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CU Buffs opponent preview: Oregon aiming high

Back-to-back Pac-12 champions hoping to earn spot in College Football Playoff

USC Running back Stephen Carr, right, runs for a first down and is tackled by Oregon safety Jamal Hill first half of an NCAA college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register)
USC Running back Stephen Carr, right, runs for a first down and is tackled by Oregon safety Jamal Hill first half of an NCAA college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. (Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register)
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In December, the Oregon football team was gearing up to play Colorado to wrap up the regular season when plans suddenly changed.

After COVID-19 issues hit the Washington program, Oregon was called upon to replace the Huskies in the Pac-12 championship game. Despite being a fill-in, the Ducks won the game and the title, 31-24, against Southern California.

This year, the Ducks (4-3, 3-2 Pac-12 in 2020) aren’t expected to back into the title game. In fact, they are the favorite to win it for a third consecutive season.

Leading up to preseason camp, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s 2021 opponents and in this installment, we look at the Oregon Ducks.

After last year’s pandemic-impacted season, the Ducks are the overwhelming favorite to not only win the conference but to possibly make a run at a spot in the College Football Playoff – something no team Pac-12 team has done since 2016.

“We live and die by winning,” head coach Mario Cristobal said Tuesday at Pac-12 media day in Hollywood, Calif. “For us, this is life, that’s our DNA.”

“We have very big aspirations and goals for this program. We attack it on a daily basis without any outside factors at all being involved in it. We want nothing but the absolute biggest and greatest accomplishments on the biggest stage under the brightest lights. We’re honestly going to work at it till we get there.”

The Ducks come into this year with lofty goals because they have several starters back and many of the top players in the Pac-12.

On defense, in particular, the Ducks are loaded with talent, led by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. A candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft next spring, Thibodeaux is the most disruptive defensive player in the conference and has had a great offseason, according to Cristobal.

“His best football is ahead of him,” Cristobal said. “The expectation is that we’re going to challenge him because he has such a high ceiling. We’ve got to get him there. We’re going to challenge him as best as we possibly can to make sure he reaches his full potential.”

The Ducks’ defense also includes defensive backs Verone McKinley III and Mykael Wright and linebacker Noah Sewell, who are all among the top young players in the Pac-12.

Offensively, the entire starting offensive line is back, as well as the top two running backs (Travis Dye and CJ Verdell) and the top three receivers (Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Devon Williams).

At quarterback, the Ducks lost starter Tyler Shough, who transferred to Texas Tech, but return senior Anthony Brown. During both postseason games last year, Brown split time with Shough and could have won the job this season anyway.

A transfer from Boston College last year, Brown is expected to beat a talented group of freshmen for the starting job.

“Anthony will start (camp) with the ones; he has earned that,” Cristobal said. “He’s done a very good job from a performance standpoint, leadership performance, taking on (offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s) offensive scheme.”

Cristobal said this offseason was the best the Ducks have had since he’s been in Eugene, and he hopes that leads to a successful season.

“We feel there’s a very strong sense of urgency, detail and intensity in our players,” he said. “They’re ready to compete. They’re ready for a very competitive, physical and intense camp.”

Following camp, the Ducks will aim for an elusive spot in the CFP.

“To be the team we want to be, we have to learn how to be a much better team when adversity strikes,” Cristobal said. “We’ve got to be really good at it.”

Oregon Ducks

Date with CU: Oct. 30, time TBA, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

Head coach: Mario Cristobal, 4th year (25-10; 52-57 career)

Series: Oregon leads 13-9

Ducks in 2020: 4-3, 3-2 Pac-12

Offensive players to watch (2020 statistics):

  • OL T.J. Bass, Jr., 6-foot-5, 318 pounds (7 starts at LG in 2020)
  • QB Anthony Brown, Sr., 6-2, 226 (15-of-23, 164 yards, 2 TD)
  • RB Travis Dye, Jr., 5-10, 200 (64 att., 443 yards, 1 TD; 9 rec., 239 yards, 4 TD)
  • C Alex Forsyth, Jr., 6-4, 305 (2nd-team All-Pac-12)
  • WR Johnny Johnson III, Sr., 6-0, 199 (19 rec., 267 yards, 2 TD)
  • WR Jaylon Redd, Sr., 5-9, 187 (25 rec., 281 yards, 1 TD)
  • RB CJ Verdell, Jr., 5-10, 210 (65 att., 285 yards, 3 TD; 9 rec., 95 yards)

Defensive players to watch:

  • DL Brandon Dorlus, So., 6-3, 285 (12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
  • OLB Mase Funa, So., 6-3, 260 (31 tackles, 3.5 TFL)
  • STAR Jamal Hill, So., 6-1, 200 (20 tackles, 2 INT, 4 pass breakups)
  • S Verone McKinley III, So., 5-11, 196 (41 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
  • ILB Noah Sewell, Fr., 6-3, 250 (45 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
  • DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, So., 6-5, 250 (38 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU)
  • CB Mykael Wright, So., 5-11, 182 (25 tackles, 9 PBU)

Notable: Oregon went 1-3 in its last four games of 2020, with the only victory coming against USC, 31-24, in the Pac-12 title game. … Oregon finished the 2020 season with a 34-17 loss to Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl. … Oregon won the last meeting with the Buffs, 45-3, in Eugene in 2019. … The Ducks are 16-5 since the start of the 2019 season, with four of the five losses by a touchdown or less. … Oregon has won 12 consecutive home games. … In three seasons at Boston College, Brown started all 28 games in which he played, going 373-of-680 (54.9 percent) for 4,738 yards, 40 TD and 20 INT. He also ran for 420 yards and four TD. … This year, the Ducks have non-conference dates with Fresno State and Stony Brook at home and Ohio State on the road. … Last year’s leading tackler, Isaac Slade-Matautia, transferred to SMU this summer. … Sophomore kicker Henry Katleman is back after making all four of his field goal attempts last year. … Sophomore punter Tom Snee also returns after averaging 43.64 yards per punt.

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