Reid Tingley was able to answer a few questions about Oregon's journey ahead of the 2021 season:

Q: Oregon will be looking to three-peat as Pac-12 champions. What's the recipe for Oregon to do exactly that in 2021?

Tingley: The recipe for Oregon to three-peat starts with finding a quality quarterback. Anthony Brown is likely to get the job to begin the season and there’s optimism around the program about his abilities. He may not be a Heisman-caliber playmaker, but if he can be a dependable facilitator, the Ducks can be really good.

A lot of position groups showed room for improvement in 2020, particularly the Ducks' run defense. Last season was a bit strange given the shortened schedule and limited offseason. Overall, Ducks fans will definitely be hoping for a return to the standard of play they saw in 2019. More than anything, that will mean a new group of players stepping into leadership roles and continuing to elevate the standard of the program.

Q: The Ducks just keep reeling in phenomenal recruiting classes on both a Pac-12 and national level. Can you speak about the job head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have done in that department?

Tingley: The recruiting success at Oregon has been centered around effort and energy. It starts with the man at the top, Mario Cristobal, and his almost maniacal drive to put every possible minute into recruiting. He views it as the lifeblood of a program and that attitude carries through the entire staff. 

Oregon has established a brand over the past 15 years based on its unique brand of football, connection to Nike and marketing innovations. Cristobal has combined that with effort and the lessons he took from his time in the SEC to build a recruiting juggernaut on the west coast.

Q: There's no doubting the offense will be able to put up points, whether it be grad transfer Anthony Brown or five-star freshman Ty Thompson. On the defensive side of the ball, fans know how lethal Kayvon Thibodeaux can be. Can you give us a couple other names to watch for the Ducks on defense?

Tingley: Mykael Wright is Oregon’s lockdown cornerback. Ducks fans are looking for him to take over as a true No. 1 and possibly raise his NFL draft stock to a first- or second-day pick. Noah Sewell made his presence felt as a freshman last year and is joined by Justin Flowe as the projected starters at inside linebacker heading into 2021. 

Flowe and Sewell are two former five-star recruits, and they could be in discussion for one of the best linebacker duos in the country by the end of the season. Verone McKinley III is probably the most experienced member of the Oregon defense, as he’ll be a leader for this unit at safety.

Q:  A potential Oregon/Arizona State matchup wouldn't happen until the Pac-12 championship, a game I'm sure both fans would like to find themselves at. From the opposite end of the spectrum in Oregon, what are your thoughts on ASU heading into 2021?

Tingley: Arizona State had a lot of promise heading into this season, but the big question mark will be the NCAA investigation and the job security of Herm Edwards. 

Outside of that, ASU certainly has the talent to win the south and compete for the conference. They also may have the best quarterback in all of the Pac-12 and that will certainly help in a sport that has become so dependent on QB play. Before the investigation, I liked ASU’s chances in the south. Honestly I felt like they should’ve beaten USC last year.

Q: What is one weakness you believe could possible hold Oregon back, and what is one strength you think could put Oregon over the top and into the College Football Playoff?

: In my mind, the Ducks' two biggest question marks are quarterback play and their youth. That is what we saw last year, as at times the offense couldn’t hold onto the ball and the defense couldn’t make a tackle. It’s tough to draw too many conclusions from last year's shortened season, but Oregon needs to clean a lot of things up in almost every position group if they want to elevate to a legitimate playoff contender.

On the positive side, Kayvon Thibodeaux may be the best player in all of college football, but that’s the obvious answer. One thing that many may not realize from the outside, is how great Oregon’s coordinators are. OC Joe Moorhead and DC Tim Deruyter bring great reputations to Eugene, and they are both a large part of why some fans believe this could be a breakout year for the Ducks. Cristobal is obviously an elite recruiter and program manager, but he relies on coordinators schematically. 

Having two truly elite football minds calling the plays may take this talent rich roster to the next level.

Q: Tell us how you think the season plays out for Oregon!

Tingley: I think that the Ducks could easily be anywhere from 8-4 to 11-1 this season. If they don’t fix the problems that emerged in losses to Cal and Oregon State, it will be closer to 8-4. But the talent of this roster is enough to be a top- five-to-10 team if things come together. What’s the most likely scenario? It’s probably something similar to the season Oregon had in 2019. They drop a hard fought non-conference game at Ohio State and then get tripped up by a Pac-12 team later in the season (Sun Devils fans will remember that story from Oregon’s last trip to Tempe). I do think that Oregon deserves the label of Pac-12 title favorite and I will pick them to win the conference for a third straight year. Frankly, I just believe Oregon has both the most talented roster and the best run program in this conference. So to summarize, I’ll say 10-2 in the regular season with losses to Ohio State and one other Pac-12 school, plus a victory in the conference title game.

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Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSunDevils. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSunDevils @AllSunDevils. Like and follow AllSunDevils on Facebook, and for more ASU news visit