The Oregon Ducks postseason writers room
A review of the 2022 Oregon Ducks football season, from the people asking all the questions.
Back in July, subscribers of The I-5 Corridor may remember our “Preseason writers room,” where Shane Hoffmann (Freelance extraordinare), Zachary Neel (Ducks Wire), Jarrid Denney (On3) and Jared Mack (DuckTerritory) offered their perspective on all the challenges Dan Lanning and the Ducks would face in 2022.
Now that the season has concluded — and hopefully these guys have taken some time off — I wanted to reconvene the group to get their thoughts on how the season went and what we can all expect from the Ducks and the Pac-12 here in 2023.
Take it away, gentlemen.
What is your biggest takeaway from the 2022 football season?
Denney: Oregon is on a much better trajectory under Dan Lanning than it was at any point during Mario Cristobal’s tenure. I know there were some bumps along the way this season. The OSU and Washington losses will stick in the minds of a lot of fans. But the entire staff has been lights-out recruiting, the transfer additions have been impressive, and there’s a clear offensive vision that is easy for fans to buy into.
Neel: Oregon clearly has things going in the right direction. The hiring of Dan Lanning appears to have been a slam dunk, and while there are things that need to improve on the field, it’s clear that the Ducks are as good as anyone in the nation when it comes to recruiting and getting players out of the transfer portal.
Hoffmann: The Pac-12 is a fiercely competitive conference now. For a while there, it felt like it was Oregon and everyone else — with some great Utah moments sprinkled in. Not anymore. Oregon is one of four or five Pac-12 teams that could legitimately win 10 games this season. It will be harder and harder for the Ducks to remain at, or near, the top of the conference moving forward.
Mack: For me, the biggest takeaway was the direction this program is headed. Dan Lanning has continued the groundwork that Mario Cristobal had laid to keep Oregon as a Pac-12 Title contender and a potential playoff team.
Oregon’s 2022 regular season didn’t finish great, but I firmly believe the Ducks were a healthy Bo Nix away from competing in the Pac-12 Title Game and a potential Rose Bowl appearance. All things considered, that’s pretty darn good for a first-year HC. With the recruiting and transfer portal success, the future continues to look bright in Eugene.
How far away is Oregon from winning a national title?
Hoffmann: It’s easy to sit here and say they have a long way to go. Georgia showed Oregon how far it had to go just a few months ago in Atlanta. But let’s be real, we might only be a few years away from this Oregon roster looking far more similar to that Georgia one in terms of pure star rankings and athleticism. From there it kind of comes down to who has an impact quarterback, right? The 12-team playoff opens things up, certainly, but the field feels deeper than ever, both in the conference and nation-wide.
Mack: After watching the playoff games this past weekend, I don’t think Oregon is that far away from a national title. Clearly, a good offense still runs college football, as all four teams scored 40 or more points. We’ll see what Will Stein comes up with next season, but at the very least, I think Oregon’s offense can compete with anyone in the country.
However, defensively, Oregon will need to continue to add to its defensive line and linebackers. This year, the playoff teams had a front seven who could get after the quarterback and cover at points. A virtually non-existent pass rush in 2022 allowed teams to take plenty of shots at Oregon’s secondary. That will need to change if Oregon hopes to reach a national championship.
Neel: It’s hard to say how close the Ducks are to actually winning a national championship, but I feel confident that they will compete for a championship in the next 3-5 years. And by compete, I mean Oregon has a good chance to make it to the 4-team College Football Playoff in 2023, and could very well make a run in the 12-team CFP beyond that. Do I think that the Ducks hang a banner in the next 5 years? It’s possible, but would take a lot of things breaking the right way. Do I think they win a championship in the next 10 years? That depends on if Dan Lanning sticks around or not. If he does end up staying for a while, I would put my money on Lanning being the first coach to bring a championship trophy to Eugene.
Denney: Oregon has a legitimate chance to win a national title in the next 3-4 years. Hell, if they got a few more bounces in the Washington and Oregon State games this season, they would have been in this mix for a College Football Playoff spot.
In 2022, Dan Lanning was trying to build the plane while flying it. Give him a few years to stack recruiting classes and add players who better fit the Ducks’ defensive scheme.
Who should the Ducks be more concerned about: Oregon State or Washington?
Neel: Can the answer be both? What an awesome time in the division formerly known as the Pac-12 North. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Oregon, Washington, and Oregon State all ranked inside the top 15 in the nation to start the 2023 season, each with reasonable aspirations of winning the Pac-12 Championship and going to the Rose Bowl, if not the College Football Playoff. If I were to pick between OSU and UW, though, I’d say the Huskies are a more dangerous team. We’ve seen what Michael Penix Jr. can do in Seattle. The jury is still out on how much success DJ Uiagalelei can have with the Beavers.
