Oregon Ducks

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollins. With the emergence of La’Mar Winston Jr., this position unit could be the strongest on the team.

LOCKS

Troy Dye, junior, inside linebacker: Oregon's defensive MVP for the 2017 season has generated major NFL draft buzz and has landed on three major watch lists; the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Butkus award (nation’s best linebacker) and the Nagurski award (nation’s best defensive player).

In his two seasons, the preseason All-American has 198 tackles with 118 solo tackles, 80 assisted tackles and 9.5 sacks.

Justin Hollins, senior, outside linebacker: The Butkus award nominee is heading into his fifth year at Oregon as the only Duck to have played on the unit that helped get Oregon into the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game in 2014.

Last season he forced three fumbles and finished third on the team in tackles for loss (11.5) behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and linebacker Troy Dye (13.5).

La’Mar Winston Jr., junior, outside linebacker: The Len Casanova Award for leadership winner (voted on by his teammates) played in all 13 games for the Ducks in 2017, including seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

[WATCH: A SUMMER IN PARIS WITH LA'MAR WINSTON JR.]

"(La'Mar)'s put on weight and strength," Dye said. "Seeing his transition from our freshmen year until now is phenonemal."

CONTENDERS

Kaulana Apelu, senior, inside linebacker; The walk-on was placed on scholarship before the start of 2017 season. He played in five games and made three starts, totaling 20 tackles, including three for loss before suffering a season-ending injury. Apelu rehabbed and returned to the field in time for spring practice. In the spring game, he led the Ducks’ defense with nine tackles and returned a tipped pass 100 yards for a touchdown.

Isaac Slade-Matautia, redshirt freshman, inside linebacker: Last season Slade-Matautia utilized his redshirt. ESPN and Rivals ranked the four-star prospect a top two player from the state of Hawaii. He is competing to be in the mix for starting alongside Dye.

"(Isaac)'s a beast," Dye said. "He's going to surprise a lot of people. There are a lot of things that he has taught me."

Adrian Jackson, freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus four-star prospect and the state of Colorado's top player in 2017. Dye called Jackson a "phenomenal beast" a few days into fall camp. Jackson currently backs up Dye at the JACK linebacker position, but says he’d be willing to move to MIKE.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Keith Simms, sophomore, outside linebacker: Suffered a season-ending injury last season. Played both inside and outside throughout spring practices and totaled 8 tackles and a sack during UO’s spring game. Simms could add quality depth if he can stay healthy.

LONGSHOTS

Sampson Niu, sophomore, inside linebacker: In 2017, Niu played in six games and finished with eight tackles and one tackle for loss. He missed spring drills while rehabbing an injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl. Four-star prospect and the top inside linebacker in the state of California by Rivals and 247Sports.

MJ Cunningham, true freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The Portland-native is another freshman that could crack the rotation.

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver

Oregon releases new uniforms; internet blows up

Oregon releases new uniforms; internet blows up

The Oregon Ducks have unveiled their Nike football uniforms for the upcoming season. The winged helmets are back and the jerseys feature a new large "Mighty Oregon" font. Check them out.

The jerseys are more simple than years past. Everyone (and their mother) had something to say about the reveal on Twitter. Here are some of the most sarcastic, clever, interesting and fun tweets.

Font size humor:

A cool throwback to a life before Twitter from former Duck T.J. Ward:

The team is stoked:

And so is the Oregon Duck Mascot:

Can't forget the age old joke...

Where do they rank on your all-time Oregon uniform list?

 

 

REPORT: Dallas signs former Ducks WR Darren Carrington Jr.

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USA Today

REPORT: Dallas signs former Ducks WR Darren Carrington Jr.

The Dallas Cowboys have signed former Oregon and Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr., according to multiple reports.

The signing was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Carrington, who played at Oregon from 2013 through 2016, played last season at Utah after former UO coach Willie Taggart dismissed him from the team for violating team rules.

Carrington, who was suspended for six games in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the national championship game played at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is a talented receiver who has the skills to play in the NFL but has hobbled his career by repeatedly making poor decisions away from the field. 

