Oregon kicks off its season vs. Southern Utah on Sept. 2, but fans can catch a glimpse of the Oregon this week at Pac-12 Media Days.
New coach Willie Taggart will take the stage Thursday as he looks to return the Ducks to the top as one of the conference’s power teams. He’ll be joined in Hollywood by QB Justin Herbert and LB Troy Dye.
Here are Oregon’s biggest story lines and questions heading into Pac-12 Media Days:
Willie Taggart new regime, same success?
Willie Taggart has already shown he’s willing to drop the hammer with player discipline, dismissing star receiver Darren Carrington II last week after his DUI arrest. But will that no-nonsense attitude translate to wins on the field. His predecessors Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, were all Oregon assistants when they got the head coaching gig. Taggart brings an “outsiders” approach and a winning tradition from South Florida. Will he be able to replicate the same Pac-12 title-winning success as the men before him?
Justin Herbert may be on the verge of stardom
He gets lost in the shuffle, sharing a conference with other star QBs like Darnold and Rosen and Falk and Browning, but Justin Herbert, a true sophomore, played as well as any other signal-caller in the league from mid-October to the end of the season. The results didn’t show in terms of wins, but it certainly wasn’t Herbert’s fault, as he tossed 19 touchdown passes and only 4 interceptions in the Ducks’ final 7 games. If he takes another step up, the Oregon offense will be something to deal with.
Feed Royce Freeman!
Even with Herbert’s emergence, the best course of action for the Ducks is to give the ball to Royce Freeman early and often. He’s one of the most talented running backs in the country and needs 1,239 yards to jump into the top 10 for career rushing yards in all of college football. Freeman was plagued by being underused last season. In 5 games where he got 19 or more carries last season, he averaged 138 yards per game. In 6 games where he got 15 or fewer carries, he averaged only 42 yards per game. The lesson? Feed him the rock and good things usually happen.
Who replaces Darren Carrington II?
Carrington’s dismissal after a DUI arrest leaves a large void in the WR corps. Expected to be a leader for that unit, he was the Ducks’ most dangerous receiver last year, leading them with 606 yards and tied for the team lead with 5 TDs. Charles Nelson is the most experienced player on the roster, and outside of him the returning players with the most career receptions are all running backs and tight ends. Sophomores Dillon Mitchell (2 catches) and Alex Ofodile (1) are the only other receivers on the Ducks’ roster with career receptions. Someone from a very young group of redshirts and true freshman will have to step up in a hurry.
Can Jim Leavitt turn around the defense?
The Ducks ranked 122nd (out of 128) in rushing defense in 2016 (260.8 yards per game). Worse than that, they were 126th in scoring defense (42.6 points per game). So they brought in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who helped orchestrate the turnaround for the Colorado defense. Two years ago, the Buffs were 116th in scoring defense. They hired Leavitt and the next year were 82nd. The next year they were 24th. He knows how to change the trajectory of a program. If he can do the same for Oregon, getting back to a bowl will be no problem in 2017.