What needs to happen for Ohio State to win national title

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With the regular season rapidly approaching and Spring games over, the debate shifts towards next year’s performance.

Ohio State is in everyone’s thoughts as a potential contender for the national title, and here’s what needs to happen for them to achieve it.

Last Season 

The Buckeyes finished out last season with an 11-2 record losing to the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 31-0 loss was rather embarrassing, but OSU showed the country that they can still play at a high level.

They had impressive wins over Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, as well as a narrow loss at Penn State.

OSU history 

Urban Meyer has brought his team to impressive heights. He went undefeated in 2012 and 2013, as well as only losing a single game in the three seasons after.

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The Buckeyes lost 12 players to the NFL Draft, but they didn’t miss a stride in recruiting new talent. Photo via Ohio State’s official athletic website

Meyer combines consistent recruiting with dedicated coaching, and the results are apparent. The Buckeyes went 11-1 last regular season even after losing 12 players to the NFL draft.

The recruiting slate—defense 

The Buckeyes were able to recruit the second best recruiting class in the nation. What this means is that they nabbed five five-star recruits and fourteen four-star recruits.

The Buckeyes lost Marshon Lattimore to the Saints, Malik Hooker to the Colts, Gareon Conley to the Raiders, and Raekwon McMillan to the Dolphins. Hefty losses, but Meyer didn’t lose sleep over finding replacements.

First among the recruits are two cornerbacks—Jeffrey Okudah, No. 1 cornerback in the nation, and Shaun Wade, the second highest ranked corner in the country.

They also recruited Amir Riep, Marcus Williamson, and Kendall Sheffield, all three four-star cornerbacks.

At safety, the Buckeyes grabbed Isaiah Pryor, a four-star safety out of Florida.

The Buckeyes also recruited what might turn into one of the best defensive-lines in the country. Last year, the Buckeyes ranked at sixth in total defense in the FBS, but in 2017 we will see this number go up because of the incoming class.

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Baron Browning is the top-ranked OLB, and he’ll be a great addition to the Buckeyes D-line. Photo via Scout.com

First is outside linebacker Baron Browning out of Texas, ranked first at his position. Weak defensive end Chase Young, the second ranked player at his position,.

Complimenting them on the line are four-star defensive tackles Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage.

With this defensive class alone, OSU would be rated higher than most teams for recruiting, and I’m looking forward to seeing one of the absolute best defenses in the nation performing this season.

Does Barrett have what it takes? 

In early January, we found out that J.T. Barrett would be returning to the Buckeyes through his Instagram, shown below:

“I’m Coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”

There’s no question that Barrett is a great quarterback, but does he have what it takes to bring home the title?

Last season, Barrett threw for 2,555 yards on 233 completions, with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He also chalked up 845 rushing yards with nine rushing touchdowns—not a small feat, and a powerful statement for the dual-threat quarterback going into next season.

That being said, Barrett struggled with accuracy, completing only 61.5 percent of his passes.

His inconsistency showed through during games against Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson where he only threw for 86, 124 and 124 yards respectively.

Will his struggles prevent the Buckeyes from reaching a national championship once again?

I don’t think so.

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Curtis Samuel signed a $6.4 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. Photo via twitter.com/panthers

While the Buckeyes lose receivers Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, and Noah Brown to the NFL, the upcoming recruiting class holds promise.

None of the three players boast many yards (none more than 500 yards) receiving, and looking at Meyer’s upcoming class, I feel confident that Barrett will have capable targets this season.

Wide Receivers and a new coach 

 First of all, the Buckeyes return three of their freshmen as receivers—Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and K.J. Hill. None of them got many playing time, even as the receiver corps consistently underachieved.

Now, they have a chance to prove themselves on the field. The Big Ten Network ranks OSU’s receiving corps as the third best in the conference behind Penn State and Indiana, and this is without taking the new recruits into account.

Two impact players to watch are four-star wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris. Grimes is ranked the fifth-best receiver in the nation, while Harris is ranked No. 30. Not bad for an incoming class.

And now for the wildcard, or maybe secret weapon is a more apt name: Johnnie Dixon.

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Johnnie Dixon has had almost no playing time since 2014, but this is about to change now that he’s finally healthy. Photo via Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Dixon —the fifth-ranked wide receiver in the nation in 2014—only caught six passes in the 2016 season because of injury. He has only participated in 14 total games across his three years at OSU.