Carrington went undrafted last spring even after being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He recently participated in a tryout with Dallas and showed enough to get signed to the team's roster. Plus, Dallas has experienced several injuries at wide receiver during training camp. 

Oregon agrees to home-and-home matchups with Michigan State, Boise State

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Oregon agrees to home-and-home matchups with Michigan State, Boise State

Oregon has agreed to a home-and-home series with Michigan State renewing one of the better non-conference football series in Ducks history. 

Oregon will play at MSU on Sept. 8, 2029 and host the Spartans on Sept. 7, 2030. 

Oregon this summer also agreed to a home-and-home with Boise State. That series will run for three years with Oregon hosting the Broncos on Sept. 14, 2024, and Sept. 5, 2026. UO will play at Boise State on Sept 13, 2025.

Oregon recently faced MSU in 2014 and 2015. The Ducks, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, defeated Michigan State 46-27 in 2014 to get a key victory on their way to the national title game. 

The following season, Oregon lost 31-28 at MSU.

Boise State is 3-0 against the Ducks including a 38-28 win in last year's Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State won the first meeting in 2008 by the score of 37-32 at Autzen Stadium. The following season, the Broncos won 19-8 in Boise. 

Here is a list of Oregon's upcoming non-conference opponents:

2019: vs. Auburn (Arlington, Texas), Nevada, Montana 
2020: North Dakota State, Ohio State, Hawaii 
2021: Fresno State, at Ohio State, Stony Brook
2022: Eastern Washington, BYU
2023: Portland State, at Texas Tech, Hawaii 
2024: Texas Tech, Boise State, at Hawaii 
2025: at Boise State 
2026: Boise State 
2027: at Baylor 
2028: Baylor
2029: at Michigan State
2030: Michigan State

31 Greatest NCAAF Players in PNW history: No.19 - Gary Zimmerman

31 Greatest NCAAF Players in PNW history: No.19 - Gary Zimmerman

Successful college career – Check.

Successful NFL career – Check

Member of the NFL Hall of Fame – Check

 

Who are we talking about?  We are talking about former Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has a great career at Oregon and was named the Pac-10 Conference Offensive Lineman of Year in 1983. But it was in the NFL where he truly blossomed.

Zimmerman was selected in the first round of the 1984 supplemental draft and made his NFL debut two years later with the Minnesota Vikings.

Once he hit the field, he never left it, literally. Zimmerman started 169 consecutive games, a streak that came to an end in 1996.

He was named to both the 1980’s and 1990’s All-Decade teams, earned All-Pro honors eight times, and was selected to seven Pro Bowl.  Zimmerman ended his career in fashion, winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.

Zimmerman was enshrined in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and joined his fellow legends in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008.

Denver RB Royce Freeman scores in NFL preseason debut

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Denver RB Royce Freeman scores in NFL preseason debut

Denver rookie running back Royce Freeman rushed for a 38 yards on four carries and scored on a 23-yard run in the second quarter of the Broncos' 42-28 loss Saturday night at home to Minnesota in the preseason opener for both teams. Freeman, listed second on the team's depth chart behind Devontae Booker, also caught one pass for no gain. Booker started the game but received just two carries for seven yards. 

Freeman, selected by Denver in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, received his first three carries out of a single-back set with quarterback Paxton Lynch under center. Freeman's touchdown run, however, came on a zone read play run out of the shotgun formation with four receivers, both familiar scheme elements to Freeman from his days at Oregon. 



Freeman received the handoff from Lynch's right after the quarterback read an outside linebacker keying on him. The quarterback then carried out his fake to further draw the defender allowing Freeman to zoom by him and to the second level of the defense. There he encountered a hard-charging safety that Freeman successfully juked to the right. From there, he was gone, racing down the right side with the help of downfield blocking from receivers. 

Freeman is believed to have a shot at earning the starting job. His performance Saturday was a good start in that direction. 

How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon

How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon

Oregon’s cupcake nonconference schedule just got more interesting and the Ducks may see less transfers this season. 

