Oregon Ducks Football Offseason Preview
It was a wild offseason in Eugene. The Ducks began December thinking head coach Mario Cristobal was never going to leave the program for another job, but the one job which always stood out as a possible landing spot for Cristobal was Miami, where he won a national championship as a player in the city where he grew up. Cristobal has Miami in his blood and his heritage. If that job came open, and the school made an aggressive move to hire him, it was not going to be easy for him to reject the job. Sure enough, Miami struggled last season, fired coach Manny Diaz, and made a run at Cristobal. The Oregon coach wavered for a few days but then ultimately decided to take the job. Oregon, in mid-December, was stuck without a coach and needed to engage in a quick coaching search in order to save recruits from leaving the program. The school chose Dan Lanning, defensive coordinator at Georgia under head coach Kirby Smart, to be Oregon’s next head coach. Lanning stayed at Georgia for the College Football Playoff semifinals and national championship game, helping Georgia win its first national title since 1980. Lanning brought an SEC mentality to Oregon, selling players on the toughness and physicality he cultivated at Georgia. He stepped in and has immediately started to recruit on par with Lincoln Riley and USC. Oregon might have received an upgrade at head coach, but we don’t know yet for sure. Now comes the true test: being able to coach as well as he recruits. If Lanning can pass that test, Oregon is poised to remain at the top of the Pac-12 for years to come.
Key Personnel Lost
The departure of Mario Cristobal and his coaching staff is significant, but even more consequential is the loss of Kayvon Thibodeaux, a pass rusher who went No. 5 in the 2022 NFL draft to the New York Giants. Thibodeaux is a special playmaker who has great size, range and speed. Losing him creates a big void in the defense. Running back Travis Dye transferred out of the program when Cristobal left. He was going to get a new head coach no matter what, so he decided to go to Lincoln Riley and USC, Lanning’s chief competitor for a Pac-12 championship. Anthony Brown is out at quarterback. Bo Nix, the transfer from Auburn, is expected to be the opening day starter this season.
Important Incoming Freshmen
Offensive lineman Josh Conerly, cornerback Jahlil Florence, linebacker Devon Jackson, guard Dave Iuli, running back Jordan James, and safety Trejon Williams are all part of a high-level Oregon recruiting class. Conerly is a particularly noticeable recruit because USC was favored to grab him in a recruiting battle, but Oregon made a strong 11th-hour move to pull a surprise and add to its offensive line. Lanning is a defense-first coach, but he has hired a staff of assistant coaches who know how to recruit offensive linemen. Oregon hopes its younger recruits can provide depth to the Ducks’ offensive line this year.
Key Position Battles
The quarterback and running back positions are big points of focus. Bo Nix is supposed to be the starter, but Ty Thompson – who did not play much last year as the backup to Anthony Brown – is waiting for his chance to get meaningful action. We will see if he surprises the Ducks in August training camp and can change the dynamic of the quarterback battle.
With Travis Dye transferring out of the program, the running back depth chart looks different. Oregon will need to make determinations on who is best suited to be the lead running back.
Biggest Offseason Goal(s) The Oregon defense should be solid. The big questions are on offense. Lanning needs to make sure that offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is able to create a high-level offense which complements the defense instead of squandering the defense’s achievements this season.