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EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 30: Noah Sewell #1 of the Oregon Ducks chases Brendon Lewis #12 of the Colorado Buffaloes  during the second half at Autzen Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OR – OCTOBER 30: Noah Sewell #1 of the Oregon Ducks chases Brendon Lewis #12 of the Colorado Buffaloes during the second half at Autzen Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
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The head coach bolted for Miami. The best defensive player is now a New York Giant. The best offensive player is now a USC Trojan.

Where does that leave the Oregon Ducks? As a top contender for the Pac-12 title, of course.

This summer, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s opponents for the 2022 season and in this installment, we look at Oregon.

In the 11-year history of the Pac-12, nobody has won more conference games (67) or conference titles (four) or appeared in more conference title games (five) than the Ducks.

They’ve enjoyed their success with four different head coaches and numerous stars. A year ago, Oregon won the Pac-12 North division and played in its third consecutive conference title game — with a different starting quarterback each time.

Even with former head coach Mario Cristobal — who went 35-13 in four seasons in Eugene — returning to his alma mater at Miami, it’s tough to project a big step back this year for the Ducks.

Yes, there are major holes to fill. At the top of the list, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft, and running back Travis Dye chose to join star-studded free agent class at Southern California.

Still, the Ducks are top contenders because the returning pool of talent is deep and the transfer additions should be impactful.

The main question mark could be about first-year head coach Dan Lanning. The 36-year-old helped Georgia to the national title last season as defensive coordinator, but he only has six years of experience as a full-time coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision and he’s never been a head coach.

Lanning, however, has plenty to work with at Oregon.

All five starting offensive linemen are back, including left guard T.J. Bass (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2021) and center Alex Forsyth (second-team All-Pac-12).

Although graduation and the transfer portal took several skill position players from the Ducks, they reloaded through the transfer portal and still have multiple four- and five-star recruits on board. That group has to prove itself, however.

Oregon hasn’t been the points-generating machine it used to be when 40- and 50-point games were normal. After averaging 31.3 points per game in 2020 — the program’s lowest number since 2006 — the Ducks averaged 31.4 last year. That’s still very good and pieces are in place to be solid on offense once again.

Defensively, Oregon was sensational in 2019, but not so much since. It gave up 28.3 points in 2020 and 27.0 last year, ranking ninth in the Pac-12. The talent is there to be much better, however.

Noah Sewell is one of the best linebackers in the country and the front seven is stout overall. In the secondary, the Ducks have some key returners but will get a boost from newcomers, including for CU star Christian Gonzalez at corner.

Between Lanning and all the newcomers, Oregon needs a lot of things to come together to put together a conference title run. History suggests, however, that the Ducks will be in the thick of the championship race.

Oregon Ducks

Head coach: Dan Lanning, 1st season

2021 season: 10-4, 7-2 Pac-12

Series with CU: Ducks lead 14-9

The Game

Who: Oregon Ducks at Colorado Buffaloes

When: Saturday, Nov. 5, time TBA

Where: Folsom Field in Boulder

5 Guys to Watch

  • DE Brandon Dorlus: One of the top edge players in the conference. He had 25 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two pass breakups last year. With Kayvon Thibodeaux now in the NFL, the Ducks will look to Dorlus to play a bigger role.
  • CB Christian Gonzalez: CU transfer started each of the Buffs’ 18 games over the last two years. The Buffs’ top cornerback last year, he had 54 tackles, five tackles for loss, and six pass breakups in 2021.
  • RB Mar’Keise Irving: As a true freshman at Minnesota last year, he led the Gophers in rushing yards (699) and all-purpose yards (966). Wasn’t a primary option to start the season, but injuries to others gave him an opportunity. He posted three 100-yard games.
  • QB Bo Nix: Transfer was a three-year starter at Auburn. He threw for 2,294 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions last year. The 2019 SEC freshman of the year, he threw for 7,251 yards, 39 TDs and 16 INTs during his time at Auburn, while adding 869 yards and 18 TDs as a runner.
  • LB Noah Sewell: A top candidate for Pac-12 defensive player of the year honors, he had 114 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles as a freshman last year.

Good to know

  • In Lanning’s first season at Georgia, 2018, he coached outside linebackers. After that season, CU hired then-Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as head coach. It was reported that Tucker tried to bring Lanning to Boulder as defensive coordinator. Instead, Georgia promoted Lanning to the coordinator position with the Bulldogs.
  • Kenny Dillingham is only 32 years old, but he’s already got four years of experience as an offensive coordinator. He was the OC at Memphis (2018), Auburn (2019) and Florida State (2020-21) before coming to Oregon last winter. At Auburn in 2019, he helped Nix enjoy a successful true freshman season.
  • Defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi is returning to the college game after three seasons in the NFL (with the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars). As an assistant, he helped Alabama win national titles in 2015 and 2017 and he was the defensive coordinator for the Tide in 2018.
  • Although Nix brings experience as is the presumed starter, the Ducks also have redshirt freshman Ty Thompson, a 2021 recruit who was the first five-star QB to ever sign with Oregon. He threw for 87 yards and two TDs last year, as well as one interception (against CU). Jay Butterfield, a four-star recruit in 2020, is also in the mix.
  • Despite losing Travis Dye to USC, the Ducks are loaded at running back. They added the 2021 leading rushers from Minnesota (Irving) and Western Kentucky (Noah Whittington). Top backup Byron Cardwell, a four-star recruit in 2021, is back, along with 2019 four-star Sean Dollars. They also bring in four-star freshman Jordan James (who flipped from Georgia to Oregon in February).
  • Cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin spent the previous two seasons coaching corners at Colorado.
  • Since CU joined the Pac-12, the Ducks are 7-1 against the Buffs. The only CU win came in 2016 in Eugene. Oregon is 3-0 in Boulder in the Pac-12 era and this will be Oregon’s first visit to Folsom Field since 2015.
  • Kicker Camden Lewis is 23-for-34 on field goals over the last three years, with a long of 49 (he’s never attempted a kick of 50-plus with the Ducks). Last year, he was 13-for-16 on field goals and 55-for-56 on extra points.

Portal movement

The Ducks lost 12 scholarship players, the most significant being running back Travis Dye, who led the team in rushing the past two seasons. Dye, now at USC, had 1,271 yards and 16 touchdowns last year (along with 46 catches for 402 yards, 2 TDs) and 3,111 rushing yards and 21 TDs for his career (also 83 catches). The Ducks also lost starting cornerback DJ James (Auburn), rotational defensive linemen Jayson Jones (Auburn) and Kristian Williams (Missouri), receiver Mycah Pittman (Florida State) and a few highly rated recruits who were backups. Oregon added 11 players, including Nix, Gonzalez, Irving and Whittington. Defensive linemen Sam Taimani (two-year starter at Washington), Casey Rogers (rotational player at Nebraska) and Jordon Riley (Nebraska) are expected to make an impact, along with receivers Chase Cota (67 career catches at UCLA) and Caleb Chapman (27 catches last two years at Texas A&M). Adam Barry, Temple’s punter the last three years, could fill that role with the Ducks because last year’s punter, Tom Snee, wasn’t with the program in the spring.

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