If you are not familiar with the new NCAA rule passed in June, college football players can now play up to four games in a season and redshirt without burning a year of eligibility. College football players are granted five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.

The rule was unanimously agreed upon amongst college football coaches, including Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. Cristobal is excited for how it changes the developmental aspect of the sport.  Whether it be to injury or a player developing throughout a season, he plans to award playing opportunities to Ducks who he believes can help the team.

“The opportunities are endless to not only help your team, but to prevent a guy from losing an extra year of eligibility,” Cristobal said. “It certainly helps you plan differently.”

With that said, Cristobal made it clear he expects the level of competition to increase, not decrease.

Playing time will not be handed out

Just because the new rule allows participation in four games a season doesn’t mean Oregon players are guaranteed to see the field. According to Cristobal, playing time will remain a privilege, not a right. 

“That would create the wrong kind of dynamic within the walls of our locker room,” Cristobal said.

Oregon’s cupcake nonconference schedule just got more interesting

The Ducks’ nonconference opponents (Bowling Green, Portland State, San Jose State) went a combined 4-32 last season. Those three yawn-worthy games just got more interesting because now coaches and fans will get a chance to see plenty of freshmen from that highly touted 2018 recruiting class get on the field.

This means true freshman quarterback Tyler Shough, who many have described as starting quarterback“Justin Herbert-like” is likely to get a chance to play at the college level right away without wasting a year of eligibility. The back-up quarterback competition could play out between Shough and sophomore Braxton Burmeister in live games instead of just behind closed doors at practice. Keep in mind that Burmeister could also utilize his redshirt if he does not appear in more than four games.

Freshmen get valuable experience

It’s hard to emulate the speed of the college game in practice, even on scout team. Now freshmen will be able to get on the field in low-pressure situations, which is great to get their feet wet and for coaches to see how they handle being under the lights.

Oregon could give an early opportunity to see how a player reacts to the level of college level or allow them to continue to grow and learn the playbook before potentially playing later in the season.

Those meaningless bowl games that some player skip? Freshmen can get added into those, with the added month of bowl practice.

“The development process is real now,” Cristobal said. “It’s almost like the developmental squad in the NFL where down the line the opportunity, whether it be due to injury or whether that player has developed to a point where they can help us and actually contribute to the team.’

Incentivizes and may limit transfers

The new rule keeps players involved and motivated by the possibility of playing time at some point during the season.

Oregon could show a player how he fits into a game scheme, without losing a year of eligibility. Which is a great way for a coach to prove the school has a plan for him, which could potentially prevent some players from transferring.

Takes pressure off starters

Oregon starters will be less likely to feel pressure to play through injuries. The change provides more roster depth and the opportunity for Ducks at the top of the depth chart to experience less wear and tear throughout the season.

[WATCH: Cristobal continues to impress on the recruiting trail]

Imagine how different last year could have been

In 2017, the Ducks redshirted eight players on the 2018 roster; CJ Verdell, Cyrus Habibi-likio, Demetri Burch, Daewood Davis, Cody Shear, Alex Forsyth, Popo Aumavae, and Isaac Slade-Matautia. All of those players could have played in four games and still have four years of full eligibility left if this rule was in place last season.

The rule allows for the development of the player to be improved and the coaches’ ability to evaluate the player. Which Duck freshman are you most looking forward to utilizing this rule?

 

Marcus Mariota tosses TD pass in Titans' preseason opener

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Marcus Mariota tosses TD pass in Titans' preseason opener

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who had a down statistical season last year, got off to a strong start in Tennessee's first preseason game Thursday night at Green Bay.

Mariota completed 2 of 3 passes for 41 yards and a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darius Jennings and then promptly called it a night. Green Bay won, 31-17. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not play. 

The Titans' scoring drive covered 71 yards in nine plays. Mariota got sacked early in the drive before completing a 38-yard pass to wide receiver Nick Williams to the Green Bay 30. Two plays later, Mariota scrambled for seven yards to the Packers' 15.

