Despite a lackluster 2020 season impacted by COVID-19 protocols and opt-outs, Ducks fans are as excited as ever for the upcoming college football season, and for good reason.
The two-time defending Pac-12 Champion Oregon Ducks are ranked as the fifth-best team in the country according to ESPN's SP+ rankings produced by staff writer Bill Connelly.
The projections take into account returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history "weighted by their predictiveness" with returning production making up more than two-thirds of the formula.
Oregon nationally trailed just Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State. All of these teams but Oklahoma signed a higher ranked recruiting class than Oregon in 2021.
The next highest Pac-12 teams were Washington (11), USC (17), Arizona State (18) and Utah (19).
These are the initial rankings and will be updated in August but as of now, Oregon appears primed to three-peat as conference champions.
Given how heavily weighted returning production is, it's no shock Oregon would rank near the top of the country. Many players from both of those teams will start again this upcoming season including both leading pass catchers Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd, along with leading rusher CJ Verdell. Travis Dye, who had a career season in the air as a part of Joe Moorhead's offense, will also return. These skill position players and all key impact defenders from 2020 besides Deommodore Lenoir returning help the Ducks rank No. 9 nationally in returning production.
Then, Mario Cristobal's unprecendented success on the recruiting trail will also boost Oregon up these rankings after signing the Pac-12's best class three years running including the nation's No. 6 class by composite score in 2021.
Broken down by sides of the football, Oregon ranks No. 8 nationally in offense and No. 8 nationally in defense based on the SP+ projections.
"Ranking them fifth feels rather aggressive," wrote Connelly. "But they'll have every chance to back this rating up when they head to Columbus to face No. 4 Ohio State on Sept. 11."
Meanwhile, Mark Schlabach ranks the Ducks at No. 13 nationally in his Way-Too-Early 2021 Top 25 for ESPN.