No. 15 Oregon

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I know I know. Nothing as it relates to Oregon, unless smoked or baked in brownies, should get this high. This precious space should not be a half-way house for lost Nike soles. The only thing missing here is a link to Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were.”

What a chump I am for the Pac 12, Chip Kelly and all those misty-green colored memories.

But while O’Neil may be a playwright to you, to me he’ll always be the Danny who led Oregon to the Rose Bowl.

Now the reality check: Oregon went 4-8 last year.

It wasn’t “Duck Soup” by the Marx Brothers, it was “Horse Feathers,” or something else a horse does.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The Web-footers have waddled out a lot of bad defenses over the years, even in good seasons, but 2016 was THE worst. The team’s national rankings numbers look like top-end blood pressure readings: 126, 121, 113, 126.

Those numbers actually represent Oregon’s national ranking for points-per-game allowed (41.4), rushing yards (246.5), passing yards (271.9) and total yards (518.4).

Atrocious, yet balanced!

Oregon’s defense can only be thankful Cal also played defense in the Pac 12.

So…what is there to get excited about?

Rankman says…plenty.

This program is set up for a bounce back.

Oregon was teacup fragile last year, precariously close to having a good team until a ghastly three-point loss at Nebraska. That was the game coach Mark Helfrich lost the ship when he kept going for two points after touchdowns instead of taking the free extra points that would have won him the game.

Instead of coming home 3-0, the Ducks were 2-1. A last minute-loss to Colorado the next week started a tailspin that led to Helfrich’s firing.

But these Ducks don’t have to be those Ducks.

The hiring of Willie Taggart, from South Florida, was a good first move. He’ll provide the Ducks the discipline and toughness the program has long lacked.

He proved he meant business with off-season workouts that, most would say, would have chased off Rambo. He proved it by booting Darren Carrington, the team’s best receiver, off the team for a DUI. Carrington has moved on to Utah, which seems to think the player has had a character transplant.

Oregon was also smart for finally going outside the family for a football coach. Taggart is a proven turn-around coach at Western Kentucky and South Florida who will add only muscle to the team’s hybrid spread offense.

Taggart’s biggest move, though, by a Crater Lake, was stealing defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt away from Colorado. There was no bigger off-season transaction in college football.

Colorado loses eight starters off the defense that helped the Buffs win the Pac 12 South last year. But the biggest loss, a person close to the program told me recently, was Leavitt.

We can give you $1 million reasons why he left.

Any semblance of credible defense will make Oregon viable again. The addition of Clemson transfer, nose tackle Scott Pagano, should provide immediate help. There remains plenty of firepower on offense that spun out a bit last year despite averaging 35 points per game. The optimism starts with the return of quarterback Justin Herbert, a sophomore who has a chance to be special. Also expect a huge bounce-back year from tailback Royce Freeman, who wisely opted to delay his entry to the NFL.

I would normally encourage players to take real money when they can, but Freeman has much to prove after an off-season in 2016. He just didn’t look right after leaving the Nebraska game with an injury and a solid senior year should improve his NFL standing.

Before last year, though, I had no problem thinking Freeman was the Northwest’s version of Leonard Fournette.

Oregon gets a chance to home-and-home schedule avenge Nebraska on Sept. 9, the first key game in the early Taggert era. A win there could propel Oregon to a 5-0 start before a sticky stretch of Washington State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington.

Missing USC means a decent shot eight or nine wins. Oregon may not get all the way back this year, but Taggart is recruiting his tail off and taking names and numbers.

Taggart’s track record is as good as Oregon’s track team.[/membership]

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