Now, he’s back and looking extremely promising. As an eligible junior, he was finally able to play in spring games, where he had six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

Dixon didn’t expect to be able to return to the team, but right after his spring game he posted on Instagram about his prospects:

Dixon might prove to be the strongest receiver for Ohio State, and I’m predicting a breakout season from him.

And there’s some icing on the cake: Kevin Wilson, the new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach for the Buckeyes, is one of the best OCs in the game, and he’s ready to test his skills in Columbus.

Wilson has a history of success for offenses. He led the Oklahoma Sooners to a historic 11-2 season and Fiesta Bowl berth. As the head coach at Indiana he brought the program from a 1-11 record to a 6-6 record by the end of his tenure five years later.

Urban Meyer knows how good he is for offenses, and he might be just what the Buckeyes need to win the national title.

Why Ohio State will win the national title game 

Ohio State is one of the favorites for the national title this year, along with Alabama. Clemson no longer has the ability to embarrass OSU, and the Buckeyes are by far the better team.

I don’t see many FBS teams with the ability to beat OSU. They’ll face a challenge against Penn State, Oklahoma, and Michigan, but I think they’ll overcome those obstacles.

Add in the absolutely outstanding defensive recruiting class, and you have an all-around amazing team. Greg Schiano, now the sole defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, led a great defensive program last year after being head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If Barrett comes into his own—which he will, considering the strength of his incoming receiving corps—and works well with Kevin Wilson, the Buckeyes have a great chance of winning the title.

What needs to happen for USC to win national title

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Led by Sam Darnold, quarterback and Heisman contender, USC is one of the favorites to win the college football title. Here’s what needs to happen for the Trojans to take home the title this upcoming season.

Last Season

It seemed like USC was going to have one of the worst seasons in the program’s history this past season. They lost 52-6 to Alabama in their season opener, and won only one of their first four games (Utah State).

The Trojans bounced back, though, and didn’t lose a single game the rest of the season, finishing at 10-3.

Biggest obstacle: Schedule strength

If they’re going to contend for a title, USC could definitely have issues with their schedule strength–it’s just not hard enough. Being in the Pac-12 was useful last year as they were only challenged in a few of their games, allowing them to climb in the standings despite a rough start.

The Trojans have to stay on top of their game the whole season and beat (most likely) Washington in order to contend for the title.

Quarterback excellence, with a little help

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Darnold has shown his stoicism and confidence throughout his tenure at USC, and fans know he’ll only get better. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

USC is looking to dominate on offense next season. It starts with Darnold, who totaled 3086 yards on 246 completions, and threw for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season.

Here’s a video from SB Nation on Twitter showcasing one of Darnold’s many impressive passes.

Considering he didn’t start until the team’s fourth game and threw for over 3,000 yards, USC’s offense looks rock solid. Darnold also threw for 453 yards in the Rose Bowl. Barring any abnormalities, he will continue to play well.

An outstanding O-line did play a huge role in his success last season, though, and the Trojans lost three of their best linemen to the draft. Zach Banner went to the Colts, Damien Mama to the Chiefs, and Chad Wheeler to the Giants.

One of USC’s top priorities is to replace these guys. So far, it looks like they’re doing a good job of it. The Trojans have four O-line players poised to take over: four-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson, four-star offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, and four-star center Brett Neilon.

If this new class can pick up where Banner, Mama, and Wheeler left off, Darnold will have all the help he needs. Also, if Darnold does slip up for some reason, four-star recruit Jack Sears will be right behind him.

Ground game

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Jones’s run game will be an integral part of the Trojans offense next season. Photo via AP Photo / Gus Ruelas

The Trojans are returning an outstanding group of backs, and there’s some new talent coming in, too.

Rising junior running back Ronald Jones II was the team’s best option last year, running for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He hopes to retain the starter position this year in face of incoming five-star running back Stephen Carr.

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Carr could challenge Jones as the team’s top RB. Photo via Scout.com

A California native, Carr is the third ranked RB recruit in the nation. The two will make an imposing duo. Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware, who supplemented Jones well last year, are returning, too.

Outstanding recruiting class

Excluding the run game and the O-line, USC has an all around good recruit class.

The Trojans defense is shaping up to be much better than last year’s, which was ranked No. 36 in total defense.

This season, they recruited five four-star players to strength their defense, including DTs Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele.

The other big recruiting story besides Carr is five-star receiver Joseph Lewis IV. Lewis indicated his desire to play at USC in January on Twitter. If he clicks with Darnold, the Trojans will have some formidable offensive firepower.

Why USC will win the national title game

Many are projecting USC as an outside candidate for the playoffs this year, and their reasons are sound. USC’s schedule isn’t nearly as hard as some of the other contenders.