Mariota threw a career low 13 touchdown passes last season with a career high 15 interceptions. 

 

Former Oregon RB Royce Freeman to make Denver debut Saturday

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USA Today

Former Oregon RB Royce Freeman to make Denver debut Saturday

The NFL preseason schedule kicks into high gear tonight with 12 games. 

However, the biggest rookie to exit Oregon this year, Denver running back Royce Freeman, won't get his feet wet in NFL action until Saturday night when the Broncos host Minnesota at 6 p.m. live on NFL Network. 

Freeman, a third-round pick, is listed as the No. 2 running back on Denver's depth chart behind Devontae Booker, who has rushed for 911 yards in two NFL seasons. 

But all is not lost for Freeman in the competition for Denver's starting running back position. Former Denver running back, and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Terrell Davis appeared on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" show this week and said that he has heard nothing but good things about Freeman from inside training camp. 

“I’ve talked to people in Denver,” Davis said.  "And they’re just thrilled by what they see in camp and what they saw in minicamp from Royce Freeman. They think he’s going to be the starting running back.”

We shall see. The first audition goes down on Saturday. 

Here is a list of all the players with connections to the state of Oregon on NFL rosters (let us know if we've missed anyone). We will post updates on their performances over the weekend and throughout the season:

 ARIZONA CARDINALS

None. 

 ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Sean Harlow, Oregon State, guard: The 2017 fourth-round pick enters his second season. Spent all of last season inactive. 
  • Andy Levitre, Oregon State, guard: Entering his 10th season. 
  • Rocky Ortiz, Oregon State, running back: Spent last season on Baltimore's practice squad. Signed with Atlanta on May 18. 
     

 BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Randin Crecelius, Portland State, guard: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. 
  • Patrick Onwuasor, Portland State, linebacker: Entering his third season. Appeared in 16 games last season and finished with 90 total tackles. 
     

 BUFFALO BILLS

  • Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, safety: Entering his sixth season. Intercepted five passes in 2017. 
     

 CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Kenjon Barner, Oregon, running back:  Returns to Carolina, where he spent his rookie season, after winning Super Bowl with Philadelphia in his fifth season. 
  • Evan Bayless, Oregon, tight end: Spent last season with Baltimore where he appeared in one game. 
  • David Mayo, Texas State (Scappoose H.S.), linebacker: Entering his fourth season. Had 19 tackles last season. 
     

 CHICAGO BEARS

  • Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, center: Entering his fourth season. 
  • Kyle Long, Oregon, guard: Entering his sixth season. A three-time Pro Bowl player. 
  • Ryan Nall, Oregon State (Central Catholic H.S., Portland), running back: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. 
     

 CINCINNATI BENGALS
 

  • Jake Fisher, Oregon, offensive tackle: Entering his fourth season. Has started 11 career games. 
     

 CLEVELAND BROWNS
 

  • Terrance Mitchell, Oregon, defensive back: Intercepted four passes last season for Kansas City. 
  • Fred Lauina, Oregon State, offensive line: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in May. 
     

 DALLAS COWBOYS
 

  • Tyree Robinson, Oregon, safety: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. 
     

 DENVER BRONCOS

  • Royce Freeman, Oregon, running back: Denver selected Oregon's all-time leading rusher in the third round last spring. 
  • Kyle Peko, Oregon State, nose tackle: Entering second season. Appeared in six games last season. 
     

 DETROIT LIONS
 

  • Jace Billingsley, Eastern Oregon, wide receiver: Appeared in two games last season. 
  • LeGarrette Blount, Oregon, running back: Rushed for 766 yards last season for the Super Bowl champion Eagles. 
  • Tyrell Crosby, Oregon, offensive tackle: Selected in the fifth round last spring. 
  • DeShawn Shead, Portland State, defensive back: Shead missed most of last season with Seattle with a knee injury suffered the year before. 
     

 GREEN BAY PACKERS 

None. 

 HOUSTON TEXANS
 

  • Treston Decoud, Oregon State, cornerback: Entering his second year. Appeared in 10 games last season. 
  • Brennan Scarlett, California and Stanford (Central Catholic H.S., Portland): Entering his third season. Appeared in 18 games over the past two seasons. 
     