Hoffmann: Washington was probably the better team this season. The Huskies, on paper, look like they could be next year, too. But I’ll take Oregon State, for one reason: The Beavers have a higher ceiling. Washington was fantastic this year, but I struggle to envision how the Huskies take the next leap… It’s kind of hard to top the best passing offense in the nation, after all. Oregon State loses some real dudes on defense, but the offense is largely intact and with DJU entering the fold at quarterback, it’s easy to see the Beavers taking a monumental jump on that side of the ball, even if the defense loses an ounce of its luster.
Denney: *whispers* I think Oregon State could win the Pac-12 next season.
The entire OSU offensive line could be back next year, Damien Martinez looks like the second coming of Steven Jackson, and the talent in the quarterback room is starting to look really, really interesting with DJ Uiagalelei, Ben Gulbranson, and ‘22 signee Aiden Chiles.
The challenge will be replacing all the departing talent in the secondary and raising the overall ceiling of the defense. But Jonathan Smith and Brian Lindgren are going to have the offense humming in Corvallis.
Mack: This is a tricky question. For one, as Michael Penix returns, Washington’s passing attack will not go away next season. On the other hand, Oregon State loaded up with DJ Uiagalelei and actually plays defense under Jonathan Smith.
For me, I’m going with Oregon State. I firmly believe in DJU’s talents and that he was not the problem at Clemson. If you put him into an offense with an above-average offensive line, I think he can make plenty of plays for your team.
Oregon State just feels like a more well-rounded team than Washington heading into next year. Regardless, the Pac-12 will have another great all-around showing on the national scale in 23.
Pick a quarterback for 2023: Bo Nix, Caleb Williams, DJ U or Michael Penix Jr.
Mack: You’re putting me in a tough spot here, Tyson. I’m going with Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner. I’m sure it stings to read I’m not picking Bo Nix for you Oregon fans, but Williams is a top-five NFL pick who has it all. Quarterbacks with his skillset don’t come around too often.
Denney: Caleb Williams. Best player in college football.
Neel: As badly as I want to be a homer and say that Bo Nix will lead that group of QBs in 2023, my head tells me that Michael Penix Jr. is going to be the guy. He has a legitimate NFL arm and found great success in the first year with Kalen DeBoer in Seattle. I think he has a real shot at winning the Heisman next year.
Hoffmann: Caleb Williams. He’s the best runner on this list, and it’s not particularly close. When it comes to traditional passing, he’s more mobile in the pocket than any of them and he’s got the most “wow” potential when it comes to arm talent, although Penix’s heat-seeking missile passes are quite the sight.
Do the Ducks play in a better or worse bowl game in 2023?
Neel: As I wrote earlier, I really think that Oregon has the talent and the coaching to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, offensively at the very least. The defense needs to improve a lot before they can get there, but I trust in Lanning and the coaches that he has on staff. Whether it’s the CFP, Rose Bowl, or an at-large bid into the Cotton Bowl, I feel comfortable saying that Duck fans can set their sights higher than the Holiday Bowl in 2023.
Hoffmann: Better. The Ducks finished the year at No. 15 nationally. I like a top-12 finish for them in 2023 and perhaps even top 10. As long as they can reshuffle the offensive line, it’s hard to imagine the defense being any worse and Nix, along with his biggest playmakers, returns.
Denney: Better. With Nix returning, anything below the Rose Bowl should be considered a disappointment.
Mack: Mark me down as Oregon will play in a better bowl game in 2023. Again, Oregon is a healthy Bo Nix from playing in a New Year’s Six game. They were on the path to a better bowl game last season. They return Nix and all their skill guys. They bring in a top-12 recruiting class and some defensive help in the transfer portal. There are a few more areas to address, but I think the Ducks will be better in 2023 than in 2022.
What’s your favorite quote/memory/moment from the last year?
Denney: On August 3, there was a ton of anticipation for Lanning’s post-practice media availability. Folks wanted the latest update on a quarterback competition that, at the time, still felt pretty open. When asked if Bo Nix, Ty Thompson, or Jay Butterfield had separated themselves as the front runner, Lanning responded with this:
“I would like to announce something. Last night — I didn’t think it was possible — but I was able to beat Jay Butterfield and Ty Thompson at corn hole. Jay Butterfield might be the best corn hole player I’ve ever seen first hand. It’s amazing.”
In terms of actual football moments?
The Mase Funa game-sealing at pick-six at Washington State was a fun ending to a bonkers game.
