EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon football ended its 2021 campaign in a way that left many unsatisfied. Dropping three of the final four games and heading into the offseason without much of the coaching staff set up a path for change. New head coach Dan Lanning was up for the challenge, putting together a talented roster while utilizing the transfer portal heavily in the process. Many new faces have the chance to make an impact in the first season of Lanning-era football, but these five transfers have the best shot at making a name for themselves in Eugene.
Former University of Colorado defensive backs coach, Demetrice “Meat” Martin, migrated west to join Lanning and company to join the green and yellow. Shortly after, another former Buff followed. Third-year cornerback Christian Gonzales reunited with his position coach and brings along plenty of experience.
Out of the five transfers on this list, Gonzales is the only one with a starting spot secured. The cornerback trio of Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham Jr., and Mykael Wright have come and gone, filtering out into the NFL. While the transfer portal helped gain the addition of Gonzales, it proved to be costly for the new staff. Cornerbacks D.J. James and Jaylin Davies too departed from the team as they joined Auburn and UCLA respectfully.
The clear hole in the depth chart would have given Gonzales a clear shot at play-time regardless of which school he came from. Coming from a fellow Pac-12 school like Colorado gives him an even greater advantage. The relationship with coach Meat, a guy who has 16 years of Pac-12 experience of his own, makes this move a no-brainer.
Gonzales was a four-star recruit coming out of The Colony, Texas, and started in both seasons at Colorado. His collegiate stats may look underwhelming at first glance, but his importance to the Buffs’ defense was evident. He played more snaps than any of his defensive teammates last year and proved to be one of the best corners in the Pac-12. His experience, familiarity, and skill will all transfer smoothly when playing out west.
The 2022 season marks a third straight year with a new starting signal-caller for the Ducks. The Herber era is long in the past, and after a couple of one-year stints from Tyler Shough and Anthony Brown, the spot is up for grabs. Entering the offseason, there was a clear favorite as to who would take over the offense. The 2020 class brought in Oregon’s only five-star quarterback recruit in Ty Thompson. He sat behind Brown for most of his freshman campaign and looked ready to start the upcoming season.
Similar to Gonzales’ situation, another transfer chose the Ducks with an already established connection to a member of the Oregon coaching staff. Bo Nix has been the QB1 at Auburn over the last three seasons. His first collegiate game with the Tigers resulted in a comeback victory against a place he now calls home. Nix is set to join the Ducks and reunite with former Auburn offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
Nix is more than talented enough to take over, but the job will not be handed to him. The two former five stars in Nix and Thompson will surely continue their positional battle that has already formed in the spring. Nix brings the experience advantage, having more than the rest of the quarterback room combined. If Nix takes the top spot, he will have a clear path for success with an experienced offensive line protecting him and electrifying playmakers flooding the roster.
Speaking of playmakers on this year’s team, Chase Cota hopes to see his name near the top of the list. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because it is. His father, Chad, is a member of the Duck’s Hall of Fame and raised his son in Medford, Oregon. Chase did not follow in his dad’s footsteps, as he played on the offensive side of the ball and became a highly touted wide receiver recruit. The Oregon offer was there, but he decided to be coached by former Duck coach Chip Kelly at UCLA.
After four seasons with less than ideal statistics, he became a grad transfer and came home, strengthening the Ducks’ depth at the position even more. He snagged one touchdown with 286 yards in his final season with the Bruins. Although those stats don’t jump off the screen, he brings a glimpse of seniority.
Last year’s receiver group had plenty of seniority. Enough to sideline top prospects Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton from consistent play-time. Devon Williams, Johnny Johnson III, Mycah Pittman, and Jaylon Redd have all left since that season, and now the youngsters will get the chance to thrive. If Cota’s impressive spring game has any indication of how he will be used in the new scheme, the fifth-year Oregonian could have his best season yet.
Mar’Keise Irving and/or Noah Whittington
It’s no question that the hardest hit position group for Oregon in the offseason was in the running back department. Two of the top six rushers in Duck history announced their decisions to leave the program in January. C.J. Verdell, known for his dominant performance against Ohio State and game-winning walk-off touchdown at home against Washington, had his final season cut short with more injuries. He had trouble staying healthy during his time in Eugene and ultimately left to test the professional field. Travis Dye, who picked up Verdell’s workload for many years, too left, staying in the Pac-12 and returning home to USC.
Without them, the room gets very thin. Trey Benson, another back from last year’s team, transferred to Florida State, leaving only two scholarship running backs still on the team from a year ago. The transfer portal was used in the Ducks’ favor to help fill the hole, giving both former Minnesota back Mar’Keise Irving and former Western Michigan back Noah Whittington a shot to take over.
Both backs had seasons last year with over 600 rushing yards, but playing time still isn’t guaranteed. Byron Cardwell is back for his second season on the team and is more than ready for his expanded role. He shined in his minimal play time behind the two greats mentioned earlier and appears stronger and faster for his second collegiate season. That being said, Oregon has never been one to have a one-man workhorse taking all of the carries, so the two transfers will be able to get their hands on the ball.