Based on early betting action, the Oregon Ducks were the preferred side from the guys and girls that like to get in and grab numbers. The firing of Willie Taggart may even strengthen that position. The Ducks players got their wish quickly, as interim head coach Mario Cristobal was elevated to official head coach, as they prepared for the Las Vegas Bowl against the Boise State Broncos, the champions of the Mountain West Conference. Bookmakeropened Oregon -5, but that number quickly shot up and now sits at 7.5 across most of the market with a total in the upper 50s.
Don’t let the 7-5 straight up record or the 6-6 mark against the spread fool you. This Oregon Ducks team is plenty talented. The team struggled mightily when quarterback Justin Herbert went down with a broken collarbone and looked like a totally different team in blowout wins over Arizona and Oregon State with Herbert back in the fold. Boise State has been solid this season. A couple of early losses to Power Five Conference competition and a meaningless loss to Fresno State are the only blemishes for Bryan Harsin’s squad. The Broncos went 10-3 straight up and 7-6 against the spread, since they didn’t cover the number that most people got in Week 1 against Troy.
Life with Justin Herbert was much different than life without him. With Herbert at the helm, the Ducks scored 365 points in seven games, including the 45-point outburst against Cal in which Herbert only had eight pass attempts. He was hurt in that win and the Ducks scored 75 points over the next five games. That set of stats does require a little bit more context because Herbert missed, arguably, Oregon’s five toughest games in conference play against Washington State, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, and Washington. There is no denying, though, that this offense was better with him out there. Herbert completed 66.5 percent of his throws with a 13/3 TD/INT ratio and over 10 yards per pass attempt. He was also the most effective runner among the quarterbacks. Royce Freeman averaged six yards per pop and found paydirt 16 times, as the Ducks relied heavily on the run in Herbert’s absence. Overall, Oregon managed 6.2 yards per play with 5.4 yards per carry and a lot of chunk plays in the passing game on Herbert’s watch. It wasn’t the same type of explosiveness that we are accustomed to, but it was still solid.
The defense for the Ducks was officially fixed. The initial post had been written under the assumption that Oregon would take defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt with him to Florida State. So far, that has not been the case, so the much-improved Ducks defense still has its DC. The Ducks allowed just five yards per play and only 3.6 yards per carry. They held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.2 percent completion percentage. Those numbers were a stark contrast to last year’s 6.4 yards per play allowed, 5.7 yards per carry allowed, and 64.8 percent completion percentage allowed. With Leavitt still in the mix, it should be business as usual for this defense.
Mario Cristobal has officially been named the head coach. The players stumped for Cristobal on social media and behind closed doors as well. That was enough for the athletic department to hire him. What does that mean for Oregon’s motivation here? Well, it should mean a good couple weeks worth of practice, with a fully-focused team not wondering who the next head coach will be. The Ducks probably would have played even harder if this was an audition for Cristobal, but, with him hired, there is no additional pressure now.
It has been a strange year for Boise State. Kansas transfer Montell Cozart wound up playing a lot more than people expected and 10 of his 59 completions went for touchdowns. Brett Rypien, who started as a freshman last year, was benched for ineffective play early in the year and also suffered a concussion. Rypien is now unquestionably the top guy and he had a 14/4 TD/INT ratio with a 63.5 percent completion percentage. This will be a big spotlight for senior Cedrick Wilson, who led the team with 73 catches for 1,290 yards and will be looking to follow in the footsteps of guys like Thomas Sperbeck, Matt Miller, and Titus Young. Sophomore Alexander Mattison had some growing pains replacing Jeremy McNichols, but gave Boise State another 1,000-yard rusher with 12 touchdowns. Boise State only had 5.8 yards per play, which is down a full yard per play from last season.
The Boise State defense was really good once again, but the level of offense in the Mountain West seemed to be down a bit. Colorado State was sort of disappointing offensively, but still scored 52 on the Broncos. Wyoming was lacking skill players for Josh Allen. San Diego State is a one-dimensional offense. Nevada is trying to figure out an Air Raid. Fresno State made some big strides, but wasn’t an explosive offense, just a better one. That makes it tough to evaluate the Broncos. They did hold opponents to 4.9 yards per play and 3.5 yards per carry, which were both better than last season’s marks, but Oregon is a dramatically different offense to face. This is a fairly young defense as well, with a lot of sophomores and inexperienced juniors interspersed throughout the two-deep.
On the other hand, Boise State was embarrassed by Baylor last year in the Cactus Bowl and that was a Baylor team embroiled in the sexual assault scandal that led to a new coaching staff, transfers, and a loss of scholarships. Prior to that, Boise State was a pretty decent bowl team, including a Las Vegas Bowl win over Washington in 2012. Motivation shouldn’t be hard to find for the Broncos.
College Football Free Pick: Oregon Ducks -7.5
With Jim Leavitt staying put, at least for the time being, the Ducks are now the preferred bet. Originally, the over was the play here, but with Leavitt in the mix, the Ducks defense should be well-prepared and ready to go. Oregon kept its OC and DC, which rarely happens when the head coach leaves. The Ducks are a much different team with Justin Herbert and should be poised for a strong effort here.