Change is an inevitability of college football. Players spend four years in a program; sometimes five, and in other instances, just three. Add the game's increasingly high stakes for coaches, and the inevitability of roster turnaround extends to the sidelines and skyboxes.
But even amid the change inherent through the sport's very nature, the 2017 season marks a seismic shift in the football landscape in Eugene, Oregon. Willie Taggart is the Ducks’ new head coach, and the program's first head-coaching hire off the branches of the Rich Brooks tree.
That's a tree that took root deep in the woods four decades ago, and began a line of succession that went from Brooks to his offensive coordinator, Mike Bellotti; Bellotti's offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly, assumed the reins later. Then, in 2013, Kelly turned the program over to his offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich.
A dismal end to the 2015 campaign under Helfrich set the tone for a trying ‘16, prompting Oregon athletic brass to go outside for a new direction. Just two years removed from playing for a national championship, Ducks football seeks an overhaul. That means plenty of newcomers looked upon to establish a new identity, starting with the most prominent of all the Oregon newcomers, Taggart.
Taggart's first National Signing Day produced a top-20 class — and the influx of new talent may not be over. The Ducks have been rumored in the running for transfers Jalen Hurd (running back, Tennessee) and Scott Pagano (defensive tackle, Clemson). In the meantime, the following five should have meaningful impacts for the Ducks in 2017.
Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, CB, True Freshmen
The hallmark of former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's underrated units was an uncanny ability to generate turnovers. The Ducks finished at or near the top of college football in takeaways much of the late 2000s and early 2010s, but last season, ranked near the bottom at No. 118.
A pair of 4-star freshmen out of Southern California could help restore the ball-hawking missing from Oregon's secondary. Graham, out of Rancho Cucamonga, and Lenoir from Los Angeles-based Salesian, are two of the most highly rated newcomers in Taggart's 2017 signing class. 247Sports.com ranks both in the top 100 among all prospects nationwide. The Ducks also have a third 4-star defensive back prospect in Jaylon Redd to add to the intrigue.
Graham could get a leg up on the competition to make-over the defense. He's an early enrollee and will participate in spring practices.
Braxton Burmeister, QB, True Freshman
Oregon relied on quarterback graduate transfers from FCS programs each of the last two seasons. Vernon Adams worked out in 2015; Dakota Prukop's tenure in ‘16 was much rockier, which paved the way for first-year phenom Justin Herbert to standout.
A new coaching staff means Herbert will have to reestablish himself, despite the promise he showed a season ago. He'll get plenty of competition from Burmeister.
A longtime Arizona verbal commit, Burmeister made a 23rd hour reversal to the Ducks. The La Jolla, California, native plays a style similar to that of Quinton Flowers, the All-American Athletic Conference quarterback who flourished under Taggart at South Florida.
Isaac Slade-Matautia, LB, True Freshman
A woeful defense last season (No. 126 in points allowed) needs an overhaul in all phases, including pass rush. Enter Slade-Matautia, a 4-star prospect, touted for his athleticism. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he has the size to enter the rotation right away.
He comes to Oregon from Saint Louis School, the same high school in Hawaii that produced 2014 Heisman Trophy-winning Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota.
George Moore, OL, Junior College Transfer
The glory days of a not-at-all distant past for Oregon football featured some of the best offensive line play in the nation. The front five doesn't have the glaring needs some other Ducks units showed last season, but the more depth a line that ranked No. 82 in sacks allowed a season ago can add, the better.
In Moore, the Oregon line adds a prospect with collegiate experience. He played at College of the Canyons in California last season. At 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, he comes to Eugene with Pac-12 size.