The Oregon Ducks Will Have Questions To Answer In 2021

Well, we can’t really say we didn’t see it coming. The Ducks got their butts handed to them in the New Year Six bowl game against the Iowa State Cyclones and it wasn’t all that surprising to me. The way that the bowl games work are with conference tie-ins and with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Championship, they were granted access to the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. 

But here’s the thing, they should have never been in the Pac-12 Championship and they really weren’t good enough to hang around in the Fiesta Bowl. This season was a massive blemish on the so-called “Conference of Champions” and it is hard to point out a single performance that was overly impressive by any team. If anything, the most news that the conference got was when Arizona State put up 70 points on Arizona, not exactly the type of news day the conference was hoping for. 

When Oregon got matched up with Iowa State, it never really seemed to me that they could beat them. I was shocked by the line that had the Cyclones as four point favorites but I am certainly not shocked that Oregon suffered a 17-point loss. This is a Ducks team that entered the New Year Six Bowl with just a 4-2 record and left it with just one win over .500 on the year. The chances of them knocking off a team that had already played 11 games and had eight wins seemed unlikely and that’s exactly how it played out. 

While we can dwell on the score and the overall loss, I would rather focus on some things that really stood out as concerns for next year. The major one is the quarterback. Tyler Shough needed to rebuild his confidence after a shaky December and what better way to do that then to play in a New Year Six in his hometown where he went to high school before committing to Oregon, right? Wrong. Mario Cristobal benched his starter after he started 3-3 for 41 yards. He subbed in Anthony Brown but then brough Shough back in after 35 minutes of play. It was head-scratching and bizarre and I imagine that Shough suffered embarrassment worse than the kid who dreams he got to school butt-naked. 

“When Anthony [Brown] went in, he was doing well, so we went with him. That was the extent of the decision process,” said Cristobal. “Later in the game, we felt we would get Tyler back in, so he could play some more, and we did at one point in time, I forget exactly when, but that was the quarterback rotation that was decided upon.”

This comes from the guy who is an AP Coach of the Year candidate yet mismanaged his offense so badly that they put up just 17 points. This wasn’t just a blemish on this game but it also makes you wonder what the future of the quarterback looks like next season after it is clear that the head ball coach doesn’t have full confidence in Shough. 

“Knowing that when I’m in the game I’m going to do the best I can to put the team in the best position to win,” Shough said. “It’s not up to me who plays, but I can control what I can control and then work my best. … Whatever it is, I’m going to answer the call. Obviously you can make a lot of excuses; you’re not warm, you haven’t thrown in a while, it’s hard to get in a rhythm. Ultimately at the end of the day, when I’m in the game I’m going to do the best I can to put our team in the best position to win the game. I know what it takes now and it’s only going to keep getting better.”

Oregon will have decisions to make and after embarrassing Shough like this at home, it doesn’t seem like he will be the front-runner for the quarterback competition next season. Freshman Ty Thompson arrived on campus the day after the Fiesta Bowl and he is going to be a name to watch, in addition to three other young quarterbacks that hold promise for the Ducks. 

Thompson and Shough will probably hold the reigns of this competition and Thompson could most definitely win out. He is also from Arizona and received a ton of hype coming out of high school. He received a lot of attention in the Pac-12, getting offers from schools like Arizona State, Arizona, California and of course Oregon, where he ultimately signed. He is a four-star recruit and was the top overall quarterback prospect in Arizona. Rivals called him the second best quarterback in the country and the ninth best player in the nation.

A guy like Thompson is a quarterback who picks a school knowing they will get playing time very quickly and the Ducks should be thrilled to have someone with his skills. It doesn’t seem likely that the Ducks will play around with a guy like him and Shough could very well end up on the bench or even in the transfer portal after spring ball. 

Other than the quarterback battle we are guaranteed to see, Oregon will have some other things to work on and it will have some major gaps to fill. There is a bright side for Oregon and that is that they were one of the youngest teams in the country this season and still played well enough to win four of their six regular season games. This team got experience under their belt and know the next few weeks will be spent evaluating and given these players a break. 

Cristobal mentioned that the players will get to go home for a few weeks after the Fiesta Bowl and when they get back, it’ll be time for Spring Ball and more evaluation. If there is something that this coach does well, it’s recruiting and the offense should be one of the top in the nation in 2021. Cristobal himself is excited about the prospects for this upcoming team. 

“So you’ve got to be excited about the fact that as being the youngest team in the country, we still were able to win the conference and get to a New Year’s Six game.” Cristobal concluded, “But young or not, again, it is still going to be about winning it. So a lot of good lessons learned. A lot to be excited about. And a lot of fuel that we can use in the off-season to get better.”

No one could have imagined the season that 2020 was and it was more on the Pac-12 than any single school for what happened in the conference. Oregon wasn’t perfect this past season, but no one really was. With a lot of things to figure out heading into 2021, it will be interesting to see the direction that this team goes and how Cristobal will approach his own interests as a coach. 

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