If the Trojans can dominate their conference, though, they should maintain a strong position in the rankings. If they beat Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, they’ll be hard to ignore.

Darnold is a top contender for the Heisman. Supplemented by some amazing running and receiving talent, he should be unstoppable.
While the Trojans aren’t my top choice for the title, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it. They will definitely make the playoffs over Washington this year.

What needs to happen for Florida State to win national title

Photo via Associated Press

FSU ended last season ranked eighth in the AP poll, but they’re one of the top contenders for the college football title next season. Under the right circumstances, this year’s FSU team is a recipe for success.

Last Time Out 

Overall, the Seminoles had a successful 2016 campaign, but there were some bumps in the road, with surprise losses to UNC and Louisville. The ‘Noles bounced back and only suffered one more loss against powerhouse Clemson, and then edged Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Throughout the season FSU had powerful players on both sides of the ball, but the big story is whether they’ll be able to replace RB Dalvin Cook, who just got drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Ground Game

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Top ranked running back recruit Cam Akers impressed all at the FSU spring game. Photo via AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst

It looks like the Noles have an answer to the Dalvin Cook question in freshman running back Cam Akers, who was ranked the No. 1 RB in his class by 247 Sports.

To supplement Akers, FSU is also bringing in the No. 4 ranked running back Khalan Laborn and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White. Laborn is a five-star recruit out of Virginia, and is ranked No. 1 among all-purpose backs.

With this stacked RB recruiting class, it seems the Seminoles have solved the problem of Cook’s departure for the long term. If Akers, Laborn, and White perform as well as they’re ranked, FSU won’t lose any sleep over running concerns.

Passing Prowess

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Deondre Francois threw for over 3,000 yards in his debut season for the Seminoles. Photo via Wayne McGahee III

Any doubt that people had about Deondre Francois’s passing game is all but gone.

In his first season as FSU’s quarterback, he threw 235 completions for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Francois has been working consistently to become a better team leader, and he thinks he’s doing well. “I feel like I’ve gotten better this spring,” he told ESPN in an interview. “I will never be pleased with myself internally, but as a team and as an offense, I am very pleased with how we’ve been doing.”

One thing that Francois did struggle with was protection – he was sacked 37 times last season, and if changes aren’t made to the O-line the ‘Noles have a problem.

O-Line Issues

The main culprit for all these sacks is the rest of the offense. Francois was also tackled for a loss 86 times and was hurried 28 times, terrible numbers for a top-10 team.

The bottom line is, if Francois doesn’t receive better protection, he’s going to continue to get sacked, which will impair FSU’s ability to reach the title game.

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Offensive tackle Roderick Johnson leaves a gaping hole in the O-Line for the Noles. Photo via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

All-American offensive tackle, Roderick Johnson, recently left for the draft, leaving yet another hole in the Seminole O-Line. For a line already plagued by injury, losing a player like Johnson is a recipe for mediocrity. If FSU is going to have a strong offensive line, their young players are going to have to step up.

Josh Ball, a 6’8″ 287 pound offensive tackle out of Virginia, might help the Noles answer some questions. He redshirted last season and comes into this season as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Jauan Williams, a four-star offensive tackle, and Baveon Johnson, a four-star center, also hope to supplement the struggling line.

Sense a trend here? It looks like FSU had a lot of talent in reserve last season. If this group of promising players pans out, FSU looks good for the post-season.

Top-Notch Recruiting, as Usual

Ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class in the nation, the Noles have an impressive group of young talent coming in on both sides of the ball. Besides the obvious with Akers at running back, the Seminoles have some quality offensive players for the upcoming season.

FSU’s receiving corps added eighth-ranked wide receiver D.J. Matthews. He’s joined by wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, and tight ends Tre’ McKitty and Alexander Marshall.

It seems like FSU put more focus on the defense this year, though. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, a five-star recruit out of Florida, is the third-ranked WDE in the country and ranked ninth in the nation overall.  He’s joined by four-star cornerback Stanford Samuels and four-star safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen.

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Five-star defensive tackle provides a backbone to the growing FSU defense. Photo via Miller Safrit/ESPN

The Seminoles also recruited five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who is the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle in the nation.

Add four-star defensive tackle Ja’len Parks, and FSU looks strong on defense for the upcoming season.

Why Florida State will win the college football title game

FSU has played well consistently since 2012, and last season was no exception. This year they come back with a more mature quarterback and a stellar ground game, as well as a defense that’ll be tough to beat.