 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

 

None. 

 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
 

  • Tim Cook, Oregon State, running back: The undrafted rookie free agent in 2017 is entering his second season. 
  • Manase Hungalu, Oregon State, linebacker: Undrafted rookie free agent. 
     

KANSAS CITY

  • Steven Nelson, Oregon State, defensive back: Entering his fourth season. Nelson has appeared in 36 career games. 
  • Arrion Springs, Oregon, defensive back: Undrafted rookie free agent. 
  • De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, wide receiver: Entering his fifth season. Has 61 career receptions. 
     

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

  • Tyrell Williams, Western Oregon (Cascade H.S., Turner), wide receiver: Entering his fourth season. Has 1,877 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns for his career. 
     

LOS ANGELES RAMS
 

  • Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, wide receiver: On his third team in five years. Has three seasons of 1,000 receiving yards or more for his career. 
  • Johnny Hekker, Oregon State, punter: The four-time Pro Bowler enters his seventh season. Averaged 47.9 yards per punt last season. 
  • Troy Hill, Oregon, defensive back: Entering his fourth season. Hill has appeared in 24 NFL games. 
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, quarterback: Entering his third season. 
  • Johnny Mundt, Oregon, tight end: Undrafted rookie free agent. 
  • Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (Grant H.S.), defensive tackle: The five-time Pro Bowler joined the Rams over the offseason. 
     

MIAMI DOLPHINS
 

  • Kiko Alonso, Oregon, linebacker: The sixth-year pro had 115 tackles last season. 
     

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

 

  • Josh Andrews, Oregon State, guard: Spent last season on the Eagles' practice squad. 
  • Mike Remmers, Oregon State, offensive tackle: Entering his sixth season in the NFL. 
     

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

  • Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech (West Salem H.S.), punter: Entering his sixth season, all with the Patriots. Has a career punting average of 45.3 yards. 
  • Patrick Chung, Oregon, safety: Entering his 10th season, eighth with the Patriots. 
  • Eddie Pleasant, Oregon, safety: Recently signed with New England. Spent six seasons with Houston. 
     

 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

 

  • Josh Huff, Oregon, wide receiver: Entering his fourth season, first with the Saints. 
  • Henry Mondeaux, Oregon, defensive line: Undrafted rookie free agent. 
  • Max Unger, Oregon, center: The two-time Pro Bowl player is entering his ninth season. 
     

 NEW YORK GIANTS
 

  • Jonathan Stewart, Oregon, running back: Rushed for 7,318 yards in 10 seasons with Carolina. 
  • Aldrick Rosas, Southern Oregon, kicker: Made 18 of 25 field goal attempts last season. 

 

NEW YORK JETS

  • Obum Gwacham, Oregon State, linebacker:  Entering his fourth season. Has appeared in 14 NFL games. 

 

 OAKLAND RAIDERS
 

  • Cameron Hunt, Oregon, offensive line: Spent last season on the 49ers' practice squad. Signed with Oakland in May. 
  • Pharaoh Brown, Oregon, tight end: Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last year. Spent most of the season on the team's practice squad. 

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

  • Taylor Hart, Oregon, offensive tackle:  Entering his fifths season. Began his career as a defensive lineman. 
  • Haloti Ngata, Oregon, defensive tackle: The five-time Pro Bowler is entering his 13th season. 
  • Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State, guard: Entering his third season. Has appeared in 23 games. 
  • Joe Walker, Oregon, linebacker: Appeared in 12 games as a rookie last season. 
  • Marcus Wheaton, Oregon State, wide receiver: Entering his sixth season. Spent last year with the Bears. 
     

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
 

  • Kameron Canaday, Portland State, long snapper: Appeared in 16 games last season.  Entering his third year. 
     

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

  • Arik Armstead, Oregon, defensive end: Entering his fourth season. The former first-round pick appeared in just six games last year. 
  • Victor Bolden Jr., Oregon State, wide receiver:  Had 396 yards on kick off returns last season.
  • DeForest Buckner, Oregon, defensive end: Entering his second year after making 45 tackles last season. 
     

