Oregon Early-Season Awards: Taking stock of Ducks’ success four-weeks into the 2021 season

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The Oregon Ducks have completed four of their 12 allotted games, and at this point, it is not crazy to expect that they might be able to play in a total of 15 games this season, if all goes correctly.

The Ducks are 4-0 with impressive wins over Ohio State and Fresno State. They are the only remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12, and they have an inside track to the College Football Playoff.

While the season is still incredibly young with a whole conference slate of games to be played, we wanted to take a second to review what has happened thus far, and take stock in the past four weeks.

Our staff at Ducks Wire — Managing Editor Zachary Neel and writers Don Smalley and Andy Patton — got together to give out some awards at the one-third mark in the season. We expect to reconvene at the two-third mark, and then of course once the season is over as well. Here is where things stand in our opinions after Week 4.

Team MVP Award

WINNER: Verone McKinley III (Anthony Brown Also Received Votes)

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Zachary Neel: My vote here has to go to safety Verone McKinley III. Coming into the season, we had some questions about how the secondary was going to hold up with projections for both the defensive line and linebacking corps to be stout, and so far it’s been the DB’s who are the most impressive. McKinley leads the nation in interceptions with four, and he’s asserted himself as a huge leader of the team.

Don Smalley: My vote is for QB Anthony Brown. After battling for the job in the fall and being inconsistent at times, Brown has proven to be the ultimate game manager. His touchdown run to beat Fresno State late and his game at Ohio State completely changed the overall outlook of what this season can bring. He hasn’t made the big mistake to cost the Ducks a game.

Andy Patton: Verone McKinley III is the easy choice for Team MVP for me. He has four interceptions already this season, which is tied for first in the nation, and has been among the most lethal free safeties in the NCAA. Tim DeRuyter’s defense is making waves this season and McKinley is a huge reason why.

Up Next: Offensive MVP…

Offensive MVP Award

Winner: CJ Verdell

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Neel: It’s pretty hard to give this award to anyone other than CJ Verdell at this point in the season. He leads the team with 6 total touchdowns and over 400 total yards. You could give a nod to QB Anthony Brown for his sound decision-making and lack of turnovers, but it’s clear that Verdell is the engine in this offense.

Smalley: It’s got to go to CJ Verdell. If you take out the Arizona game where he only got 11 carries, he’s proven he can be one of the best tailbacks in the nation. After the Ohio State win where he racked up 177 yards and two touchdowns, Verdell was given odds to win the Heisman Trophy.

Patton: CJ Verdell looks like one of the best running backs in the country. He had a massive game against the Buckeyes and was solid against Fresno State in the opener. It was a bit mystifying to see him only get 11 carries against the Wildcats, but he’s a near-lock to be heavily involved in every offensive game plan for the rest of the season – and will remain a Doak Walker Award finalist.

Up Next: Defensive MVP…

Defensive MVP Award

WINNER: Noah Sewell

(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Neel: My vote for Overall Team MVP was tight between Verone McKinley III and Noah Sewell, so I have to give this nod to Sewell, who has been extraordinary through the first four weeks. Playing without his two biggest running-mates in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe, Sewell has kept the defense afloat and stepped up as a true leader of the team.

Smalley: I’m going with Noah Sewell. The Super Freshman is already the best linebacker in the conference and one of the best in the nation. Yes, Verone McKinley III has four interceptions, but Sewell leads the team by far with 36 tackles and he’s the leader of the defense in Kayvon Thibodeaux’s absence.

Patton: If Verone is the Team MVP, then Noah Sewell is the easy choice here for me. Sewell is leading the team in tackles by a fair margin and has cemented himself as perhaps the best freshman linebacker in the nation, and the best linebacker period in the Pac-12. As the team leader of the defense with Kayvon Thibodeaux out, it’s hard to understate Sewell’s importance to this team so far this season.

