Oregon Ducks

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 5 - Coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 5: The coaching staff's "juice."

Oregon coach Willie Taggart requires his assistant coaches to bring "juice" to the party. 

Translation: Coach with infectious enthusiasm that energizes and inspires the players to want to get better. 

Practices are filled with dozens of moments of coaches reacting excitedly to great plays and strong effort put forth by efforts. 

They aggressively pat guys on the helmet, give them shoves, jump around like little kids and scream and yell with words of encouragement and affirmation for a job well done. 

The "juice."

"We'll always have fun," Taggart said. "It's football. We've got to have fun doing it. It's work, too. We're going to work. We're going to challenge our guys. We're going to coach aggressively. But we're going to have fun while we're doing it. I don't like being boring. We're going to have fun while we're doing this. I think sometimes we take it too seriously where we don't go out and have fun."

The coaching staff is split for the spring game with half of the team coaching Team "Brave" and the other half coaching Team "Fire." Given that there should be a good crowd at Autzen Stadium, and it's the first big event for this staff at Oregon, one would assume that energy and emotion could be high. 

Expect to see a bunch of coaches being quite animated on the sidelines. 

 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.; No. 3 - Search for WR depth; No. 4 - DL Jordan Scott. 

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

Oregon's Cristobal momentum goes bust in Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon coach Mario Cristobal didn't want to hear about his team possibly having played uninspired football and being distracted during a 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State Saturday afternoon in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Senior safety Tyree Robinson shook his head and smirked at the mere suggestion that the Ducks (7-6) were impacted at all by the emotional rollercoaster the players endured last week when former coach Willie Taggart bailed for Florida State and three days later Cristobal took over the reigns. 

Yet, to pretend that none of that madness contributed to the uncharacteristically bad showing by Oregon against BSU (11-3) on Saturday defies logic. 

"I don't think our guys were uninspired," Cristobal said. "We just didn't play well."

Not playing well equates to making some mistakes here and there that cost you a game. Simply not playing well does not explain away rushing for just 47 net yards after gaining 268 per game during the regular season or why an offense that averaged 52 points per game with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback didn't find the end zone until the third quarter against Boise State. 

"We just wanted to do whatever we can, lay our bodies on the line for (Cristobal)," Robinson said when pressed further about the team's emotional state during the game. "We're not worried about the decision that coach Taggart decided to make. We were playing for this coach now and that's all that matters."

Truthfully, it would be more comforting to know that the Ducks were indeed distracted. Otherwise, the alternative is that they simply got out-coached, out-worked and smacked around by what amounts to an inferior opponent on paper. What exactly would that mean for Oregon's future?

The team we saw go 6-1 with Herbert at quarterback (he missed five games with a broken collarbone) and stop cold a rising Arizona team before destroying a bad Oregon State team to close out the season appeared headed for a 10-win season in 2018. The team we saw on Saturday would be lucky to become bowl eligible again. 

The Ducks played conservative football in the first half with a lot of short passes as if freshman Braxton Burmeister were still filling in for Herbert. The offense line, coached by Cristobal, played awful football. 

Not only couldn't Oregon run well, but the Ducks offered mostly shaky protection for Herbert, who was sacked four times and harassed into two uncharacteristically badly thrown interceptions, one resulting in a 53-yard touchdown return that gave the Broncos a 24-0 lead in the second quarter.  

"We just didn't execute," said Herbert, who also lost a fumble. "We didn't move the ball when we needed to. We didn't hold up our end of the bargain."

The defense didn't play particularly well, either, but did keep Oregon in the game with two defensive scores within the final minute of the first half thanks to some horrible decisions by the Broncos. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye recovered a fumble off of a botched Statue of Liberty play and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown. Later, Robinson intercepted a horrifically thrown pass route into the end zone and ran it back for an Oregon record 100 yard touchdown return that make the score 24-14 at halftime.  

