If you just survived watching Oregon win 7-6 over Michigan State in one of the worst bowl games ever played and came away believing that this Ducks team is poised to win the 2019 Pac-12 title and advance to the College Football Playoffs then you are either delusional or merely a very hopeful and positive person at heart.
There was nothing about Oregon's performance under coach Mario Cristobal in the Redbox Bowl played at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., that screamed "future champions." The offense, led by a future first-round draft pick at quarterback, was held to 203 total yards. The defensive numbers looked good on paper but only because Michigan State's offense was so hideous that it couldn't help but get in its own way the entire game while gaining 331 yards and winning the first down battle, 19-11.
The idea that Oregon (9-4), despite returning up to 18 starters depending on what wide receiver Dillon Mitchell decides to do, is going to navigate through a much tougher schedule next season to win 10 or 11 regular season games appears to be foolhardy at best.
Many might believe that a middling bowl game is meaningless, but excitement displayed by players with huge smiles on their following their win over Michigan State (7-6) told a different story. The Ducks needed this win for the outgoing seniors that had never played in a bowl win and for the program itself. Not as much because winning means Oregon is on its way, but losing to that MSU team would have left a sour taste in the mouths of those returning. Now, with a bowl win blowing a gust of wind beneath the Ducks' wings, Oregon can proudly glide into the offseason on a high note while they look to fix all the issues this team has that could hold it back next season.
Speaking of next season, people really need to stop talking about the in-coming recruiting class as it pertains to the 2019 season. A bunch of freshmen are not going to lift this team to a conference title. Only a handful will even make a big impact. Most will be redshirt, and that's a good thing. It means that there are enough talented sophomores, juniors and seniors to get the job done. But only if this team fine-tunes some areas.
Today, Oregon rushed for a pathetic 37 yards on 1.4 per carry. Granted, MSU has the top rushing defense in the nation, but the Spartans were allowing 76 per game, not 37.
Maybe the top bugaboo that has cost Oregon in the past on the national stage has been the Ducks' inability to run the ball against elite defenses. None of that has changed under Cristobal, and in fact, things have gotten worse.
Oregon rushed for 75 yards during the 2011 national title game loss to Auburn and 132 in the 2015 national title game loss to Ohio State. Those were bad days for Oregon. Today was a complete disaster. And in last year's Las Vegas Bowl, Cristobal's debut as Oregon's head coach, the Ducks rushed for 47 yards in a 38-28 loss to Boise State.
Today's poor effort rushing the football put Oregon in third-and-long situations all day and the Ducks managed to convert on just 2 of 14 attempts. That's because as talented as junior quarterback Justin Herbert is, he is not capable of carrying this team with this group of receivers. He managed to complete 19 of 33 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown.
The good news is that Herbert did not throw an interception and in the fourth quarter he managed to execute an electric drive right down the field to toss a touchdown pass to Mitchell that ultimately won the game, 7-6.
Heaven forbid that Mitchell heads off to the NFL. That would leave Herbert and Oregon scrambling to find a No. 1 receiver when it's already unsure if it has impact players at No. 2 and No. 3.
Overall, the defense regressed this season against a weak schedule and now loses three impact seniors while facing games away from Autzen Stadium against Auburn, USC, Washington, Stanford and Arizona State.
The best news from today is that Oregon won a bowl game, some seniors went out with their first bowl victory and Cristobal isn't leaving for his alma mater Miami after it hired Manny Diaz shortly after Mark Richt unexpectedly retired.
After the game, Cristobal said that the Ducks are just getting started. That might be true. But if the end goal is to win the Pac-12 and reach the College Football Playoffs then the Ducks have a long road ahead and they'd better get it done in 2019 before Herbert leaves for the NFL because once he turns professional that will open up a whole different set of issues for Oregon to overcome.