Evanson column: Sorry Oregon, Ducks still not THAT good
Trust me, I'm no hater. In fact, I grew up and continue to be a big fan of the Oregon Ducks. I watch every game, follow the team closely from a distance and likely know far too much about recent and/or incoming recruits. With that said — while I hope for the best — I don't think this team is a national title contender.
Last Saturday, as teams like Auburn, Oklahoma and Notre Dame — who were all ahead of Oregon in the polls — were falling behind and ultimately losing games to (with the exception of Auburn) lesser competition, "Quacker-staters" were screaming from the rooftops about the opportunity at hand. Beat writers, social media honks and even friends of mine were speaking to the "path" to the College Football Playoff that was parting like the Red Sea. These same people had already penciled in the Alabama/LSU winner, Ohio State/Penn State victor and Clemson as three of the four likely participants, leaving Oregon battling a handful of one-loss teams for what would be the final seat at the table.
And they're not wrong; the Sooners, Fighting Irish and Auburn Tigers losses undoubtedly strengthened the Ducks' chances. But while opportunity knocks, the question remains as to whether Oregon is capable of walking what their fans and people around the program are talking.
The Ducks are good — I'm not suggesting otherwise. They have an above-average defense, an A-list offensive line and a quarterback who will undoubtedly go in the first round of next year's NFL draft. In addition, they seem to be relatively well-coached and appear — at least from the outside — to possess the intangibles of a team with championship pedigree. But what they don't yet have is the depth of athletes necessary to beat the country's elite teams on the biggest stage.
I say "yet" because I think they're getting there. Defensive players such as linebacker Mase Funa, defensive linemen Keyon Ware-Hudson and Kayvon Thibodeaux — all freshmen — along with sophomore Jevon Holland, are the real deal. On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore offensive lineman Penei Sewell is as good as there is in the country, and true freshman receiver Mycah Pittman is a stellar player, not to mention a handful of others from last year's No. 7-ranked recruiting class who've yet had a chance to earn their stripes. But while impressive, UO pales in comparison to what teams like Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson present on a two- and sometimes three-deep level, and that separates them from the "have, but not quite have enoughs" of the college football world.
Oregon — on a given day — can beat nearly anyone in the country. We saw that in a road win over a good Washington team, last week's win over a pretty good (despite their record) Washington State team that will always cause problems for defenses nationwide and in an opening night loss to No. 11-ranked Auburn, who they had dead-to-rights before they clammed up offensively late in a game they should've won. But they have problems, and it's those problems that bother me when comparing them to the Ohio States, Alabamas and Clemsons of the world.
Their pass rush has been non-existent in their last two games, their kicking game inconsistent — and Justin Herbert still seems to lack the ability to overcome the obstacles that come with an imperfect situation.
I know, it's blasphemous to question Herbert in the eyes of the Oregon faithful, but while a fan of the young man, I have to work entirely too hard to see a franchise NFL quarterback when I look at Herbert, and that in itself is a red flag when assessing his future at the professional level.
Does he have the size? Yes. Does he have the arm? Yes, again. Does he have the intelligence? Undoubtedly, and he has the pedigree as well. But there's a moxie missing from the relatively athletic and statuesque signal caller that makes him more Bradford than Brees, and it's that missing link that affords the Ducks lulls like that of the second quarter of the Washington game, the first half of the California game and virtually the entire second half of the Auburn game, which ultimately ended in defeat.
Oregon is good, and fans of the team should be excited about that. They MIGHT win out. MIGHT qualify for the College Football Playoff, and MIGHT even win a semi-final game if the right matchup presented itself. But this team won't win the whole thing — not yet.
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