Last year when we checked in on the Oregon Ducks’ world of sports during Thanksgiving time, things weren’t looking so great. The football team had just suffered the first of two blowout losses to the Utah Utes, falling from their No. 3 spot in the nation; the No. 9 men’s basketball team was quickly exposed as fraudulent; the women’s basketball team was tanking in the standings after back-to-back losses as the No. 12 team in the nation.
Of course, things didn’t get much better from there, either. Oregon’s football team went on to get blown out in the Pac-12 title game by Utah again and watched as their head coach Mario Cristobal jetted to warmer weather. Dana Altman failed to align the Rubik’s Cube and missed the NCAA Tournament. Kelly Graves had his squad competitive, but nowhere near as good as we expected going into the year.
By comparison, the Ducks sure do have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
Not only did the football program bounce back in a magnificent fashion with an up-and-coming head coach that looks to be among the best young signal-callers in the nation, but Altman and Graves also have things rolling in the right direction on the hardwood.
On top of the tangible success, Oregon is still Oregon, and Phil Knight is still the greatest Uncle in the world. The Ducks have some of the best facilities, best uniforms, best coaches, and best players in the nation, and routinely are in the conversation among the best teams across all sports.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, as we gather with friends and family, we thought it would be nice to reflect on what Oregon fans should be the most thankful for this year. Here’s what we came up with:
Uncle Phil Knight
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Is there any man more influential to the Oregon Ducks athletic program than Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight?
He’s nicknamed Uncle Phil for a reason, and the Ducks aren’t referred to as ‘Nike University’ just for fun. The unbelievable amount of money that Knight — a former Oregon alum — and his company have donated to Oregon over the years is astounding, and the university certainly wouldn’t be where it is today without him.
The uniforms, the facilities, the players, the coaches; everything that we will go on to talk about today and be thankful for, none of it could be possible without Knight and the resources that he has given to the University. Beyond even the athletic department, Phil and his wife, Penny, have taken a vested interest in the university as a whole, donating millions of dollars for the new science campus, and endless other facilities around the city of Eugene.
The University of Oregon, as we know it, would not be what it is today without Knight.
As I mentioned above, things were looking pretty bleak last December for the Oregon football program. Mario Cristobal, fresh off of a pair of embarrassing losses to Utah, decided that he would get out of dodge and go take a job at his alma mater Miami, leaving the Ducks with a head coaching vacancy yet again. The reaction from fans when it was announced that the team was hiring Dan Lanning, a 35-year-old former defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs who had never been a head coach before, was met with some resentment.
Boy, were we wrong.
Through 11 games so far, Lanning has proven to be a home-run hire for the Ducks, bringing in a fresh and exhilarating culture to Eugene that has gotten the very best from his players on the field. He’s done a great job of connecting with former players and the fanbase at large, and looks to be establishing a program that can compete at the national level. With his strong ability to hire some of the best coaches around him, it looks like the Ducks are set up to have a strong future, and his unmatched knack for recruiting also has some of the best players in the nation choosing to come play ball in Eugene.
It’s obviously early in his tenure, but so far, I think that Oregon fans should be head over heels for their new coach.
A Transfer Portal QB That Worked Out
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Oregon has been down the transfer portal road before. Duck fans saw the likes of Dakota Prukop, and Vernon Adams, and Anthony Brown. So when it was announced that Bo Nix would be coming to Eugene from Auburn, the news was once again met with a lot of skepticism.
It’s nice when this stuff works out, isn’t it?
Nix has been nothing short of a revelation for the Ducks this season, having a career year that’s thrust him into the Heisman Trophy race. Through 11 games, he’s thrown for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding another 500 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. His ability to run Kenny Dillingham’s offense has been thrilling to watch, and his success with Oregon has been a major piece of why the Ducks are having the season that they are. We’re certainly thankful for this big risk paying off.
A Defense That Showed Up On Time
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If you looked at Oregon’s offensive stats last week, then by all means, there’s no way that the Ducks should have won that game against Utah. With just 59 total rushing yards and 20 total points, it’s clear that the Ducks were playing with one hand behind its back, having QB Bo Nix severely limited by an ankle injury that completely mitigated the rushing attack. If you throw in those offensive numbers with the fact that the Ducks’ defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone this year, that’s a sure loss.
It sure is fortunate that they showed up for this game, isn’t it?
Oregon’s defensive unit was spectacular vs. No. 10 Utah, allowing just 170 passing yards and 326 yards total. Three times the Utes got into the red zone, and only once did they score, going 1-for-4 on 4th-down conversions in the game.
If it weren’t for the Ducks’ defense showing up in the perfect moment, the season would virtually be over with no chance to play for a Pac-12 title. Oregon fans should be thankful they came to play on Saturday.
Elite Football Recruiting
Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Hopkins
One of the major worries after Mario Cristobal left Eugene was that he would take the recruiting boom that we’d seen at Oregon with him. Whether you like Cristobal as a coach or not, it’s impossible to deny the fact that he is among the best recruiters in the nation.
It sure is nice that Lanning can also stake a claim as such, isn’t it?
