Sean Dollars

Mailbag: Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Mailbag: Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Oregon's final non-conference game is this Saturday, which provides the opportunity to learn a lot about the entire Ducks roster. This week's mailbag focuses on true freshmen, season predictions, and injuries to the wide receiver position. 

Which true freshman has been most impressive through two games?

Mase Funa.

The highest ranked linebacker recruit in school history, Funa is already making an impact and providing highlights for Oregon. The Mater Dei High School alum is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS. Funa’s four tackles for loss currently lead the Pac-12 Conference.

He’s comfortable in Andy Avalos’ STUD position because it is a similar position to what he played in high school. Although, Funa played at 245 pounds in high school and is currently at 268 pounds after missing his senior season with an injury. His goal is to get closer to 255 pounds, which the 6-foot-2 freshman feels most natural at.

"He's got a lot pent up now," Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. "He missed his entire senior season due to injury. This is his first action in over a year. It's impressive to see what he's done so far, but again, his best football is ahead of him."

I believe Funa will continue to have success this season in the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position backing up senior Bryson Young.

Who/what are you watching for in another non-conference should-be blowout?

The obvious answer here is backup quarterback Tyler Shough. Non-conference games are a great way to gauge the redshirt freshman’s development and command of the game. In last week’s 77-6 beat down of Nevada, Shough found success and gave fans a little insight into the future as Herbert’s heir. In the most substantial playing time of his career, Shough threw his first college pass and finished 8-of-9 for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

I’m watching to see if he will build off his performance. He made solid decisions and showed his accurate arm. Now, it’s time to see his sneaky fast wheels he’s been working on and if he can top his longest pass of 21 yards. If he gets in the game with starters, what will the chemistry be like?

I’m excited to watch two true freshmen in particular: corner back Mykael Wright and running back Sean Dollars. Both received a lot of praise coming out of fall camp and Saturday is likely their best chance for some serious playing time.

Will the offense evolve when the receiving core is healthy?

Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo laments not attempting more downfield passes to Oregon’s inexperienced receivers in the Ducks’ loss to Auburn.

Of course, hind sight is 20-20. In week two, quarterback Justin Herbert racked up 310 passing yards and five touchdowns. However, the Nevada defense paled in comparison to Auburn’s. This Saturday against Montana, expect the Ducks to go long again.

This time last season, 12 different Ducks had scored touchdowns before Herbert narrowed in on favorite target Dillon Mitchell. 

Elevn Ducks have currently caught a touchdown pass, but don't expect that to be the norm after non-conference play ends. When healthy, senior Brenden Schooler, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson and freshman Mycah Pittman will be excellent targets for Herbert. However, Cristobal is not going to move away from his run-first, win the battle in the trenches, physical offense.

Thoughts on if I will cash in on the Ducks winning the Pac-12 and winning over 8.5 games?

The latest odds are in your favor.

Oregon’s current win-loss total projection is 9.9 wins. Oregon opened 2019 with a 35.2 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 North and conference title, according to ESPN’s football power index. Following week two, Oregon's likelihood to win the division and the title have surged to 52.4 percent. Utah is second with a 19.7 percent projection to win the conference championship game.

We are entering week three so a lot can change but I predict Oregon will win 10 games and play for the conference championship. If I were you, the sneaky game I would be concerned about is vs. Washington State. I'm impressed with what Anthony Gordon has done in two games leading the Cougar offense. He’s another perfect fit for Mike Leach’s offense.

 

Oregon football predictions: Ducks beat Auburn, Dye smashes record, McCormick back with vengeance

Oregon football predictions: Ducks beat Auburn, Dye smashes record, McCormick back with vengeance

Optimism is high for Oregon football’s 2019 season. 

The anticipation is palpable. The Ducks are trying to make the most of Heisman hopeful quarterback Justin Herbert’s senior year and Cristobal’s second season at the top. UO returns a combined 17 positional starters; a veteran offensive line, running back weapons CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, an influx of new talent at receiver, projected first round draft pick linebacker Troy Dye and a few extraordinary freshman who could make instant impacts.

