The season opener between No. 11 Oregon and No. 16 Auburn is beginning to look like the plot of a Disney movie. Two ranked opponents in the national spotlight, led by hometown quarterbacks who have been preparing their entire football career for a moment like this.
Oregon senior quarterback Justin Herbert and Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix have the opportunity to write the introduction to the 2019 football season. August 31st is the beginning of Herbert’s swan song and the start of Nix’s legacy.
A win for the Ducks would mark their first over a ranked team in a season opener since Wisconsin in 2001 and arguably Herbert’s most substantial victory in his career as a Duck.
[The plot thickens with Herbert and Nix’s family histories in part one]
[Part two: Coach’s kids groomed for starting roles at childhood dream schools]
While Herbert and Nix have strangely Disney-esque comparable pasts, this is where the story narrative differs.
A projected top 2019 NFL Draft selection, Herbert passed on millions from for one more season in an Oregon uniform with an opportunity to bestow a lasting legacy.
The sand is in the hourglass is running low for Herbert and the Ducks… If not now, when?
Nix’s hourglass hasn’t been flipped yet. He’s already making history.
Nix will become the first ever true freshman quarterback to start for the Tigers during week one of the modern era. The starter is expected to split some time with backup redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood. However, this is Nix’s chance to make this team and this season his own. Nix’s performance and the game outcome explicitly also effects Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who has been featured on just about every ‘hot seat’ list in the country.
Nix holds the opportunity to start the ‘Bo Nix era’ at Auburn with a bang in front of the entire nation. His career will undoubtedly contain natural comparisons to his father, Patrick Nix who played quarterback for Auburn from 1992-95, while he attempts to get into the conversation with Tiger quarterback greats like Cam Newton (2010), Pat Sullivan (1969-71) and Jason Campbell (2001-04). The window to Nix’s college football career is just opening and his potential legacy is endless.
For Herbert, limited opportunities in an Oregon uniform remain. Time is of the essence for the senior.
The 6-foot-6, 237-pound quarterback with the powerful right arm and sneaky-fast wheels couldn’t leave the Oregon football program with unmet goals. His hunger to come back for another year was partly fueled by his desire to win big for the team he grew up cheering for.
“I don’t think we ended the year last year like I wanted to, we kind of fell off,” Herbert said in an interview with Talkin’ Ducks host Jordan Kent. “At times we were playing really good football and I know we were better than our record says. Coming back, I wanted to finish better.”
His rare talent emerged in his tremendous junior season, where he threw for 3,151 yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. However, the Ducks fell short of a Pac-12 title and barely squeaked by Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl to get their first bowl game win since 2014. Herbert entered last season as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate and ended the season cut from All-Pac-12 teams… Hardly the “mic-drop” accomplishments that Herbert envisioned as a young athlete growing up a Ducks fan.
During his Oregon career, Herbert has overcome a broken collarbone that sidelined him for five games during his sophomore season and unprecedented coaching turnover. The Eugene-Native is the only quarterback in UO history that has played for three different head coaches in three seasons. In his 28 career starts, the Ducks win/loss record is an unimpressive 17-11, which doesn’t match the impressive natural football ability that compels NFL scouts to keep an analyzing eye on Herbert.
In the Herbert era, year-over-year the Ducks have shown progress; winning four games in 2016, seven games in 2017 and nine games in 2018. With Herbert at the helm, Oregon is averaging 38.3 points per game and has big wins over then-ranked No. 11 Utah in 2016, an overtime upset over rival Washington in 2018 and a victory against MSU in the Redbox Bowl.
The improving momentum is apparent and while those wins were significant, they were not legendary. Herbert’s resume is lacking championship recognition needed to be remembered alongside Duck quarterback greats like Marcus Mariota, Joey Harrington, Dan Fouts, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, etc.
Entering his fourth season, and second under coach Mario Cristobal, much of Herbert’s legacy is yet to be determined.
The expectations are high. Herbert, who is on most short lists for this season’s Heisman Trophy, was named first-team quarterback in landslide fashion at Pac-12 Media Day. The senior received a first-team nod on 31 of 33 media members ballots.
His teammates gush that Herbert has never been better.
“He can make any throw in the world. I swear, I’ve seen him make every throw and it pisses me off every day,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “It’s super cool to have a quarterback like that because he’s a great leader, a great person and a great friend.”
Herbert enters his final season as a Duck with a streak of 28 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest in the nation. His veteran offensive line is projected to be the best in the country and he utilized the summer break to better connect with his receivers. His leadership skills have grown immensely, altering the perception of his shy personality. He is receiving instruction from legends at his position.
Long story short, Herbert is putting it all together for an epic senior season that could be record shattering.
“He’s exactly what you want on your football team,” Cristobal said. “He acts like he’s a freshman that just got here and is trying to prove something. He lives each day as if he’s the guy who’s trying to prove that he belongs here. When your best players are doing that, you’ve got a chance to be a good football team."
The Ducks are projected Pac-12 North Division champions. Oregon will have to overcome road battles at Washington, Stanford and USC to get to play for the conference title. If UO emerges atop the Pac-12 with double digit wins including a marquee victory over an SEC team, playoff discussions ensue.
As the Pac-12 Conference’s best shot at the college football playoff, Herbert has the chance to validate his stamp of greatness and accomplish the goals he returned for in his final Oregon football season. It begins Saturday, when the Ducks have a shot at upsetting the Tigers on a national stage behind Herbert’s right arm.
Beating one of the best defensive lines in the country in a rematch of the 2011 BCS National Championship game in prime time… To me, that sounds like a perfectly defining game to add to Herbert’s resume. Get the popcorn ready.