The Oregon Ducks are in a somewhat surprising time of transition heading into the 2017 football season.
Three seasons removed from playing in the first College Football Playoff championship game, the Ducks are coming off a 4-8 year which led to the end of the short Mark Helfrich era in Eugene, Ore. Enter Willie Taggart, who was hired after four seasons at South Florida. The Ducks hired Mario Cristobal and Marcus Arroyo as co-offensive coordinators and Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator. It's been a rough transition off the field this offseason, so the Ducks should welcome a new season on the field.
The Ducks are not ranked in Sporting News' Way-Too-Early Top 25, and that's the challenge for Taggart. Here's a preview of Oregon's 2017 schedule, roster and biggest questions entering the season.
When is Oregon's spring game?
Oregon's spring game is a 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT) on Saturday, April 29, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
2017 Oregon football schedule
Sept. 2: vs. Southern Utah
Sept. 9: vs. Nebraska
Sept. 16: at Wyoming
Sept. 23: at Arizona State
Sept. 30: vs. California
Oct. 7: vs. Washington State
Oct. 14: at Stanford
Oct. 21: at UCLA
Oct. 28: vs. Utah
Nov. 4: at Washington
Nov. 11: BYE
Nov. 18: vs. Arizona
Nov. 24: vs. Oregon State (Friday)
Dec. 1 or Dec. 2: Pac-12 championship game
2017 Oregon recruiting class
Oregon did not have a composite Top 15 recruiting class according to four major recruiting sites. According to 247Sports.com, the Ducks' class ranked No. 19. The strength is three four-star cornerbacks in Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham and Jaylon Redd.
2017 Oregon roster
Oregon's roster will be updated in the spring and fall here.
Three things to watch
1. What's the new culture like?
Oregon thrived for years as the "cool" program in college football, but it's been a turbulent offseason. Strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde was suspended for a month after three players were hospitalized during winter workouts. Co-offensive coordinator David Reaves was fired after a DUI arrest in January, and receivers coach Jimmy Dougherty bolted for UCLA. Taggart, who engineered turnarounds at Western Kentucky and South Florida, faces a different challenge at Oregon. He'll be expected to compete with Washington and Stanford for a Pac-12 North championship this year.
2. How will the offense look?
The good news for Taggart is the offense can rely on Justin Herbert – who progressed at quarterback last season – the highlight a 489-yard, four-TD performance against Arizona State, and veteran running back Royce Freeman, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored nine TDs. The Ducks averaged 35.4 points per game in 2016, the first time under 40 this decade. South Florida, meanwhile, averaged 43.8 points per game. Taggart will put his own personal touch on the offense, and it should work.
3. Can they fix the run defense?
Leavitt is an experienced defensive mind and another former South Florida coach who inherits a defense that ranked 126th in the FBS at 41.4 points per game. The emphasis on secondary in the latest recruiting class is a plus, but this unit needs to do a better job against the run after allowing 247 rushing yards per game. Oregon allowed 378 rushing yards in the loss to Washington and 316 yards in the loss to Oregon State. That can't happen again.