When Justin Herbert announced that he would indeed return for his senior season in 2019, he might have changed the course of Duck football history for this season and even with years to come.
“It’s a really special group of guys. All of them are really great to be around and are great teammates,” Herbert said of what led to his decision to come back. “I think the coaching staff and the staff members we have here are really special and it was something I wanted to be around for another year.”
Having one of the best signal callers on the field behind the best offensive line in the country, coupled with one of the best defenses in the country, makes Oregon a favorite to not only win the Pac-12 (although the media covers the conference thinks otherwise), but the Ducks have a chance to win their first national title in history.
That decision also propelled Mario Cristobal and his fellow coaches to have an historic recruiting class that was considered by many to be the program’s best ever.
It was a decision that even the great Marcus Mariota didn’t make. After he left, the program plummeted, resulting in two coaching changes and upheaval. At the time, it was the best decision for Mariota as he just won the Heisman and was the No. 1 pick in the draft, but Oregon wasn’t fully prepared for life-after-Marcus, which none of that was the Great One’s fault.
Now the Ducks are set to contend for years to come, even after Herbert leaves for the NFL.
The senior quarterback from Eugene is considered to be a high first round pick in 2020. The scouts love his physical attributes at 6-6, 238 pounds with a cannon for an arm, and an accurate one at that. For his career, Herbert has completed 63 percent of his passes. Herbert has a chance to become the Ducks’ all-time leader in passing yards and just the second Oregon quarterback to throw for over 10,000 yards.
Entering fourth and final season, Herbert has 7,070 yards, good for sixth on the all-time Oregon charts. If he has a season we all expect him to have, he could pass Mariota’s 10,786 yards, a mark he set in just three seasons.
“His next step is to take control of the entire offense,” Cristobal said. “The great quarterbacks understand A to Z with their eyes closed and on the back of their hands. The protections make a huge difference.”
Herbert is already third in passing touchdowns with 63 and could move past Darron Thomas’ 66 scores in the first game against Auburn if all goes well in Dallas Aug. 31.
Oregon hopes this never occurs because it would drastically change the course of the season, but if something happens to Herbert and he can’t take the field, they do have a capable back-up in Tyler Shough.
To say the season’s hope and dreams would change with Shough isn’t a knock on the redshirt freshman. At 6-5 and 219 pounds, Shough might be able to fill Herbert’s shoes quite literally, but no one can expect the same results from a redshirt freshman as with a four-year starter.
Hopefully Shough can get some game experience without Herbert going down to injury. There are games on the schedule where Oregon should dominate and give the Chandler, Ariz. native that experience in low-stress situations.
Oregon fans will like what they see when Shough does take the field. He was the No. 1 prospect coming out of Arizona and one of the top prep quarterback in the country. He threw for over 5,000 yards and 57 touchdowns as a junior and senior. Basically, he’s Herbert 2.0 and will stand a great chance to be the starter in 2020 with two seasons learning under one of Oregon’s best.
Also on the roster and not to be forgotten is redshirt freshman Bradley Yaffe and true freshman Cale Millen. Both are 6-3 and around the 215-pound mark. Both are expected to run scout teams this year.
Millen, the son of former Washington quarterback Hugh Millen, has a chance to compete for the starting job next season as a redshirt freshman. Cale Millen was the No. 2 rated player to come out of Washington last season and turned down both the Huskies and Cougars in order to come to Eugene.
But he was recruited for his arm, not because of his genes. Millen finished his prep career with 104 touchdown passes and only 19 interceptions with a 69.7 completion percentage for 8,288 yards. In just his senior season alone, he threw 51 touchdown passes, only seven interceptions, completing 75.9 percent of his passes (300-for-395) for 3,807 yards.
~ Don Smalley