 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

  • D.J. Alexander, Oregon State, linebacker: Entering his fourth season. Has 34 career tackles in 44 games. 
  • Tanner Carew, Oregon, long snapper: Released last week. 
  • Ed Dickson, Oregon, tight end: Entering his ninth season. Caught 30 passes for 437 yards last season. 
  • Dion Jordan, Oregon, defensive end: Entering his second season with Seattle. Had for sacks in five games last season. 
     

 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

  • Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State, running back: Entering his eighth season. Rushed for 244 yards last season with the Buccaneers.  
     

 TENNESSEE TITANS

  • Marcus Mariota, Oregon, quarterback: Entering his fourth season. Had a career low 13 touchdown passes last season. 

 

 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

  • Alex Balducci, Oregon (Central Catholic H.S., Portland), offensive line: Originally with San Francisco as an undrafted rookie free agent. 
  • Byron Marshall, Oregon, running back: Entering third season, second with Washington.  

 

Oregon QB Justin Herbert has a lot of hype to live up to

Oregon QB Justin Herbert has a lot of hype to live up to

Justin Herbert is growing up before our eyes. He's maturing, coming out of his shell. Physically, he is considerably larger than the rail thin freshman that flashed elite skills in 2016. He's becoming so comfortable as a leader and a young man that he has the guts to wear his new hairdo - half surfer dude, half mad scientist - with the full confidence that he can pull it off.

All of the above, along with his immense skills and minus the hair, have led to the junior entering this season as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and a virtual lock to become a future first-round NFL Draft pick as soon as next spring. Herbert already should be considered one of the top 10 most talented quarterbacks to ever play at Oregon. 

But let's step back for a second and ask one simple question: What has Herbert truly accomplished at Oregon? 

The truthful answer is: Not much at all.

We know Herbert can put up big passing numbers (he became the fastest UO quarterback to reach 3,000 yards passing, doing so in 13 games) and look flashy doing so. What we don't know is if he is a championship-caliber quarterback capable of leading his team to close victories in big games against high-end competition.

What we don't know is if we should actually believe the hype?

--- Not yet a proven winner 

Herbert is being praised as if he has already attained elite status when in fact, he is not a proven winner nor should he be considered a superstar. For now, he simply remains a talented passer with a potentially bright future that hasn't accomplished much at the college level.

This is not meant to throw shade Herbert's way. Nobody has hyped Herbert more than myself. During his freshman season I proclaimed that Herbert would be a future Heisman contender and top 10 NFL Draft pick. I've gone so far as to say that he would exit Oregon as the second greatest quarterback in program history behind Marcus Mariota.

Now it's time for Herbert to deliver on all of his promise and get the Ducks (7-6 last season) back on track toward national prominence. 

So far, we've seen a lot of sizzle but little in the way of championship substance. 

Herbert is just 7-7 in games he started and finished (or at least departed with the outcome no longer in doubt). Only five of those victories have come against Power Five conference teams and just two came against such teams that finished the season with a winning record (Utah went 8-5 in 2016 and Arizona went 7-6 last year). 

Think about that for just a second. Herbert has won just two games against winning Power Five teams in two years.  

To be fair, it's not Herbert's fault that Oregon's defense was horrid in 2016, which didn't help his chances of winning games. It's also not his fault that last season he missed the toughest five-game stretch the Ducks have faced during the past two seasons because of a broken collarbone.

Herbert went down early during a win over California last season and then missed games against Washington State (9-4), at Stanford (9-5), at UCLA (6-7) home versus Utah (7-6) and at Washington (10-3). The Ducks went 1-4 against that group with freshman Braxton Burmeister at quarterback and were blown out in all four defeats. Sitting out those five games, he said, had a profound impact on him. 

"I found out how much football meant to me just watching from the sideline," Herbert said. "I try not to let any day go by that I'm not thankful for it."

