Oregon football projected to have nation's 2nd-best defense in 2020

Dylan Mickanen
NBC Sports Northwest

It's never too early to start looking forward to next season.

Especially when the reigning Pac-12 Champion and Rose Bowl Champion Oregon Ducks are returning so much talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

ESPN's Bill Connely published his preliminary SP+ rankings for the 2020 college football season that had the Ducks ranked 13th overall, but their defense was projected to be second in the country. Oregon's offense ranked 51st due to replacing four-out-of-five lineman and quarterback Justin Herbert.

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SP+ ratings take into account returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history of performance on the field. The Ducks excel in all three categories. 

Oregon will return eight defensive starters next season after four juniors (Jordon Scott, Thomas Graham Jr., Austin Faoliu, and Deommodore Lenoir) forwent the NFL Draft to return to school.

Troy Dye, Lamar Winston Jr, and Bryson Young all graduated and will not return. However, Mario Cristobal netted two five-star linebackers, Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell, in the 2020 recruiting class to fill into those spots. Sophomore Mase Funa will look to make a second-year leap as well.

The secondary will excel next season with starters Graham Jr, Lenoir, Breeze, and the best slot cornerback in the country according to Pro Football Focus, Jevon Holland, all returning. Sophomores Mykael Wright and Veronne Mckinley III will provide much-needed depth as well. Last season they were second in the nation in interceptions with 20. New cornerbacks coach Rob Chance will have some weapons in the secondary. 

The Ducks defense last season led the conference in both interceptions and forced turnovers. 

Look for Andy Avalos' unit to repeat that performance, or improve upon it, next season.

Here's what Connely wrote about Oregon.

The narrative early this offseason is that the Pac-12 race is Oregon vs. the field. Mario Cristobal's recruiting is strong, and the Ducks are the defending conference champions. SP+ never got fully on board with the 2019 Ducks, however. They finished just 15th thanks to inconsistency on both sides of the ball, and now they have to replace not only star quarterback Justin Herbert, but also five of their top six offensive linemen. The defense is deep and experienced and is projected to leap into the top five in defensive SP+. The offense, however, is projected 51st.

He went on to say that Oregon may have upgraded at offensive coordinator by hiring former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead as Marcus Arroyo's replacement. 

The first time you can see the 2020 Ducks in action will be during the Spring game on Saturday, April 18 in Autzen Stadium.

Oregon football projected to have nation's 2nd-best defense in 2020 originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

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