Before the action begins, here are six predictions for Oregon's season. Let me know if you agree or disagree on Twitter

1. Underdog Ducks will beat Auburn

Oregon football grasps the chance to upset Auburn in prime time and become the Pac-12’s best chance for a spot in the playoff. It’s hard to count out a determined Gus Malzahn, who has been featured on every ‘hot seat’ list in the country, and a resilient Auburn team, but the Ducks have the star power, size and experience to beat the Tigers.

2. Troy Dye, projected first round 2020 NFL draft pick, will smash Oregon record

Dye’s reign of terror on Pac-12 offenses will continue and the senior will take down the Oregon record for career tackles, set in 1971. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Dye will undoubtedly be the leader of Oregon’s 2019 defense and he’s already etched his name in UO history books: leading the team in tackles for three straight seasons, only the third Duck to do so since 1970.

The “freak athlete” as NFL scouting reports often refer to Dye, finished the 2018 season with 115 total tackles totaling 313 in his collegiate career. He needs 121 tackles, six more than he had last season, to set the record.

3. Justin "Record Breaker" Herbert; will set new record for career pass completions

Herbert’s teammates gush that he has never been better. His leadership skills have grown immensely, altering the perception of his shy personality. He is receiving instruction from legends at his position. He is utilizing the summer break to better connect with his receivers. Long story short, Herbert is putting it all together for an epic senior season that I predict will be record shattering.

The senior will break Oregon’s record for career pass completions, set by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota with 779 completions.

4. Cam McCormick back with a vengeance

The Ducks have six options at tight end but I predict you will be hearing Cam McCormick’s name ringing through Autzen Stadium a lot this season.

McCormick won the starting spot last year but suffered a season-ending left leg injury in the first game of the season. The Bend, Oregon. native is back in action and poised to have a breakout junior season. He returned for Oregon’s spring football and practiced with the first team. 

Expect the 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass catcher to be a big (literally) weapon for Herbert. As the Ducks’ largest tight end, McCormick has NFL size and tools to make an impact this season.

5. "Dangerous" running back Sean Dollars to have a money freshman season

Hype surrounds the star-powered 2019 class looking to make an instant impact, including Sean Dollars, who has all the tools to have a stand out freshman season and develop into a starting running back before his time is up at Oregon. He’s also caught the eye of former Duck running back star and Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James who believes Dollars is already “college ready.” Should Dollars enter Oregon’s fall camp in peak physical and mental shape, he could be an elite addition to the backfield. 

6. True freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux poised to lead Oregon football in sacks

Cristobal named Kayvon Thibodeaux a “game changer” from the moment he committed to the Ducks. Undoubtedly, ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class is competing for a starting job and I predict the defensive end will lead UO in sacks this season. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with explosiveness, scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.

Do you have any predictions of your own?

"One-two punch" running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye named to Doak Walker Award list

"One-two punch" running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye named to Doak Walker Award list

2018 saw the emergence of Ducks duo CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who will be excellent for years to come. Now the self-proclaimed "one-two punch" have been named to the Doak Walker Award watch list. 

[RELATED: LaMichael James' take on Oregon running back Sean Dollars: Dangerous]

From the Oregon Athletic Department:

One of just two returning Power 5 running back duos in the country that rushed for more than 700 yards each in 2018, Oregon sophomores Travis Dye and CJ Verdell were named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List on Wednesday.

Oregon is one of eight teams with multiple players on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top college running back.

Verdell is coming off a redshirt freshman season in which he was the only player in the nation with 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving. He was one of eight FBS freshmen with 1,000 yards on the ground and just the third freshman in Oregon history to accomplish the feat. Verdell finished seventh in the Pac-12 in both rushing yards (1,018) and rushing TDs (10).

An early enrollee in the 2018 signing class, Dye made an immediate impact in his first season with 739 yards and four touchdowns. All three of Dye’s 100-yard games came in Pac-12 play, as he finished 11th in the league in rushing. 

In Oregon’s regular season finale win at Oregon State, the duo combined for 386 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while Dye set the program single-game freshman record with 199 yards on 33 carries. Verdell scored five TDs in his 187-yard performance, becoming the first FBS player since 2016 with four rushing TDs and a receiving TD in the same game.