Despite some bad luck and poor defensive play, Herbert has had chances to pull out victories that slipped away. Herbert as a freshman failed to engineer wins at California and Oregon State. He did, however, play exceptionally well in the second half at Utah and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to Darren Carrington Jr. that won the game 30-28. 

Last season, Herbert had a couple of opportunities to pull out a victory at Arizona State but couldn't get the ball moving on two drives inside the final minutes. Oregon lost 37-35. 

Then there was the Las Vegas Bowl disaster. 

A few weeks after his return from the broken collarbone, Herbert had a chance to notch a signature win on his belt at the Las Vegas bowl. But instead, the Ducks lost 38-28 to underdog Boise State while scoring just two offensive touchdowns with one coming in the final two minutes of action to make the game appear closer than it truly was. Herbert threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. He also lost a fumble. 

--- Searching for that signature win 

A knock on Mariota entering the 2014 season was that he had yet to put forth a big win against a strong opponent that required him to play well in the fourth quarter. Part of that was his fault. He was largely responsible for Oregon blowing out teams by the middle of the second quarter. It's difficult to fault a guy for not winning close games when he is the main reason why the team routinely wins in blowout fashion. However, winning championships usually requires a couple of victories in which the quarterback is asked to make big plays down the stretch. 

Mariota failed in that area against Stanford in both 2012 and 2013 when national title game appearances were within reach. He also couldn't get the team going in a loss at Arizona in 2013 when the Pac-12 championship remained a possibility following a 26-20 loss at Stanford.  

Sure, Mariota led the Ducks to a last minute win over Oregon State in 2013. But, it was Oregon State. He didn't register that true, signature victory until Michigan State, 2014. Oregon trailed 27-18 early in the third quarter before Mariota threw two touchdowns in that quarter and used a 40-yard run in the fourth quarter to help set up a Royce Freeman score that iced the game at 46-27. He also delivered a virtuoso performance at Washington State when he completed 21 of 25 passes for five touchdowns with a struggling offensive line in a 38-31 win.

Lose one of those games and the Ducks wouldn't have reached the national playoffs. Mariota made those two wins happen.

That is something we really haven't seen from Herbert save for the win at Utah in 2016. But, again, nothing was at stake for the Ducks that day. They finished the season 4-8. 

--- A dominant leader could get UO to the top 

Herbert is good enough to carry the Ducks, despite their flaws, to the Pac-12 title. He will have enough experience and talent around him to take on Washington and Stanford at home, and to get wins at Arizona and Utah. But pulling that off is going to require Herbert to reach another level as a player and as a leader. 

He made big strides in the area of becoming a leader last season must to the delight of former coach Willie Taggart. New coach Mario Cristobal says he's seen the same leap in that department. 

"It's exponentially growing," Cristobal said. "It hasn't stopped. He's gained more confidence about everything he does. He's obviously a tremendous student. He's well liked by everybody in the building, the community, the state. He's such a driven individual. That's the best way to explain it. He's driven to get better. He's never satisfied. He's very hard on himself. We actually have to kind of pull him off of himself sometimes because he's very critical of himself."

To make Herbert better, Cristobal says the coaching staff pushes him harder than most.

"Our best players have to be able to receive our hardest coaching to be are hardest workers and to be our best performers," Cristobal said. "He's young, but yet the maturity we've seen over the past year form him and what we expect this year has been incredible."

Redshirt senior Jalen Jelks, who played with Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr., says Herbert has become a team-wide presence.

"He's become a lot more vocal and has stepped up as a leader," Jelks said. "He likes to push everybody." 

One trait Herbert possesses that could make him special is his ability to process information. Cristobal said Herbert can fix situations when they aren't going the team's way. If a play looks like it's about to lead to a bad situation because of the defensive alignment, Herbert can recognize the problem and get the offense into a better play. 

"When a quarterback can do that it becomes another level of football for your offense," Cristobal said.

Herbert must show that he can reach that level late in games against top competition if Oregon is going to make a run at the Pac-12 title. 

Only then will Herbert have lived up to the hype.