Oregon Ducks

Dazzling UO running backs: The locks, contenders and long shots

Dazzling UO running backs: The locks, contenders and long shots

Who will be the next president of Running Backs University?

Oregon football has an elite history of dazzling running backs. Jonathan StewartLegarrette BlountLaMichael JamesKenjon Barner and Royce Freeman; all 1,000-yard rushers. If we look even farther back, Reuben Droughns (1998-99) and Derek Loville (1986-89) also should be added to the list of all-time greats.

The past four seasons, Oregon could count on Freeman, who carried the bulk of the rushing load and holds Oregon’s career rushing yards record (5,621) and career touchdowns record (60).

[READ: FREEMAN SCORES AGAIN FOR DENVER BRONCOS]

Those are some pretty big cleats to fill. Here is a look into the locks, contenders and long shots at one of the most important UO positions.

LOCKS

Tony Brooks-James, senior: Enters his senior season with 2,375 career all-purpose yards with 1,557 rushing yards, 399 kick return yards and 319 receiving yards. Brooks-James landed on the Doak Walker award watch list following his second straight year with 1,000 all-purpose yards despite not being a full-time starter.

He’s a weapon on special teams and was the only Pac-12 player with a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2017.

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said Brooks-James has bulked up about 12 pounds to 190 this season. He is listed as the second-fastest player in the country, according to both Bleacher Report and NFL.com. His increased size and fierce speed makes him the front-runner to win the starting nod at running back.

"I think that when you combine all of these factors and TBJ's want-to, and the realization that this is his senior year, he has created a better running back room," Cristobal said. 

Taj Griffin, senior: Listed as a running back after spending last season as slot receiver, it’s Griffin’s last UO season to shine. In his last two seasons, he’s had just 55 carries but has shown peeks into his lethal speed and playmaking ability.

In 2015 as a freshman, Griffin was the team's second option at running back and finished the year with 732 all-purpose yards, 570 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

“Taj is healthy, so he is in a real good place now,” Cristobal said. “He has worked his tail off and he’s going to be a significant part of our offense.”

[WATCH: A game of would you rather with UO QB Justin Herbert]

CJ Verdell, redshirt freshman: Coming off a productive offseason, Verdell showed off his breakaway speed in UO’s spring game. The three-star rushed for a team-high 44 yards on eight carries, scoring both of Oregon's two rushing touchdowns during the game.

UO coaches and teammates rave about Verdell’s power and toughness, and if not for an ankle injury, he may not have been redshirted last season. Verdell has been “dinged up” and missed a week of fall camp, but is expected to be available for Oregon’s opener against Bowling Green, according to Cristobal.

Verdell rushed for 2,399 yards and 36 touchdowns at Mater Dei high school.

CONTENDERS

Cyrus Habibi-Likio, redshirt freshman: The 6-2, freshman is Oregon's tallest and heaviest running back. He’s listed at 207 pounds on the roster but is now weighing in at 215 pounds thanks to Coach Feld’s rigorous strength program. Expect him to be utilized as a heavier, power back and as a weapon on special teams. His goal is to create mismatches in the slot.

“Cyrus has got power, he’s fast and he’s got really good hands,” Cristobal said. “He’s a very instinctive player and he’s played defense so he is all over the field on special teams.”

Habibi-Likio models him game and looks up to former Oregon running back Legarrette Blount.

Darrian Felix, sophomore: Saw action in nine games last season as a true freshman. He carried the ball 30 times for 182 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and scored once.

The 5-11, 191-pound sophomore is the only running back besides Brooks-James and Griffin with on-field experience. His explosive lateral quickness makes him an intriguing option. Felix has been practicing with a a non-contact red uniform but should be cleared in time for the opener.

LONGSHOTS

Travis Dye, freshman: Enrolled early at Oregon for spring football after rushing for 2,383 yards and 34 touchdowns as a high school senior at Norco High school in California. In the UO spring game, he rushed for 12 yards on five carries.

Dye has four older brothers that have played (or are playing) college football, including star Duck linebacker, Troy.

Dye has recently returned from injury and is full-go, he has seen some practice reps with the No.1 offense.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Noah Dahl, sophomore: A walk-on from Silverton high school in Oregon. He led Silverton to the 5A state title game as a junior while being named to the All-State first team as a defensive back and kicker. As a senior running back he was named to the Class 5A All-State second team and the Mid-Willamette Conference first team.

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

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

Oregon Ducks DC Andy Avalos no longer a candidate to be the Colorado head coach?