[RELATED: Preseason award watch lists rolling in for Justin Herbert]

LaMichael James' take on Oregon's Sean Dollars: Dangerous

LaMichael James' take on Oregon's Sean Dollars: Dangerous

The best recruiting class in Oregon football history is in Eugene and preparing for their first collegiate season. Hype surrounds the star-powered 2019 class looking to make an instant impact, including Sean Dollars, who has all the tools to have a stand out freshman season and develop into a starting running back before his time is up at Oregon.

He’s also caught the eye of former Duck running back star and Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James who believes Dollars is already “college ready.”

“I think he will be a special player once he gets his opportunity,” James said. “He’s the highest rated running back to come to Oregon since Jonathan Stewart. You pair that with the best offensive line Oregon probably has ever had and it could be a dangerous combo.”

Dollars is the highest rated running back on Oregon’s 2019 roster and the nation’s No.1 all-purpose back, per 247sports. He is one of three Mater Dei High School players to sign with Oregon in the 2019 class. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound special talent is praised for his versatility to be a workhorse, every-down type of back that can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

"Can do it all,” Coach Mario Cristobal said. “Line him up in the slot, line him up in the backfield, empty, wildcat — you name it, he can do it. Excellent as a kick returner, also."

But exactly how can the Ducks’ utilize Dollars and where does he fit on the depth chart?

2018 saw the emergence of Ducks duo CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who will be excellent for years to come. Cyrus Habibi-Likio is poising himself for a breakout season and Darrian Felix had a strong spring showing before being sidelined by illness.

[READ:Underdog Ducks will beat Auburn: Oregon football prediction]

That’s enviable veteran experience, which creates a good problem for UO offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and running back coach Jim Mastro.

Should Dollars enter Oregon’s fall camp in peak physical and mental shape, he could be an elite addition to the backfield. James compared the potential blend of speed and power of the 2019 UO backfield to when he was a Duck (2009-11).

“Verdell is a downhill runner; north and south with force… I love how he runs,” James said.  “Dye is a slasher and a smooth transition from Verdell. Then you have Dollars who can be used in unique ways. (It reminds me of) me, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Josh Huff, who were all pretty exchangeable in backfield.”

Undoubtedly, Dollars’ elusiveness and versatility will make him a special player at Oregon. In the right role, Dollars’ could climb the depth chart and start his Duck career right away with a money freshman season.

Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Beyond the rankings; Oregon football fills needs with historical 2019 recruiting class

Oregon’s 2019 highest-rated recruiting class didn’t just make history; it filled position needs with top talent that could make an impact as early as next season.

The Ducks' recruiting class is ranked fifth in the country and for the first time ever, holds a firm grip on the Pac-12 Conference's top football recruiting class. As Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said, it’s an “awesome day to be a Duck.”

You knew that though.

[RELATED: Oregon football's best recruiting weapon: Mario Cristobal's authenticity]

It’s incredible that Oregon collected a pool of talent of 22 new Ducks, including the program's highest-rated recruit in program history and 11 four-star athletes, after a predictable 8-4 season. Cristobal expects 12 or 13 to enroll early and be on campus for spring football practices. Most impressively, the 2019 class is full of athletes that are seriously needed when looking at the roster for next season.

NEEDS

Let’s start with the quarterback.

Justin Herbert’s decision to turn professional or not most likely won’t be known until after Oregon’s bowl game. Regardless if Herbert stays for his senior season or not, the Ducks needed to secure a quality 2019 quarterback and Cale Millen was the their answer.

6-foot-4, 200-pound Millen competed in the Elite-11, a quarterback-focused camp held by Nike, and led the state of Washington with 4,260 total yards as a senior. His size and arm should excite Duck fans. He completed 75.9 percent of his passes for 3,807 yards with 51 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a senior. 

Oregon’s current backup quarterbacks were underwhelming this season. If Herbert forgoes his senior year, then Millen would be part of a three-player position battle starting next fall with Tyler Shough and Braxton Burmeister.

Should Herbert return for his senior year, Millen would be a lock to redshirt in 2019 and then compete to be Oregon’s starting quarterback in 2020.

