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Oregon football on the fringes of too-early Top 25s

Ducks have an interesting offseason ahead.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 college football season ended just a few hours ago, but attention is already focused solidly on 2017.

Several outlets have released way-too-early Top 25s for a season that starts eight months from now (they call them way-too-early for a reason).

The Oregon Ducks are coming off the heels of a terrible year and a firing, but are still only a few seasons removed from a national title game appearance and have an energetic new coach in Willie Taggart who could potentially turn things around quickly.

As such, the Ducks will be hard to predict.

In SB Nation’s Top 25, Oregon is not ranked but gets a mention in the “also receiving votes” category.

The Ducks were left completely off the Sporting News Top 25, but got some love from Athlon Sports, who ranked them No. 21:

Here’s Athlon’s justification for including Oregon:

New coach Willie Taggart inherits a promising core of young talent for his first season in Eugene. Although the Ducks are coming off their first losing record since 2004, a quick rebound should be in order. Quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns as a true freshman last fall and will be surrounded by a strong supporting cast that features running back Royce Freeman and receivers Charles Nelson and Jalen Brown.

The Ducks also went with a youth movement in the trenches last season and this unit is slated to return four starters from the final two-deep. Scoring points won’t be a problem for Taggart’s team, but the defense needs to take a step forward if Oregon wants to challenge Stanford or Washington in the Pac-12 North.

The good news? Taggart hired standout coordinator Jim Leavitt away from Colorado and has plenty of experience at all three level of the defense returning for 2017. The Ducks also catch a break in scheduling by missing USC in crossover play, while Washington State and Utah visit Eugene.

USC and Washington are the hot picks to win the Pac-12 next season, with Stanford also getting plenty of attention.

Taggart will look to get Oregon back into that conversation sooner rather than later.