The most important thing for the Seminoles to focus on right now is their opening game against Alabama. It could prove to be their toughest game of the year, and the Crimson Tide won’t hold back.

It will be interesting to see the Hurts-Francois matchup, since so many people have compared them this offseason. FSU will also be going up against one of the best offenses and defenses in the nation.

Even with an opening day loss, the ‘Noles won’t completely lose their spot. It would be an important win for Francois’s confidence and their ranking, though.

The new receivers will have to learn how to work with Francois as he develops, and his offensive line will need to make sure he has time to get rid of the ball.

If those two things happen, the Seminoles will be a hard team to beat, and will most likely make the title game.

What needs to happen for the Alabama Crimson Tide to win national title

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Given the right circumstances, the Crimson Tide will retake their place at the top of the college football world.

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts showed intelligence and talent last season, giving fans a lot to look forward to as Hurts matures as a player. 

Here is why Hurts and the rest of the Tide will be National Champions in 2018.

Top-flight recruiting class

Nick Saban is bringing in one of the most talented recruiting classes in Crimson Tide history.

The biggest story for the Tide is incoming running back Najee Harris. He’s 6-foot-2, 224 pounds and is ranked as the third best RB in the 2017 class.

His story is interesting, having been homeless for a portion of his life and moving from place to place. More on his past can be found here.

Five-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and 5-star offensive linebacker Dylan Moses, as well as four 4-star offensive linemen will start this year at Bama.

Alabama also brings in an impressive young receiving corps, headed by WR Jerry Jeudy, a five-star recruit out of Florida, and three 4-star wide receivers and a 4-star tight end.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM Saint Louis slotback Tosh Kekahuna-Kalawe (4) tries to elude Punahou defensive back Aaron Woo (12) and defensive back Marist Liufau (7)  during the second half.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding incoming quarterback Tua Tagovailoa–will he be able to challenge Hurts? Photo via Jamm Aquino/jaquino@staradvertiser.com

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a 5-star recruit out of Hawaii, will challenge Hurts at his own game, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competition from the two to decide who is the better quarterback.

Can the Crimson Tide reload on defense?

Bama only allowed 13.7 points per game, the best in the FBS. They also had 11 defensive touchdowns last year, as well as 54 team sacks. They were one of the best defensives of all time last season, proved by this ESPN article. 

There’s only one problem, a lot of this talent left for the NFL draft this year.

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DE Jonathan Allen will be hard to replace, after 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his senior season. Photo via USA Today Sports Images

They’re losing a couple of their best defensive players: Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathon Allen, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tim Williams, Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson and New York Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Johnson.

Despite the losses, it looks like the Tide will reload on defense. Outside linebackers Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings, and Terrell Hall return to the team and will look to replace the defensive talent from last year. 

Da’Shawn Hand, a backup senior defensive end, looks to take over Allen’s spot. He played a supporting role for most of his career to date, but looked productive during his playing time. 

Alabama’s weakness: pass defense

It’s hard to find weaknesses with the Alabama team, but Alabama has shown the inability to defend the pass during stretches.

The Tide gave up over 400 yards against both Ole Miss and Arkansas, both teams that shouldn’t have been much of a threat.

Those were the only two games where an opponent got more than 14 points on the board in the regular season, but the slip-ups are telling. Saban knows he has to close the gap quickly if he hopes to get a season-opening win over Florida State. 

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Alabama’s toughest game might be the season opener against FSU, especially after Francois’s performance against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

Can Alabama overcome their tough schedule?

Alabama always has a tough schedule, but this year should prove to be especially challenging. Their season opener is against a very strong FSU team, and momentum is everything for the Tide. FSU is projected to be one of the best teams in the country and anything can happen on opening day.

An opening day slip-up would force Alabama to win out if they want to make it to the playoffs.

Even after the first game, Bama goes up against Tennessee, always tough rival LSU, Auburn, and whoever they play in the SEC title game (most likely either Florida or Georgia).

Why Alabama will win the college football title game

Betting that Alabama will be in the title game is always a safe move. There’s plenty of teams that have the skill to challenge the Crimson Tide this year, but, like always, Alabama finds their way into the title game.

Alabama’s incoming offense is one of the best in the country, and as Hurts matures he’ll find that he has a ton of talent to challenge defenses.

Alabama will continue to have a dominant defense with their new recruits, but that won’t be the reason for them winning a championship this season.

Hurts’ improvement in his second season will make them that much better offensively and push them over the hump to winning another national title.

