By Anne M. Peterson • The Associated Press

Ducks schedule

(All times Pacific)

Sept. 1, Bowling Green, 5 p.m.

Sept. 8, Portland St., 11 a.m.

Sept. 15, San Jose St., 2 p.m.

Sept. 22, Stanford, TBA

Sept. 29, at California, TBA

Oct. 13, Washington, TBA

Oct. 20, at Wash. St., TBA

Oct. 27, at Arizona, TBA

Nov. 3, UCLA, TBA

Nov. 10, at Utah, TBA

Nov. 17, Arizona St. TBA

Nov. 23, at Oregon St., 1 p.m.

Just 12 months ago it was the start of the Willie Taggart era in Eugene. Now it is Mario Cristobal’s turn.

Oregon’s former co-offensive coordinator is embarking on his first season at the helm of the Ducks. Taggart, meanwhile, is doing the same at Florida State after a one-year tenure at Oregon.

It is not quite Cristobal’s debut. He led the Ducks in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, a 38-28 loss to Boise State. With a full season in front of him, Cristobal is clearly ready to move on from 2017’s 7-6 finish.

“This season has nothing but opportunity in front of it, and we’ve got to do it,” he said. “There is no way to sugarcoat it or try to dance around it, there is not. We’ve just got to get it done.”

Cristobal, who was an assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban for four years, has one of the league’s top quarterbacks in junior Justin Herbert, who passed for 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns last season — despite missing five games with a fractured collarbone. He also rushed for 183 yards and five scores.

He was replaced as starter by freshman Braxton Burmeister and the Ducks went 1-4 during Herbert’s absence. Burmeister passed for 324 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions during the span, while also rushing for 106 yards and three scores.

The key will be keeping Herbert healthy, while also making sure he has a backup who is ready to step in. And in this case, Burmeister took his lumps last season.

Herbert has done his part by bulking up over the offseason and now weighs in at some 240 pounds.

“It’s not just how he looks. It’s the mindset that comes with it, the confidence that comes with it,” Cristobal said. “The ability to create a galvanizing effect for the guys in the locker room, because you know you’re preparing and holding each other accountable.”

The Ducks averaged 52 points with Herbert on the field last season, so the longer he stays there, the better for Oregon.

Who will catch passes?

With the departure of versatile wide receiver Charles Nelson, a lot of attention has gone to Herbert’s targets. The Ducks return their top receiver from last season, Dillon Mitchell, who caught 42 passes for 517 yards. Then there are fellow wideout Brenden Schooler, who switched from safety, and tight end Jacob Breeland, who caught five TD passes last season.

2-way player?

Bryan Addison could also be a welcome addition to Oregon’s receiver corps. He somewhat surprisingly joined the Ducks in July. Originally committed to UCLA, he was granted his release after his admission was delayed Addison, who is a 6-foot-5 prospect out of Gardena, California, could see time at both wide receiver and defensive back — both positions where the Ducks could use some help. Cristobal did not hide his enthusiasm for Addison at the Pac-12 media day: “He’s played both ways. He has special-teams value. He is intelligent, he’s tough, he’s athletic. Great balance and body control. Explosive. Incredible ball skills.”

Replacing Royce

The Ducks’ two top running backs from last season, Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit, have graduated. The top returnee is Tony Brooks-James, who ran for 520 yards and two touchdowns. He could get help from redshirt freshman C.J. Verdell. Herbert was the team’s fourth-leading rusher last season.

Don’t forget the D

There was lots of speculation that Taggart’s defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, might follow him to Florida State at the end of last season. But Oregon was able to keep the veteran coordinator on staff, and that is a good thing: In Leavitt’s first season, the Ducks went to a 3-4 defense and improved to 75th in the nation in points allowed, up from 126th. They also improved to 42nd nationally for yards allowed. He has clearly inspired his players, including linebacker Troy Dye, who has led the team in tackles for the past two seasons.

Outlook

Oregon was picked to finish third in the Pac-12 North. Washington should rule its half of the conference and is the favorite to claim the league’s overall title. But the Ducks are helped by a schedule that has just two teams that are expected to be ranked: Washington and Stanford. Oregon gets both of those teams at Autzen Stadium. Another highlight will be the return of Chip Kelly to Eugene when the Ducks host the former Oregon coach and his new team, the UCLA Bruins, on Nov. 3.

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