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Pac-12 preview: Utah product Noah Sewell anchors ‘loaded’ Oregon defense

Under unlikely circumstances, the Ducks represented the North in Pac-12 title game in 2020, where they defeated USC. The question is, can they defend that title in 2021?

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Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell during the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz.

Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell during the Fiesta Bowl game against Iowa State, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. Sewell was an All-American as a freshman and will be among the leaders on that side of the ball this season.

Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

Editor’s note: Fifth in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

Oregon is the defending Pac-12 champion after beating USC in the 2020 title game. Yet the Ducks lost more games last year than fellow Pac-12 North program Washington. 

Yes, COVID-19 played a significant role in deciding the Pac-12 champ in 2020, but Oregon will be out to prove that it can capture another league crown, under more normal circumstances. 

Coach Mario Cristobal welcomes back a lot of playmakers on offense, but does have a quarterback competition between Boston College transfer Anthony Brown, who saw action last season, and freshmen Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford.  

Last year’s starter, Tyler Shough, had a hard time living up to the standard set by Justin Herbert, who was the 2020 NFL Rookie of the Year. Shough transferred to Texas Tech.

Defense could determine how good the Ducks are this season. They are led by freshman All-American Noah Sewell, an Orem High product. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Mase Funa help solidify Oregon’s front seven.

The Ducks must replace safety Nick Pickett, cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and tackle Jordon Scott. 

Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos left Eugene to take the head coaching job at Boise State and he was replaced by Tim DeRuyter.  

The Ducks yielded 29 points or more in four of their seven games in 2020, including 41 in a loss to arch-rival Oregon State.  

Utah hosts Oregon on Nov. 20. 

Word on the street

“The Ducks made the inaugural College Football Playoff field in 2014 but haven’t been back since. This could be the best overall team in Eugene since the Marcus Mariota days, however. The defense is loaded. Linebacker Noah Sewell was a freshman All-American and defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux might be the best player on the field in any game. How this group meshes with new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who did a great job repairing Cal’s defense, will be fun to watch after taking a step back last year. But the offense needs to improve, too. This is the second year with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and the quarterback competition is front and center. The Ducks have talent, now they just need to put it all together. A full offseason with new coordinators is the first step.” 

— Ben Kercheval, written for CBS Sports

By the numbers

2020 record: 4-3 (4-2 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 8, defense: 8

Local ties

LB Noah Sewell (Orem HS)

S Jeffrey Bassa (Kearns HS)

WR Spencer Curtis (Jordan HS/Weber State)

OL Jackson Powers-Johnson (Corner Canyon HS)

OL Logan Sagapolu (Skyridge HS)

OL Kingsley Suamataia (Orem HS)

2021 schedule

Sept.  4 Fresno State

Sept. 11 @ Ohio State

Sept. 18 Stony Brook

Sept. 25 Arizona

Oct. 2 @ Stanford

Oct. 15 California

Oct. 23 @ UCLA

Oct. 30 Colorado

Nov. 6 @ Washington

Nov. 13 Washington

Nov. 20 @ Utah

Nov. 27 Oregon State