Those two miracles only delayed the inevitable. The Ducks simply didn't have it on this day. And who really could blame the team for coming out flat. There is simply no way that this team was not impacted by the entire goings on over the previous two weeks. Let's recap:

  • Taggart on Dec. 1 informs team that he would listen to Florida State, which upsets many players.  
  • Taggart goes on a recruiting trip on Dec. 4 in which he also interviews with Florida State. 
  • Taggart returns that same day, and according to some players, sends mixed messages about his intentions. 
  • Taggart tells the team on Dec. 5 that he is leaving after one season, which leads to some players taking to Twitter to essentially call him a liar. 
  • Taggart is introduced at FSU on Dec. 6 while some of Oregon recruits from its top-five ranked recruiting class begin decommitting. 
  • Oregon begins a coaching search while players wonder who will be their third head coach in a year. 
  • Cristobal is named interim coach, which upsets defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. 
  • The players sign a petition asking the administration to make Cristobal the permanent head coach, which probably didn't make Leavitt feel too grand. 
  • Rumors start to swirl about Leavitt leaving and some of the rest of the coaching staff moving on, as well. 
  • Cristobal is officially named head coach on Dec. 8.  
  • The Ducks coaching staff begins the process of trying to salvage the recruiting class while also preparing for a quick turnaround to play Boise State in just eight days.
  • Senior running back Royce Freeman announces that he will not play in the bowl game, news that senior running back Kani Benoit said after the game that the team already knew was coming. 
  • The Ducks take the field against a team with inferior overall physical talent but plenty of determination and stability, and not contending with major distractions.
  • Oregon falls behind 24-0 and never recovers. 

---

When you list it all out like that it what we saw on Saturday makes perfect sense. There is a fine line between being great and being mediocre. Oregon, when it had that swag, looked amazing at times. Mix in the nine-day stretch they experienced prior to the Las Vegas Bowl and you get what you saw on Saturday. 

It would be easy to point the fingers at Cristobal's coaching. But he, like his team, was also placed into an unfair situation. He went from orchestrating the running game as the co-offensive coordinator and line coach to running the team. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo went from coordinating the passing game for Taggart, who called plays, to calling the plays himself.

Saturday's game shouldn't be given too much credence in terms of predicting the Ducks' future under Cristobal. Oregon will have eight months to get things situated before next season, which begins with three cupcake games. 

Plus, it's not as if we don't have two somewhat recent examples from the past to back up the idea that Saturday was just a bad day not a prelude to disaster. And it just so happens that one example involves Boise State while the other includes the Las Vegas Bowl. 

In 2006, the Ducks looked even worse than they did Saturday during a 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl (Oregon should never return to this game) during a 7-6 season only to bounce back the following year and contend for the national title before quarterback Dennis Dixon went down for the season with a knee injury. 

In 2009, Chip Kelly made his debut as Oregon's coach at Boise State and lost 19-8 before righting the ship to lead UO to the Pac-10 championship in 2009. 

Maybe Oregon, under Cristobal, could make a similar rebound from Saturday to find great success. 

"We've got to get back to work once we come back off the break and re-establish ourselves and recognize the good things that were accomplished this year, and the things that have to be made better," Cristobal said. "And we will. We will focus on that and go forward."

Time will allow the Ducks to do so with a much clearer focus. 

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

Ducks can't afford to crap out in the Mario Cristobal Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Saturday's game should be viewed by Oregon as the Mario Cristobal Bowl played in Las Vegas, Nev. 

Cristobal needs this win. UO's administration needs this win. Most of all, the players need a victory in order to validate why they went to bat for Cristobal with a petition asking that he be elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach last week after Willie Taggart jumped ship for Florida State. 

"We definitely feel the need to go in there and show the administration, as well as everybody all around the country, that they made the right decision in picking coach Cristobal to be the head coach," Oregon sophomore center Jake Hanson said. 

That need is real, and it raises the stakes for Oregon (7-5), making this about as close to a "must-win" as a middling bowl game matchup could be. 

Let's face it; the Oregon program and most of its fans believe that the Ducks are above the Las Vegas Bowl.  To them, this is the program of Kelly, LaMike, Mariota, Rose Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and national title games. 