Taggart looks to turn around Ducks program

Photo via Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

Despite the Oregon Ducks being a dominating force for a good number of years, only missing out on one bowl game since 1997, they have not been good at football recently.

Rather, their basketball team is the talk of the town.

Ducks’ football went 4-8 this season with a conference record of 2-7, a stark contrast to the program’s history.

Going into the 2016 season, the hope was high that Oregon would be more than just competitive. They won their first two games and were ranked no. 22 by Week 3 and it seemed former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich had proved he could further the program’s domination.

However, that was far from the truth.

The Ducks’ defense could not stop anyone. For example, the Washington Huskies mopped the floor with them in a 70-21 win, and the Stanford Cardinal defeated them 52-27.

A surprise win over no. 11 Utah looked promising, but they never recovered from a slew of injuries that started the year.

The lack of success has cost Oregon seven committed players and Helfrich’s job.

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former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich (Photo via 247 sports)

What should we expect of the Ducks going forward? 

The Ducks will rebound with the hiring of former South Florida coach Willie Taggart, who has a record of turning programs around.

Taggart revitalized the USF program turning them into a 10-win football team.

At his previous job, he was able to turn a two-win Western Kentucky team into a bowl eligible team in just one season.

Clearly, Taggart has mastered the art of rebuilding. He has also surrounded himself with capable assistant coaches and coordinators that will make the transition for the program much easier.

One promising hire is former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado.

Leavitt has already had to rehabilitate another program, the Colorado Buffaloes. When he first arrived, Colorado had the no. 109 ranked defense. After last season, they were ranked as the no. 12 defense, per Football Outsiders. 

He switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, allowing the players more independence and flexibility. The defense included all sorts of tricks, and surprising blitz packages, but now teams should know what is coming.

It will be much more difficult now, but if anyone can do it, it is him.

This might prove to be the most important decision Taggart has made for the program. The Ducks desperately need veteran leadership to lead a new and improved defense.

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Photo via Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports

Ducks recruiting

The Ducks have had some luck with recruiting in the past couple months, and although the results won’t show immediately, the future is bright.

Most impressively, Oregon landed former Clemson graduate defensive linemen Scott Pagano. He’s a 6-foot-4, 295-pound giant out of Clemson. Despite limited time on the field, he should be a powerful force for the Ducks’ D.

He had 93 tackles, eight for a loss, and 2.5 sacks in his 705 career snaps. In Oregon he’ll serve as a defensive anchor and will be a headache for opponents who rely on the run.

In the 2016 season, the Ducks only had one player to have more than 10 tackles for loss (Troy Dye), and they’re in sore need of more depth. Dye also had the most sacks with 5.5.

Also, the team was only able to force three fumbles all season.

The Ducks also snagged four-star cornerback Thomas Graham. Graham is ranked no. 6 in the nation at his position and no. 49 overall, according to the ESPN 300 rankings. He will provide help in the secondary, which Oregon desperately needs.

As a senior, Graham chalked up two interceptions (returned one for a touchdown), made 45 tackles, and had seven pass break-ups. The Under Armor All-American athlete also caught six touchdowns on 39 receptions for 490 yards in his last year.

As a team, the Ducks only had 10 interceptions during the entire 2016 season.

Three-star recruit Jordon Scott many also bolster the Ducks’ defensive. He is a 345-pound defensive tackle from Florida. Scott was ranked 51st in the nation at his position, per ESPN. During his senior season, he recorded 40 tackles with nine for loss and three sacks.

Oregon is looking for players with size, good instincts, and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. It seems Taggart may have found a few to help improve his new Oregon defense.

Four-star cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Jaylon Redd will make good compliments to the rest of the defense heavy recruiting class.

Lenoir had previously decommitted from Oregon, but Taggart was able to woo him back upon being hired. The 191-pound cornerback had 52 tackles and one interception in his 2016 season earning a no. 15 ranking at his position by ESPN.

However, Rivals has him ranked as the number one cornerback.

Jaylon Redd, who can also play wide receiver, adds a whole new element to an increasingly dynamic Ducks team. Rivals rates him as the no. 8 at his position (classifying him as an ‘athlete’).

These new hires and recruits should be enough to alter Oregon’s crash course to the bottom. However, it remains to be seen how Taggart will handle the pressure of being the man at Oregon.


 

A version of this article was posted to the JR report in December, entitled “What’s Wrong with the Oregon Ducks?” It was posted right before the 2016 bowl season, in which Oregon was painfully absent. Now, it is updated with additional information and thoughts.