Neel: It has to be the cigar video, right? You wrote about it perfectly late in December; Dan Lanning going villain mode after an incredibly entertaining and impressive Early Signing Day was one of the most brash, arrogant, and audacious things that I’ve ever seen an Oregon coach do, and I absolutely loved it. Mario Cristobal doesn’t do that, Chip Kelly doesn’t do that, and Mike Bellotti sure as hell doesn’t do that. Lanning made national headlines on December 21 and did everything he was hired to do at Oregon. When all was said and done, he sparked up a stogie and let everyone know that it was “a good day.” It showed the kind of confidence and bravado I think is needed to succeed in this era of college football. As you wrote, though, he had better back it up on the field, or that 8 second video could end up going down in internet history for the wrong reasons.
Mack: Oregon’s comeback against Washington State is my favorite moment of 2022. The DuckTerritory crew traveled to Pullman and watched most of the fourth quarter from the Oregon sideline, including Troy Franklin’s touchdown and Mase Funa’s pick-six. Getting to watch the celebrations, scores, and momentum flip from that viewpoint was memorable.
Hoffmann: The Corridor Cup was a blast. Now had I been sitting in the Oregon postgame press conference and not inside the Valley Football Center for the Beavers’ victory parade to the podium, I may not have had as much fun. But it felt like a culmination of a year of great work for the site.
What’s the best thing you wrote this season?
Neel: I think the best thing I wrote this year came when former Oregon QB’s Justin Herbert and Marcus Mariota met in the NFL, with the Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons playing on November 6. It came out earlier in the week that both Duck legends would be wearing custom-designed cleats that merged their Eugene roots with the NFL experience, featuring Duck wings on the sides and a picture of Autzen Stadium on each. I called up Justin Tigner, a high school art teacher and the designer of the cleats, for an interview. It turns out that Tigner is as Oregon as it gets. His grandfather, Wally Still, ran track under Bill Bowerman at the U of O and was a running back for the Ducks back in the 1940s. I didn’t know any of this when asking Tigner for an interview; I just wanted to talk about the cleats and his process of creating them. As sometimes happens, though, an awesome story came about thanks to a little bit of writer’s luck.
Denney: I had a lot of fun writing about Oregon’s win over UCLA and what it meant for the program in the moment.
In the “non-subscriber” category, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy writing about Oregon’s preparation for the Oregon State game, which featured a UO staffer running around with a chainsaw during practice to simulate the gameday atmosphere at Reser stadium.
Mack: This is probably the easiest answer for me to give. Earlier this year, I wrote a feature on Bryce Boettcher and how he plays both football and baseball for Oregon. I had a lot of fun putting this together, plus I got to highlight the baseball team. How could it be any better?
Hoffmann: I’m not sure it’s the best thing I wrote this year, but since it’s football, and it’s the Ducks, I’ll say my feature on Bennett Williams. He was one of the best interviewees to come through the program in recent history and those around him had nothing but glowing endorsements for him. It all came together in a profile that combined discussion of his on-field acumen with some more fun side stories on how he became the man he is today.
Who has the better 2023: Bo Nix or Bucky Irving?
Hoffmann: I’ll go with Nix. I think Irving takes a leap, but I don’t see him becoming an ultimate bell-cow runner. Whittington, Jordan James and others will still chip away at his potential production. Nix meanwhile, health withstanding, is all alone back there and I think Will Stein’s offense makes a ton of sense with his skillset.
Neel: I think Bo Nix has the better season in 2023. If Dan Lanning, Will Stein, or Carlos Locklyn came out and definitively said that Bucky Irving would no longer be hand-cuffed to Noah Whittington, instead being allowed to take over as the de-facto RB1, my answer would change. However, the Ducks have walked the fine line of trying to ride the hot hand while keeping Irving fresh and rested in 2022, and I don’t expect that to change. The RB room could actually get more crowded in 2023, especially with a guy like Jordan James on the rise, and Dante Dowdell coming to Eugene. On the other hand, we’ve seen what Bo Nix can do if he’s healthy, and though he isn’t working with Kenny Dillingham anymore, I expect that he will be booking a flight to New York in early December next year.
Denney: Nix will be the face of the Oregon program next season, of course.
But I’m not sure there are many players in college football who are more fun than Bucky Irving. I think he could emerge as a LaMichael James-type superstar in 2023.
Mack: For as talented as Bucky Irving is, I think Nix will have a better 2023. Irving is a special running back, something Oregon hasn’t had since Royce Freeman left but with the running back by committee route Lanning has established, I just don’t think he’ll put up the gaudy numbers that will give him national recognition. Nix, on the other hand, should put up those kinds of numbers. If Year 1 with Nix wasn’t already an elite quarterback season, I firmly believe 2023 will be.
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