The Vegas Bowl, and the like, is for chumps, not Ducks. With so many bowl games and only six wins needed to qualify for these glorified exhibitions, it's easy to dismiss most of these postseason contests. This bowl certainly falls into that category. Heck, senior running back Royce Freeman won't even be bothered with playing in this event. This will be the lowest bowl game the Ducks will have appeared in since losing 38-8 here to BYU in 2006. 

Yet, here Oregon is, in Sin City, desperately searching for its first bowl victory since the 2014 season that ended in the national title game. The Ducks (7-5) are also looking for some validation that the program is headed in the right direction.

Boise State (10-3) is the opponent. The Broncos are champions of the Mountain West Conference. That's not even Power Five. BSU shouldn't be on Oregon's level, record be damned. Surely the Ducks have got this one in the bag.

Well, they'd better. For a program that built its brand and success through a lineage of connected coaches, the Ducks appear to be a white-hot mess in desperate search of some footing. 

Reasons exist to believe that Cristobal, despite his 27-47 record, could lead the Ducks back to the top. Oregon bypassed chasing after bigger names because athletic director Rob Mullens - skewered after Taggart, his handpicked guy, departed - decided to roll the dice on Cristobal and maintaining some continuity.  

Should Cristobal fail, Mullens would have whiffed twice in finding a replacement for Mark Helfrich, who went 37-16 in four seasons but was fired after one losing season, albeit a horrific one at 4-8. 

Losing Saturday won't mean that hiring Cristobal was a mistake. But it certainly would create doubt, in at least some, that would linger all offseason. A loss could also lead to further deterioration of UO's recruiting class once ranked No. 1 and No. 5 respectively on top websites before Taggart left. Now the class sits at No. 9 and No. 10 after six four-star recruits withdrew commitments. 

Winning on Saturday, however would send the Ducks into the offseason with momentum and an even stronger belief that Cristobal is the guy. Rallying the team from the disappointment of losing Taggart and through not having Freeman to take down a solid Boise State club, and having 14 starters returning next season will raise hopes that a 10-win season is on the horizon. 

"It's huge," Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. "We just had a coaching change and we're very confident in the guy we have. Everyone is so supportive of him and I know that everyone is going to play their heart out for him."

They have no choice. 

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

Crosby to play in Las Vegas Bowl to honor mass shooting victims

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State to honor those killed and injured during the mass shooting here on Oct. 21.

Crosby, a native of Las Vegas, Nev., could have followed the lead of senior running back Royce Freeman and not played in order to avoid a potential injury that could harm his NFL Draft status.

Instead, he announced today via Instagram that he will play and wear No. 58 rather than his usual No. 73 in order to honor the 58 people who lost their lives on when a man opened fire from Mandala Bay Resort and Casino onto concert goers across the street. Another 546 people were injured. 

Crosby did not meet with the media today, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal talked about Crosby's decision. 

"Tyrell is a very special individual and a talented football player," Cristobal said. "This is kind of a homecoming for him and obviously the events of the past have really had a tremendous impact on him."

Having Freeman on the field will certainly lessen the impact of losing Freeman. 

"For us, obviously we're through the roof excited that he is participating," Cristobal said. "He's had his best week of preparation that he's had all year. I know this means a lot to him and all of the people among his friends and family that know him out here."

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said Crosby is the type of player that players gravitate toward. 

"He's a leader," Herbert said. "For him to come back and play in this game is huge for our offense. I know that everyone is super excited to have him back."

The game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

usatsi_10423517.jpg
USA Today

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface. 

"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."

Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.

Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career. 

Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL. 

NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games. 

Cristobal is not in favor of this development. 

"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said. 

That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision. 

"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."

Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should 

"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."

Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game. 

Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation. 

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."

The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix. 

There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future. 

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman and left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play their final game as Ducks in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

Or will they?

Both players practiced with the team today at Bishop Gorman High school, but there is a strong chance that each played their final games as collegiate players during the Ducks' 69-10 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 25. 