Oregon Ducks DC Andy Avalos no longer a candidate to be the Colorado head coach?

Following Mel Tucker leaving Colorado for Michigan State, there was buzz that Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Andy Avalos was a candidate to take over the program in Boulder.

FOX Sports radio host George Wrighster III said "he'd be willing to bet" that Avalos received a call from Colorado gauging his interest, ESPN's Adam Rittenberg named Avalos an "interesting candidate" for Colorado who was focused on defensive coaches and Sportsline opened Avalos as the candidate with the second-best odds at +400. 

[RELATED: Oregon Ducks DC Andy Avalos a candidate for the Colorado Buffaloes job?]

Well, it appears that Duck fans can relax as Colorado will name a head coach "within 36 hours" with former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun as the leading candidates. according to Scott Roussel of Football Scoop.

Additionally, Brian Howell of BuffZone reported a list of candidates that did not include Avalos, either. While not definite it hasn't happened, there have not been any reports of Avalos interviewing for the job so it'd be unlikely he's being seriously considered by Colorado. 

It may only be a matter of time before Avalos becomes a head coach somewhere. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman named Avalos a "name to know once the coaching carousel begins in earnest" back in October and a potential candidate for the Fresno State head coaching job in December. Here's what he wrote last season.

Looking for a fast riser? Here’s your guy. Avalos is the latest Boise State product who has blossomed into a big-time coaching product. He’s proved a great addition for Mario Cristobal. The Ducks are nasty on defense now; they haven’t allowed more than seven points in a game since the opener against Auburn. As with Arroyo and a few others on here, there are potential MWC openings that might interest Avalos, a Southern California native.

The Ducks have already lost one coordinator this offseason after OC Marcus Arroyo left for the head coaching job at UNLV. Cristobal hired former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead as his replacement.

Defensive backs coach Donte' Williams also left Eugene for USC for the same position and to be their passing game coordinator two weeks ago.

Joe Burrow advised to 'pull an Eli Manning', could Justin Herbert go No. 1?

Joe Burrow advised to 'pull an Eli Manning', could Justin Herbert go No. 1?

For years Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has been a highly coveted draft prospect, but can he go first overall?

It's not likely but never say never. 

The heavy favorite to be selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, has recently said he has "leverage" over Cincinnati: “They have their process and I have my process. We haven’t even gotten to the (NFL) combine yet. There’s a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered."

Now, he's receiving advice to force his way away from the Bengals.

At the Davey O'Brien Award event Sunday evening, former No. 1 overall pick Steve Bartkowski said he believes Burrow should "pull an Eli Manning" to avoid being drafted by the Bengals, according to Drew Davison of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram

 If it’s the Bengals, I think I’d pull an Eli Manning on that one. I said, you’ve got a chance to do that. That’s happened. [John] Elway kind of set the tone, then the Mannings delved into it after Eli was picked by San Diego.

The Bengals are considered one of the worst run franchises in the NFL having not won a playoff game since 1990, and Bartkowski doesn't want to see Burrow's career ruined like his was after being selected by another poorly ran franchise at the time: the Atlanta Falcons in 1975.

“I know what it’s like to go to a bottom-feeder team. I’d hate to see that happen to him, to be honest. They beat me up. I spent more time at the hospital recuperating from injuries my first three years than I did throwing touchdowns. It was tough.”

If Burrow would listen to Bartkowski and the Bengals didn't draft Burrow anyways, they may decide to go with Herbert instead. 

To jumpstart the draft process, the Eugene native impressed all week at Senior Bowl practice, including Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.

He’s very talented physically. He’s got prototypical size and athletic ability. He has a really, really strong arm. On top of that, he’s extremely intelligent and he’s very conscientious. He gathers information, he can process it and he can call it. He went under center for the first time, probably, in his career and he answered that bell with flying colors. Every day I continue to be impressed with the things we ask him to do and he answers really well.

Herbert was named the MVP of both the Senior Bowl practices and the Senior Bowl itself after passing for 83 yards on 9-of-13 passing and a touchdown.

However, Ducks fans may be rooting for Herbert to go later in the draft to a team more ready to compete, like the Los Angeles Chargers at sixth overall. 

[RELATED: The L.A. Chargers are moving on from Phillip Rivers.....is it Justin Herbert time?] 

Payton Pritchard named Naismith Men's Player of the Week for the third time this season

Payton Pritchard named Naismith Men's Player of the Week for the third time this season

Payton Pritchard is the best men’s basketball player in America. OK, at least this week. 

