Oregon's promotion of Mario Cristobal as head coach hardly looked like a great idea as of the second quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl last December, when the Ducks trailed Boise State 24-0.
The eventual 38-28 loss marked a poor start for Cristobal, but he’s positioned to succeed immediately. Of the Pac-12′s five programs with new coaches in 2018, Oregon has the most returning talent and some continuity, with Cristobal having coached the offensive line last season.
He brings head coaching experience from his Florida International tenure and a background of working under Nick Saban at Alabama. Being the Crimson Tide's assistant head coach “allowed me to take a really deep dive into every aspect of how that program is run,” Cristobal said last month during the Pac-12 Media Day. “It's been extremely beneficial and helpful. Just after a couple years, you really feel like you could run it and manage it.”
He'll apply that knowledge to the Ducks' operation, after Willie Taggart spent one year in Eugene and moved to Florida State.
Oregon will ease into the 2018 schedule, with home games against Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State. The Ducks, who went 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12) in 2017, will visit Utah on Nov. 10.
This is the third installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams in 2018. Today: Oregon.
The Ducks will succeed if:
Quarterback Justin Herbert stays healthy and the receivers develop sufficiently to support him.
Herbert played in only eight games last year, due to a collarbone injury in late September. Oregon beat Utah without him, but the Ducks' season already was derailed.
Tony Brooks-James should make up for the loss of Royce Freeman at running back, but questions persist about a receiving corps that Athlon Sports ranked No. 8 in the Pac-12.
The Ducks won’t succeed if:
They drop home games to Stanford and Washington in their first three weeks of Pac-12 play and lose confidence. Oregon needs to win one of those games against the teams picked ahead of them in the Pac-12 North to maintain momentum from an easy nonconference schedule.
Oregon’s defense should keep improving under coordinator Jim Leavitt, with linebacker Troy Dye leading a strong position group that’s coached by Judge Memorial alumnus Cort Dennison. But the Ducks will have to maximize their home-field advantage at Autzen Stadium if they intend to stay in the division race.