Back-to-back Pac-12 championships are nothing to scoff at, but both the circumstances of a weird 2020 title and the stated goals various Ducks offered up following the 2019 championship suggest Oregon football is out for more.
The Ducks underwent significant changes in 2020, Mario Cristobal's third full season at the helm. Despite losing four-year starting quarterback Justin Herbert, defensive heart Troy Dye, and the opting out of likely first-round draft pick and offensive tackle Penei Sewell, as well as integrating a new offensive coordinator, the pieces of a championship-contending program were evident.
In 2021, Oregon will be more experienced in key areas and even more talented up and down the depth chart. The coming campaign could be the Ducks' opportunity to return to the College Football Playoff.
1. Stars aligned
Development of prospects is crucial for any team's success, but it comes with limitations. Reaching the highest standard of success also requires premier talent, which Oregon has amassed throughout Cristobal's time in the program.
Now routinely setting the pace in Pac-12 recruiting, and ranking among national title contenders, Oregon features an elite collection of blue-chip recruits now poised to shine at the college level. Some of the Ducks' most highly rated prospects of the Cristobal era are also now veterans: playmakers like defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.
With the combination of star power and development, the Ducks are well-positioned for a monster 2021.
2. DeRuyter and the defensive Ducks
Former Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos was good enough in that role to earn an opportunity as head coach at Boise State. Finding a worthy replacement was a tall order, but the hire of Tim DeRuyter could prove to be a home run.
After a stint as head coach at Fresno State, DeRuyter was central to Cal's complete defensive overhaul under head coach Justin Wilcox. The Golden Bears finished in the top 50 for scoring defense each of the past three seasons, and top 40 against the run in 2018 and '19. Linebacker Evan Weaver's potential was maximized under DeRuyter, and Oregon should expect the same of hyper-talented Noah Sewell.
An aggressive approach like DeRuyter's has a high ceiling with as many difference-makers as the Ducks have on that side of the ball.
3. More of Moorhead
Replacing Justin Herbert at quarterback proved to be a cumbersome task indeed, a process that most recently saw Tyler Shough enter the transfer portal. While that position remains a question mark, an additional year of familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's scheme should produce significant results for the Ducks.
Moorhead came to Oregon after tenures at Fordham and Penn State, where his schematics helped two of the best college running backs of the 2010s flourish (Chase Edmonds and Saquon Barkley), and following his two-year stint as Mississippi State's head coach. With CJ Verdell and Travis Dye returning, Oregon has two worthy options to take up the run game.
The Ducks also will reload with an offensive line that was young in the shortened 2020 campaign but gained worthwhile experience. Offensive line also is one of the areas in which the Ducks coaching staff has recruited especially well. As for the quarterback situation, spring ball and the summer preseason will produce a new signal-caller. Moorhead's system has shown capable of playing to a quarterback's strengths, as demonstrated with Anthony Brown's play in December's Pac-12 Championship Game.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.