The Oregon Ducks star guard was named Naismith Men’s Player of the Week after averaging 20 points, 5.5 rebounds, three assists and two steals as Oregon went 2-0 for the week.

This is his third National Player of the Week nod this season. 

Pritchard helped lead the Ducks to back-to-back wins after consecutive losses to Stanford and Oregon State. Pritchard added a second double-double and another thrilling victory to his resume as the Ducks mounted a second half comeback from 14 points down to top then No. 16 Colorado, 68-60. The victory over the Buffaloes was also his 100th career win in a Ducks uniform

Pritchard had the hot hand again on Sunday, finishing 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-9 from behind the arc for 25 points to help his No. 17 Ducks crush Utah, 80-62. 

“These two games were must-wins for us, obviously, to keep in the hunt for a conference championship,” Pritchard said after Sunday’s win. “We needed to get these and bounce back.”

The win over Utah was also a monumental moment for Pritchard’s career at Oregon. His 25 points gave him 1,810 total points, fifth in school history. He is the only Pac-12 player to have 1800 points, 500 rebounds and 600 assists. 

Oregon remains (20-6, 9-4 Pac-12) a perfect 14-0 at Matthew Knight Arena and is tied with Colorado for top of the Pac-12 standings with five games left in the regular season. The Ducks moved up to No. 14 in this week's AP poll. 

New Oregon Ducks recruiter Cooper Petagna throws shade at Washington

New Oregon Ducks recruiter Cooper Petagna throws shade at Washington

As if the Oregon vs. Washington rivalry wasn’t intense enough, new Oregon football recruiting coach Cooper Petagna added a layer of intrigue.

On Monday, it was announced that head coach Mario Cristobal had hired Petagna away from the Washington Huskiesto join the Oregon recruiting staff.

Later Monday, Petagna changed both his Twitter avatar and header photo. The avatar merely displays the Oregon "O", which is nothing terribly compelling. But, one has to read in-between the lines with the header. A picture is worth a thousands words... 

The photo is of Ducks wide receiver Mycah Pittman running for a touchdown in last season’s game... at Washington.

Coincidence? We think not. 

Undoubtedly, the shade Petanga is throwing is sure to be in good fun. 

Here’s how social media reacted to Petagna’s new profile:

The Ducks will host the Huskies in 2020 on Saturday, October 3 in Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon.

Mario Cristobal adds Cooper Petagna to Oregon football recruiting staff

Mario Cristobal adds Cooper Petagna to Oregon football recruiting staff

Mario Cristobal loves recruiting. Players, coaches, you name it and he's good at it.

With the loss of cornerbacks coach Donte' Williams to USC, one may ponder how this would effect recruiting as Williams was the No. 1 recruiter in the Pac-12 conference. Well, not only did Cristobal go out and hire away Rod Chance from Minnesota, but he also added another weapon in recruiting on Oregon's coaching staff, according to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg:

Petagna comes down five hours south on I-5 highway from the University of Washington, where he served as Director of Player Personnel at UW. He has a taste of west coast football and knows how to recruit which is advantageous for the Ducks after losing Williams to USC, another Pac-12 school.

According to Rittenberg, Petagna has experience recruiting at LSU, Michigan and Alabama, three big power-5 schools with lots of football talent. So if you add Petagna's recruiting skills plus Oregon brand and its national relevance plus the recent success of the program and this seems like a good recipe for the future of the Oregon program.

Oregon Ducks men's basketball moves up in latest AP Poll

Oregon Ducks men's basketball moves up in latest AP Poll

The Oregon Ducks men's basketball team picked up two clutch wins over the weekend to remain at the top in a tight race for the Pac-12 crown.

In the latest AP Poll rankings, Oregon has moved up three spots from No. 17 to No. 14 this week.

It started with a huge comeback victory over then No. 16 Colorado on Thursday night. With Bill Walton, Dave Pasch and guest announcer Mark Jackson calling the game, the Ducks came from behind in a 14-point deficit to defeat the Buffs 68-60 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. 

[RELATED]: Payton Pritchard gets his 100th career win in an Oregon uniform

On Sunday, the Ducks handled the visiting Utah Utes led by the sharp-shooting of sophomore Will Richardson, who finished a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range, and senior Payton Pritchard, who led all Oregon scores with 25 points and sinking five three-pointers in the first half. The Ducks built a 10+ point lead in the first half shooting 66.7% as a team from behind the arc and used the cushion the rest of the way.

Coming up next for Oregon is a road trip this upcoming weekend in the desert followed by three home games against unranked opponents: Oregon State (5-8 in Pac-12); Cal (4-8 Pac-12); and Stanford (5-7 Pac-12).