"We will be having more extensive discussions some time between tonight and tomorrow," UO coach Mario Cristobal said.

Freeman and Crosby were not made available to the media today. Crosby said last week that he hadn't yet decided if he would play. Freeman when asked in the past has also not stated definitively either way.  

Those discussions will undoubtedly involve the risk-reward factor of playing and not playing. 

On one hand, both must eagerly want to end their careers with a bowl victory. As freshmen, they were vital parts of the 2014 team that won the Pac-12 Conference title, defeated Florida State in the first college football playoff game ever played that just so happened to take place in the Rose Bowl, and they participated in the national title game. 

Those were the good old days. Since then, Oregon has blown a big lead in the Alamo Bowl and went 4-8 last year when Crosby missed 10 games and Freeman missed some time while being banged up for the entire season. Going out with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, would certainly give both young men something to smile about on the way out the door. 

Then there is the risk factor. Both can start getting paid soon after the Vegas Bowl in endorsements and card signing contracts. The NFL Draft is about four months away. Many draft sites project Crosby to be a first-round pick. Freeman should go off the board somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. 

An injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl could damage their draft status and cost them money. Most recently, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu severely injured his knee while practicing in preparation for the 2014 Rose Bowl game against FSU. Once a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu went in the seventh round to Cleveland and is no a free agent. 

The odds of something like that occurring to Freeman and/or Crosby are long. But it does happen. Any injury that holds them back from working out for the NFL Scouting Combine or provides NFL teams with questions regarding their durability could cost them money in both the short and long terms. 

Is winning the Las Vegas Bowl worth that risk? Each player must decide that for himself. 

My vote: Sit it out. Both have given plenty to the program. They will have gone out as winners against Oregon State and Arizona and helped get the program back on track. Nobody is going to remember this bowl game beyond next year. Heck, UO fans barely cared the day Oregon defeated Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl. 

Protect your bodies and get ready for the next chapter in your careers. 

Then again, it sure would be great to see both play just one more time. 

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Upbeat Ducks prepare for important Vegas Bowl vs. Boise State

Oregon returned to the business of football over the weekend in preparation for Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl as if nothing ever happened last week.

During a seven-day stretch crazy emotional swings, Willie Taggart left Oregon to become the coach at Florida State on Tuesday leading to Mario Cristobal being elevated from co-offensive coordinator to head coach on Friday. 

Once the madness had subsided, the Ducks got back to playing football and preparing to face formidable Boise State on Saturday. 

"I feel like we're very dialed in, especially with everything that has been going on, I still feel like we have our heads on straight," redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

Cristobal said he didn't expect his team to display any adverse impact from going through such a tough week, nor did he believe that the trappings of Las Vegas would distract his team from the job at hand. 

"I'm confident about the mindset of our guys," Cristobal said. "During the bowl season a couple of things happen; you have a mindset to go perform or you have a mindset to kind of go have fun. Our guys want to perform well. And to perform well, the investment has to be done during the course of the week."

The last time Oregon played in the Las Vegas Bowl not only did the city's environment get to the Ducks but Brigham Young laid a 38-8 butt-whoopin on Oregon. That Ducks team, however, was a mess. They had experienced a disappointing season after going 10-2 the previous year, and headed to Las Vegas as a fractured bunch. 

This time around, despite losing their head coach, these Ducks are strongly united and excited for the challenge ahead. Very rarely does a team's voice get answered when it comes to the hiring of a coach. But certainly the fact that 70-plus players signed a petition asking athletic director Rob Mullens to elevate Cristobal didn't go unnoticed. 

The result is an Oregon team that got what it wanted in a head coach. Now the team must go out and prove that it will perform at a high level for Cristobal in a big setting. 

---

Oregon vs. Boise State

When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sam Boys Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.  

T.V.: ABC. 

Betting line: Oregon by 7 1/2.

Records: Ducks (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12), Boise State (10-3, 7-1 Mountain West).