We saw Lanning display his recruiting chops early on in his tenure, putting together an impressive 2022 class that was capped off with a commitment from 5-star OT Josh Conerly, the No. 1 OT in the nation. Watching Oregon’s staff put together the 2023 class has been impressive as well, to say the least. Take a look at some of the guys they already have verbally committed this year:
5-star QB Dante Moore
5-star WR Jurrion Dickey
4-star WR Ashton Cozart
4-star RB Dante Dowdell
4-star CB Caleb Presley
4-star TE Kenyon Sadiq
4-star CB Cole Martin
There are many, many more to list, but that’s also a group of commits that could get stronger in the coming weeks, with Oregon in a great spot to land a couple more 5-star prospects as well.
At the moment, the Ducks have the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation. When all is said and done, this class may rank in the top 10. We’re thankful that Lanning was able to pick up where Cristobal left off.
Whether it’s Sabrina Ionescu, Justin Herbert, or Marcus Mariota, it’s rare that Duck fans can’t look to the professional ranks and find one of their own, thriving. Take Dillon Brooks, or Payton Pritchard, or Satou Sabally, or DeForest Buckner, or Arik Armstead, or Jevon Holland, or Tyler Anderson, or Devon Allen, or English Gardner. The list goes on. It’s clear that over the past decade, Oregon’s success has bled into the professional ranks and started to plant the Ducks’ flag on a bigger level. For that, we are thankful.
N’Faly Dante’s Health
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While the basketball season is still young, and a large portion of the fan base is still focused on football, it’s been immediately obvious that this is the healthiest that N’Faly Dante has ever been, and he’s playing his best basketball for the Oregon Ducks right now. On the season, he’s averaging just under 15 points and 9 rebounds per game, to go along with 2 blocks and 1.8 steals as well.
Dana Altman still has a lot of work to do before this team can be considered as conference ready, but it’s clear that Dante is one of the best players out west.
Adrian Klemm and the Oregon O-Line
(Photograph Courtesy of Zachary Neel | USA TODAY Sports)
The Oregon Ducks have arguably the best offensive line in the country, allowing just 2 sacks on the year and producing a top-10 rushing attack. A lot of that has to do, obviously, with the players on the field, where Oregon is ripe with veteran talent, but a lot also has to do with the coach getting them prepared to play.
Adrian Klemm has been a revelation in Eugene, and stands as one of the best coaching hires that Lanning made when coming to Oregon. On top of his coaching ability, he’s among the most successful recruiters on the staff, landing No. 1 OT Josh Conerly in 2022, and potentially getting close to bringing 2023’s No. 1 OT Kadyn Proctor to Eugene in this cycle.
Klemm is the real deal, that much is clear.
Kenny Dillingham’s Offense
Boy, it sure is fun to watch a high-flying offense in Eugene again, isn’t it?
After years of the vanilla, ground and pound Mario Cristobal scheme, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham has provided a spark to Duck fans, bringing in an offensive scheme that utilizes playmakers, airs the ball out, and brings in packages of personnel that will keep defensive coordinators up at night. We’ve see linebackers rush for touchdowns, linemen catch touchdowns, and running backs throw touchdowns. We’ve even seen a handful of QB sneaks, and more than several plays that started under center.
The Ducks are averaging 40.2 points per game, which ranks 4th in the nation. They have the No. 12 rushing offense, and the No. 3 total offense. Only one team in the nation has picked up more first downs than them this season.
There seems to be a good chance that Dillingham is going to leave Eugene in the near future, landing a head coaching job elsewhere in the nation. That’s part of the reality of having a good set of coaches in college football. For Oregon fans, it’s important to cherish what you have, while you have it.
(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)
Two of the biggest games on Oregon’s schedule this year are against the Washington Huskies and Oregon State Beavers. While that’s always been somewhat the case because of the rivalry aspect, it’s even more true this year with the resurgence that both teams have seen.
These rivalries are back in full form for the Ducks.
We already saw the Huskies upset Oregon a couple of weeks ago, ending the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes, and we will see the Beavers try to ruin Oregon’s chances at making a Pac-12 Championship Game on Saturday as well. With what Kalen DeBoer and Jonathan Smith have done at their respective programs, it’s been made clear that against Huskies and Beavers, the Ducks are going to have some hard-fought, physical, and bitter matchups over the next several years.
It’s good for the sport and good for the fans. The passion has returned.
AD Rob Mullens
(Pool photo by Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard)
We started this list with Phil Knight, and we will end it with Rob Mullens.
As the athletic director for the Ducks, Mullens has been among the most influential people in all of Oregon, helping to create one of the more prominent athletic programs in all of the nation over the past couple of decades.
He’s served time as the head of the College Football Playoff committee, and made some of the most impressive hires you’ve seen, bringing in Dana Altman, Kelly Graves, and Dan Lanning. He’s helped grow the partnership with Nike, and build Oregon’s sporting facilities through the roof. He’s pulled the strings and orchestrated almost everything that we are left to enjoy with these teams. His contributions to Oregon should absolutely not go unnoticed.