Oregon's Ruthy Hebard awarded Pac-12 Player of the Week honors

Oregon's Ruthy Hebard awarded Pac-12 Player of the Week honors

The No. 3 Oregon Ducks (24-2, 13-1) are riding a 12-game win streak heading into the final four games of Pac-12 conference play.

After a dominant weekend in Los Angeles, led by two double-double performances from senior forward Ruthy Hebard, the senior received Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.

Over the weekend, Hebard averaged a double-double: 26.0 points and 13.5 rebounds. She was a mismatch down low in both games against UCLA and USC. The Bruins and Trojans had no answer for the 6-foot-4 senior down low. She put up 30 points and pulled down 17 rebounds against then-No. 7 UCLA, a difficult task against one of the better rebounding teams in the conference. 

Hebard is averaging 17.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game this season.

Up next, the Ducks remain on the road, for what seems like an eternity now, for a weekend in the Bay Area starting with unranked Cal (2-12 in Pac-12) on Friday night followed by a top-5 showdown at No. 4 Stanford (12-2 in Pac-12) on Monday night.

In their first meeting, Hebard was limited to 16 points and 6 boards against Cal and 11 points and five rebounds against Stanford. Yes, the Ducks defeated Cal 105-55 and then a 32-point victory over Stanford 87-55, but this time around the Ducks are the visiting team and Hebard will be looking for more of an impact.

Oregon women's basketball receives a first-place vote in latest AP Poll

Oregon women's basketball receives a first-place vote in latest AP Poll

Keep ascending. 

Oregon women's basketball (24-2, 13-1 Pac-12) may not have moved up in the rankings, remaining at No. 3 in the latest AP Poll, but they received a first-place vote for the first time since Week 1, when they were ranked second in the country.

South Carolina (24-1) remained the top-ranked team in the nation with 27 first-place votes and No. 2 Baylor got two first-place votes.

Other ranked Pac-12 teams include No. 4 Stanford (23-3), No. 8 UCLA (21-3), No. 11 Arizona (21-4), No. 15 Oregon State (19-6) and No. 21 Arizona State (18-8).

Let's recap the weekend for the Ducks.

@ then-No. 7 UCLA, WIN 80-66

Seniors Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard got started early and it was enough to hold off a fourth-quarter rally from the Bruins. Ionescu surpassed 1,000 career assists and finished with 18 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Hebard added 30 points and 17 rebounds for her 51st career double-double.

For the second-consecutive game, the Ducks held their opponent to single-digits in the first quarter, only allowing eight UCLA points. 

[RELATED: Instant Analysis: Ionescu, Hebard take over in No. 3 Oregon’s huge win over No. 7 UCLA]

@USC, WIN 93-67

In Minyon Moore's homecoming, she shared the love by dishing out 11 assists, however, USC did not welcome her back with open arms. The graduate transfer, who left USC to play at Oregon with the blessing of her head coach, was called a traitor by the Trojan student section. Ducks coach Kelly Graves was not having it.

As far as the game was concerned, the Ducks took care of business: Ionescu had 12 points and 13 rebounds, Hebard recorded 22 points and 10 rebounds, Satou Sabally ended with 18 points and Erin Boley hit seven three-pointers finishing with 25 points. 

[RELATED: Instant Analysis: ‘Boley Buckets’ heats up in L.A. as No. 3 Oregon cruises past USC]

UP NEXT: The Ducks will travel to the Bay area to play Cal on Friday before playing in Palo Alton against No. 4 Stanford on Monday. 

Oregon Senate passes bill which could soon pay student athletes

Oregon Senate passes bill which could soon pay student athletes

Student-athletes in Oregon are one step closer to being compensated for their name, image and likeness.

Per AJ McCord of KOIN, the Oregon State Senate passed a bill Monday that would give student-athletes the right to be paid, secure representation and receive endorsements. It would also enable them to maintain ownership of their name, image and likeness. 

Similar to legislation passed in California, Senate Bill 1501 is designed to let college athletes profit from their participation in amateur sports. 

The NCAA’s amateurism rules currently prohibit college athletes from entering endorsements from brands like Nike or being paid to host summer camps to teach their sport. Under the current model, players are not allowed to participate in NCAA games if they receive payments.

Under this bill, Oregon softball outfielder Haley Cruse or Ducks football signee Dontae Manning could profit from their success as viral sensations on TikTok. 

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. If approved by the house, Governor Kate Brown will be next to sign off on the legislation.