“I felt that I was needed more at Oregon rather than just kind of being another guy filling a spot,” Millen told the Register Guard. "At other schools it was kind of, ‘Oh, we need a quarterback for the class, let’s take him.’ At Oregon, I felt like it wasn’t just filling a position. It was, ‘We need you here.’"

Receivers

2018 was the Dillon Mitchell show, and the junior wide receiver is considering striking while the iron is hot and declaring for the NFL. Should he choose to declare, Oregon's receiving corps would severely miss Mitchell. UO's second returning receiver, sophomore Jaylon Redd, has less than half of Mitchell's receptions and yards with 368 yards on 31 catches. 

The Ducks needed talented pass catchers in the 2019 class and they signed four, four-star receivers and one underrated three-star athlete. There are at least two commits that could conceivably make an impact as soon as next season. 

Four-star wide receiver Mycah Pittman is the third-highest rated wide receiver to ever sign with the Ducks. 5-foot-11, 200-pound Pittman is the type of talent that could step in from the start. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation. He also could make an impact on special teams. Cristobal called him, "an explosive and strong route runner.”

The lone in-state prospect, four-star tight end Patrick Herbert, also could contribute right away. He is the fourth highest-ranked tight end prospect to ever sign with Oregon and the little brother of quarterback Justin Herbert. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic.

Running back

Speaking of offensive weapons, 2018 saw the emergence of Ducks duo CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who will be excellent for years to come. But beyond those two freshmen, Oregon’s depth is very limited at the running back position.

Enter Sean Dollars. “You name it, he can do it,” Cristobal said.

Dollars, 247Sports’ top ranked all-purpose running back, has an opportunity to make an instant impact. The four-star out of Mater Dei High School is a workhorse, every-down type of back that can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Look for Dollars to enter the rotation as a freshman.

Linemen

“We’re going to keep investing in the trenches,” said Cristobal. And he wasn’t kidding.

The Ducks are set to return all five starters from this year's offensive line for next season, but bolstered their roster with the nation's best junior college offensive lineman, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. He's the fifth-highest rated offensive lineman to ever sign with Oregon. At 6-foot-7, 345 pounds, Aumavae-Laulu will push competition for a starting position, and at the very least, see minutes in rotation. 

Oregon’s pass rush will lose two leaders in Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks to graduation. But no fear, Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top-rated high school player in the country is here! Thibodeaux will compete for a starting job from day one and should be an immediate impact player. Oregon recruited him to play defensive end. Listed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.

Inside Linebacker

At inside linebacker, Oregon loses senior Kaulana Apelu and possibly junior Troy Dye, if he elects to go to the NFL. The Ducks signed a four-star linebacker that could jump in right away at the rather thin position. 

Mase Funa is the highest-rated linebacker to sign with the Ducks in program history. Cristobal referred to Funa as "hands down the best linebacker out there." Funa’s strength and great instincts could make an impact right away for the Ducks.

Kicker

Oregon did not have a reliable option when it came to field goals last season. Sophomore Adam Stack struggled, finishing 6-of-10 from 40 yards-or-more this season.

Oregon’s first national letter of intent came from three-star place kicker Camden Lewis. Lewis has elite leg strength and performs under pressure. Scouting reports say Lewis is college ready. Cristobal says he will “elevate competition” at kicker. It’s extremely possible that Lewis is Oregon’s answer to its field goal problem. 

AREA OF CONCERN

Safety 

Oregon will need to replace major playmaker senior Ugo Amadi at safety in 2019. Who will step up? This has yet to be determined, but the Ducks signed only one safety during the early signing period. Oregon wanted to sign three prospects but whiffed on Jeremiah Criddell, who switched his commitment from Oregon to Oklahoma, and junior college safety Quandre Mosely, who was considering Oregon, but later signed with Kentucky. 

Between now and February’s Signing Day, Oregon will have to re-evaluate their options at safety for the 2019 class.

BONUS!

Cornerback

Oregon’s Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham were impressive in 2018. The duo returns and will be pushed by the highest-rated cornerback to sign with Oregon in history, Mykael Wright. Wright is extremely physical and excels in open field tackling. Look for the four star to make an impact in the rotation as a freshman.

Which new Duck do you think will make the biggest impact for Oregon next season?