Up Next: Most Improved Player…

Most Improved Player Award

WINNER: Camden Lewis (Bennett Williams Also Received Votes)

(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Neel: Yep, it’s Camden Lewis for me. The player that no fan wanted to see again has now won his way back into Oregon’s hearts and is perfect on the season. After losing his job lasts season, Lewis battled his way back over the offseason and stole the starting spot away from Henry Katleman. He hasn’t missed yet and has become a solid weapon for the Ducks.

Smalley: It has to be Camden Lewis. The resurgence of Lewis to become the Ducks’ kicker once again has been anything short of a miracle. He completely lost his job to Henry Katleman last season and it was assumed The Katle Monster would be the kicker once again. But Lewis has been perfect with five field goals and 20 extra points.

Patton: I’ve got to go with Bennett Williams. It’s not that Williams was bad last year, or was bad at Illinois as a freshman in 2017, but the progress he has made already in 2021 is astounding. Williams has three interceptions (one behind McKinley for the team/conference lead and tied for second in the nation) and has 92 return yards and a touchdown, scoring late last week against Arizona. Williams is helping to form an elite secondary in Eugene and is having the best year of his career.

Up Next: Holding Out Hope…

The Holding Out Hope Award

WINNER: Mycah Pittman (Kayvon Thibodeaux Also Received Votes)

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Neel: Oregon’s wide receivers are so talented that it feels like a shame we haven’t seen one of them shine through in four games. There is still a lot of season left, though, and I have hope that sophomore Mycah Pittman can break out and become the downfield receiving threat that we all expect him to be.

Smalley: I am holding out hope for Kayvon Thibodeaux’s health, in particular. Oregon hasn’t needed him … yet. But they definitely will. If he can somehow get that ankle stable enough to even be 75 percent of what he can be, Thibodeaux’s talent can take the Duck defense to the next level.

Patton: We haven’t had that big break from Oregon’s wide receivers yet this year, most notable sophomore Mycah Pittman. Pittman was my pick to really turn some heads this season, but so far he has just four catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns. I’m hoping his big game is coming soon, and that he’ll be a key piece of this offense for the rest of the season.

Up Next: Best Position Group…

Best Position Group Award

WINNER: Defensive Backs (Running Backs Also Received Votes)

(AP Photo/Andy Nelson)

Neel: The secondary is definitely the right answer, but to be a contrarian I want to give a shout-out to the running backs, knowing that the award will still go to the DBs. We came into the season thinking that CJ Verdell and Travis Dye could be one of the best RB duos in the nation, and so far they’ve proved that. Verdell leads the team in total yards and touchdowns, and Dye is right behind him, with over 320 total yards and three touchdowns. This offense is being carried by the running backs right now, and it’s in good hands.

Smalley: The secondary takes it for me. With Mykael Wright, McKinley, and Bennett Williams, good luck to any quarterback willing to test the Duck secondary. As a team, Oregon has nine interceptions in its four games, which is the highest in the nation.

Patton: It’s kind of impossible not to pick the secondary here. McKinley and Williams already got love from me in previous categories, but Mykael Wright looks like a future NFL Pro Bowler, and DJ James and Jamal Hill have returned from their suspensions to contribute as well. This team has nine picks in four games and is one of the best in the nation at frustrating opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Up Next: Best Uniform Combination…

Cleanest Uniform Combination Award

WINNER: Week 1 vs. Fresno State (Week 2 vs. Ohio State Also Received Votes)

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Neel: I have to exercise some managerial restraint here and not over-rule both of you with my vote for the Ducks’ Week 2 uniform combination against Ohio State, but it’s hard to disagree with your votes. In my opinion, the all-white ‘Stormtrooper’ look that resembled Oregon’s look at USC in the Storm LA game years ago was a classic, and it makes it all the better that we upset the Buckeyes.

Smalley: I’ve got to say Game 1 vs Fresno State. The green jerseys, yellow helmets, and pants are the Duck’s best look. The traditional colors of green and yellow are always the best way to go.

Patton: I’m with Don on this one. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Green and Yellow are always the best look.

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