Oregon Tyler Shough
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks have a lot of pieces in place to potentially get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020, and Tyler Shough is a key part of that.

The skinny: With quarterback Justin Herbert departing for the NFL, the biggest question mark surrounding the Oregon football program heading into the 2020 season is whether Tyler Shough can step into those big shoes and not miss a beat.

Getting defensive: While the Ducks did lose some talent on the defensive side thanks to guys departing for the NFL Draft, the returning players can help the defense become even more dominant in 2020.

  • ESPN’s Bill Connelly projects the Ducks will feature a top-five defense.
  • Star pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux could be this year’s Chase Young after logging nine sacks last season as a true freshman.
  • Nose tackle Jordon Scott is a downright dominant run stuffer. He leads a strong run defense that could get even better this coming season with the arrival of five-star linebacker Noah Sewell, who appears destined to become an instant star.
  • Oregon features a secondary can develop into the nation’s best, with Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham, Jr. and Jevon Holland all returning.
  • Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos is an elite coach.

The Oregon Ducks may feature the most fearsome defense in the nation when it’s all said and done in 2020.

Can the offense keep up? Herbert wasn’t the only player to leave, and the offense will be starting from scratch with new coordinator Joe Moorhead.

  • The Ducks’ offensive line will have four new starters this season, with left tackle Penei Sewell being the only returning starter.
  • The run game should stay strong, however, with returning star CJ Verdell set to become perhaps even more of a central figure in 2020.
  • Oregon’s receiver group is very strong, despite the loss of Juwan Johnson. Look for Johnny Johnson to excel in Moorhead’s offense, and USC transfer Devon Williams could become a monster as the big-bodied receiver the Ducks so desperately need.
  • There’s going to be a complete overhaul at the tight end position with Jake Breeland and Ryan Bay both gone. It remains to be seen who is going to emerge as the starter, but Cam McCormick is a player to watch, if he can only stay healthy.

So, clearly there’s some things that need to fall into place here as Oregon’s offense comes together this spring and summer. But this all leads to a simple point. An elite quarterback is the juice that makes every offense go.

Is Tyler Shough ready? That remains to be seen. He isn’t going to be handed the job. The quarterback competition between Shough, redshirt freshman Cale Millen and true freshmen Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford this offseason should be very interesting to track. After all, they will go head-to-head with Oregon’s vaunted defense during the offseason.

However, most people expect Shough to emerge as the starter.

  • Last season as a freshman, he got into four games, completing 12-of-15 passes for 144 yards with three touchdowns, along with two carries for 11 yards this season.

Consider this quote from none other than the departing Herbert, who offered high praise for his potential replacement:

“He makes some plays in practice that sometimes I don’t even believe,” Herbert said, per The Oregonian. “He’s done such a great job and I have complete trust in him and faith and I know the other guys do as well. … (During a Rose Bowl practice) he scrambled through 3-4 defensive linemen, flipped his hips, spun around and threw a 50-60 yard ball to Tevin Jeannis in the end zone. It was pretty impressive.”

That’s rare raw talent that you just cannot coach.

If Shough can continue his impressive development in Year 2 with the Oregon football program, he’s likely to run away with the starting job this summer.

The bottom line: The Oregon Ducks have a shot to get back to the College Football Playoff for the first time since their 2014 campaign.

If Slough lives up to the expectations the program has for him, and if the offense takes off under the quarterback-friendly guidance of Moorhead, then Oregon’s championship aspirations are within reach.

This coming season should be a ton of fun to watch for fans and analysts alike.