Last game: Oregon won the Civil War two weeks go then had the past two Saturday off. Boise State won its conference championship game over Fresno State, 17-14 on Dec. 2. 

Coaches: Ducks' Mario Cristobal (27-47, 0-0 at Oregon); BSU's Bryan Harsin (48-17, 41-12 at Boise State).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5. The Ducks with sophomore Justin Herbert at quarterback are a force that Boise State will have a tough time defeating. 

Boise State has a solid offense led by quarterback Brett Rypien, who has passed for 2,515 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions. 

"He's efficient, he's tough, he's athletic," Cristobal said. "He knows exactly what to do. He's a very well-coached individual."

But the Broncos' 32 points per game shouldn't scare the Ducks, who averaged 52 with Herbert in the lineup. 

Boise State's defense has being strong, giving up just 22.5 points per game. But Washington State put up big numbers during a 47-44 triple-overtime win over Boise State and Virginia took down the Broncos, 42-23.

The odds of Boise State keeping the Ducks under 40 are not strong while nothing about the Broncos suggests that they are capable of winning a shootout against Oregon.

The wild card in play, however, could be the status of senior running back Royce Freeman. Should he elect to sit out the game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, the Ducks would be in for a closer outing. Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said on Friday that he wasn't sure if he would play in Las Vegas. 

If both sit out, the Ducks would certainly face a much tougher challenge in Las Vegas. 

Game prediction: Oregon 44, Boise State 30. The Ducks are fired up. Keep in mind that this program has not won a bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl and not many players on the team saw the field that day. They have something to prove having supported Cristobal ball or the head job. Letting him down with a poor performance would be a bad look for all involved.   

Ducks make it rain in second half to defeat Colorado State 95-65

img_2339.jpg

Ducks make it rain in second half to defeat Colorado State 95-65

How Oregon won: The Ducks got back to how Oregon wants to play basketball: gritty defense that turns into fast break opportunities. And that's exactly what we saw on the court of Matthew Knight Arena this evening. Oregon's smothering defense caused 16 Colorado State turnovers that lead to 26 points. It's that quick transition offense that the Ducks find their identity, always aiming to push and control the tempo off either a turnover or defensive rebound. This defensive-lead momentum, along with redshirt senior guard Elijah Brown's team-high 20 points, lead Oregon (6-3) past the Colorado State Rams (4-6) 95-65.

In a post-game press conference, Oregon head coach Dana said, "Second chance points 23 to four, points off turnovers 26 to seven... Those are stats we haven't seen. Out-rebounded them by 14 and this is a team that out-rebounded Florida State, Arkansas, and Colorado, so board-play was good."

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Not to mention the Ducks also capitalized off those Colorado State turnovers with 12 fast-break points compared to the Rams' two. 

"Payton Pritchard set a heck of a tone defensively," said Altman. "When that point guard is out there setting the tone, then Troy [Brown] and Elijah [Brown] really picked it up. I just thought our defensive effort was better tonight. I thought we gave up fewer good looks."

What it means: This was a better showing of Oregon basketball then the previous four games. Altman and his staff made good adjustments in the second half and relied more on the Ducks bench who outscored Colorado State's bench 30 to 11. 

High flying Ducks: Including Brown, six total Ducks scored in double figures tonight: Elijah Brown (20), Kenny Wooten (13), Paul White (12), Troy Brown (12), Payton Pritchard (11), and Mikyle McIntosh (10). This shows the ball movement trending in the right direction for Oregon.

"Tonight was big for him," said Pritchard on Elijah Brown following the game. "He hasn't been shooting it like Elijah normally has been. I'm hoping tonight is how it is every game because that's going to be a big help for us. He can catch fire, so that's big for our team." 

Foul play: Both Troy Brown and Mikyle McIntosh finished the game with four fouls each.

Up next: Oregon will host Texas Southern (0-8) at 7 PM (PT) on Monday, December 11 at Matthew Knight Arena.

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Cristobal: He's a recruiter and isn't that the most important thing at Oregon?

