Mario Cristobal welcomes a traditional bowl schedule this year.
Oregon’s football coaches will be able to take advantage of the full contact period with recruits leading up to the early signing period that begins Dec. 19 before preparing to face Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl at noon on Dec. 31 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Ducks (8-4) officially learned their postseason destination against the Spartans (7-5) on Sunday afternoon.
“Excitement quickly went through the facility with our players and coaching staff,” Cristobal said. “We certainly look forward to preparing for that game, but we are on the road recruiting now at 100 miles per hour. As soon as we get off the road, we will resume practices.”
Last year, Cristobal was named interim and then head coach during the two weeks leading up to the Las Vegas Bowl where Boise State beat the Ducks 38-28 on Dec. 16, a couple of days ahead of the early signing day.
“Last year was a tough situation to be in,” Cristobal said during a news conference Sunday while noting he was wearing a suit in preparation of a home visit with a recruit later that evening. “This allows us to have the entire contact period uninterrupted. Last year. we had to get things going for the bowl game from a practice standpoint and get to the bowl site. We only had the opportunity to go to a couple homes and that was strictly at night after bowl practices and functions were done.”
The Ducks returned to workouts Wednesday after taking a couple of days off following a 55-15 win at Oregon State on Nov. 23. Oregon will not begin official bowl practices until Friday, although players will be lifting, conditioning and continuing team workouts until then.
Another change from last year is that any Ducks who choose not to play in the Redbox Bowl will not travel to the game. Last year, Royce Freeman was on the sideline after he elected to skip the Las Vegas Bowl.
“Last year was a little chaotic so it will be a different scenario for us,” Cristobal said. “It will be real simple going forward. Either you are playing in the game or you are not playing in the game, and those that are playing in the game will go there and those who aren’t won’t go. I expect everyone to play in the game.”
That includes junior quarterback Justin Herbert, who left the Civil War early with a deep bruise to his shoulder. The coach said he does not expect to talk with Herbert about whether he plans to return for his senior season or declare for the NFL draft until after the bowl game.
Cristobal said the school requested evaluations from the NFL advisory committee for Herbert, junior wide receiver Dillon Mitchell and junior linebacker Troy Dye as well as a couple of linemen.
Senior Jalen Jelks, who sat out the Oregon State win, is also expected to play in the Redbox Bowl. Freshman offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who missed the last six games of the regular season with an ankle injury, will return for the game.
Senior linebacker Kaulana Apelu, who missed the final three games due to injury, may be able to practice by the time the Ducks get to the Bay Area and possibly play in the game. Senior running back Tony Brooks-James, who left the Civil War with a strained knee, is on a similar timetable to possibly return for a final game with the Ducks.
Offensive lineman Steven Jones and linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia are also expected to return for the bowl game and freshman linebacker Andrew Johnson could be ready to play on special teams. Tight end Kano Dillon and cornerback Haki Woods are both questionable to return against the Spartans.
Cristobal also said he has been given “no indication” that any of his assistants will miss the bowl game, but said he would encourage them to pursue any opportunities to be a head coach. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was rumored to be considered for openings at Texas Tech and Colorado and could also be in the mix for the opening at Kansas State after Bill Snyder retired on Sunday.
Oregon will play in the Redbox Bowl — formerly known as the Foster Farms Bowl — for the first time, but will face Michigan State for the seventh time. The Spartans went 5-4 in the Big Ten to place fourth in the East Division after finishing the regular season with a 14-10 win over Rutgers on Nov. 24.