Aaron Fentress scooped the college football world this morning with the first report that assistant coach Mario Cristobal will be named Oregon's next head coach.

The one thing that sticks out for me about this hire is that the Ducks are getting a big-time recruiter as their head coach -- which may well be the biggest part of Cristobal's resume. To win big in college football -- and Oregon is firmly in that group of schools that thinks winning a national championship is possible -- you need players. Big-time, blue-chip, NFL-first-three-rounds-of-the-draft players. And Willie Taggart aside -- because he cast himself aside so quickly -- the Ducks haven't really had a recruiting dynamo as the leader of the program. Ever.

Again, excluding Taggart, who departed prior to actually landing his first highly regarded class.

Cristobal has long been considered one of the top recruiters in the country and while at Alabama was instrumental in the Crimson Tide hauling in prized recruits year after year.

It's about time the Ducks brought in a premier recruiter, isn't it? For years, all I've heard is how difficult it is to bring top players to Oregon, which is so far from where all the top high school players live. So why not seek out one of the best recruiters in the country? Once you realize a top-flight sales job is needed, why not hire a very good salesman?

The Ducks have come close to a national championship a couple of times in recent years and I don't think they lost title games because of on-field coaching mistakes. I'm not saying the strategy and hands-on work with players isn't important. But I do think there are plenty of coaches capable of getting a team through a season without messing up the weight-room requirements, who to start at safety, defensive sets and third-down play calls.

Where the Ducks have usually fallen short is in the talent area. Frankly, they just haven't quite been good enough. Chip Kelly's schemes were great and I think his teams were disciplined, played hard and were well-coached. But they were always just a few big-time players shy -- especially up front on both sides of the ball -- from climbing all the way to the top of the college football world.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Cristobal may be able to rescue a majority of the recruiting class that Taggart put together this year. But if he doesn't, that's not the end of the world. The Ducks need big-time recruits EVERY season. And ie appears to me Cristobal is someone with the credentials to make that happen. At least it's worth a try. My only real concern about the hire is that he's another guy from the opposite corner of the country who may be, like Taggart, another candidate for an early exit.

Oh, his record as a head coach leaves something to be desired at first glance. But if you dive deeper into his situation at Florida International, you will find extenuating circumstances.

And recruiting to Nike U. will surely be easier than it was at FIU.

BREAKING: Oregon to name Mario Cristobal new head coach

BREAKING: Oregon to name Mario Cristobal new head coach

Developing story

----

Mario Cristobal will become the new head coach of the Oregon Ducks football team, according to a source. 

Cristobal will will replace Willie Taggart, who after one season left Oregon on Tuesday to replace Jimbo Fisher as the next coach at Florida State. 

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Cristobal came to Oregon last year to become the Ducks co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He previously coached the offensive line at Alabama from 2013 through 2016. 

Cristobal has head coaching experience. He guided Florida International from 2007 through 2012, compiling a record of 27-47. He took over a struggling program and went 1-11 his first season. He seemingly rebuilt the program and reached 8-5 in 2011 before backsliding to 3-9 the following year. 

About 70 Oregon players signed a petition lobbying for Cristobal to take over the program. He was named interim coach for the team's Dec. 16 meeting with Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. 

The push now is to keep defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on as defensive coordinator. He wanted to replace Taggart as head coach, so it will be interesting to see if he is willing to remain at Oregon given that he was passed over for another assistant. 

However, the Ducks, with the help of some powerful boosters, could be in a position to make a financial offer that could ease Leavitt's disappointment. He made $1.125 million this season. 

According to those with knowledge of the search, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and current California coach Justin Wilcox were very much in the mix. However, Wilcox, according to a source, never interviewed with Oregon.

Keeping Cristobal is a strong move. He, along with whatever assistant coaches remain, could help salvage what was a top five recruiting class before Taggart departed. 

Since he moved on, the class has fallen to in the rankings due to decommits but remains top 10. Cristobal's presence could very well help keep the class in the top 10. 

PODCAST: