SAN FRANCISCO — The 2019 Oregon bandwagon is getting full.
Justin Herbert will be back in the driver’s seat with the other 10 starters on offense all possibly joining the ride.
A top-five recruiting class, featuring five-star defensive end prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux, will be hopping aboard.
And Mario Cristobal, whose alma mater had a head coaching vacancy for about 10 hours on Friday, isn’t going anywhere.
The Ducks will try to build some more momentum for next season with a victory over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl on Monday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (noon, Fox).
After Mark Richt’s abrupt retirement on Sunday, national college football writers from coast to coast placed Cristobal, who won two national titles with the Hurricanes as a player and also worked at “The U” as an assistant, on the short list of candidates Miami should pursue.
Any anxiousness Duck fans were experiencing was calmed when Manny Diaz was tabbed to replace Richt on Redbox Bowl eve.
Rob Mullens has praised Cristobal for stabilizing the program after the Ducks were jilted by Florida State-bound Willie Taggart last December.
Despite an 8-4 finish to the regular season, which was highlighted by a win over Pac-12 champion Washington, Oregon’s athletic director wasn’t ready to completely redo Cristobal’s contract.
“We’re only one year in,” Mullens said during a recent interview with The Register-Guard. “When the year is all wrapped up and said and done, we’ll sit down and kind of review the year and some things.
“There might be some tweaks to it, but I don’t think there would be anything significant.”
Cristobal, whose $2.5 million salary ranks eighth among his Pac-12 peers and 54th nationally, would owe Oregon a $10 million buyout if he were to leave before Jan. 31, 2019.
With Herbert putting a lucrative NFL career on hold to return for his senior season, an announcement the star quarterback made last week so the decision wouldn’t distract the team from bowl preparations, Cristobal is looking forward to using the Redbox Bowl as a springboard into a productive offseason.
Oregon will likely be the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 next year after retaining a projected top-10 pick.
“This game has everything to do with our team and our culture,” Cristobal said during his last media availability on Friday. “Understanding that we’ve elevated in some areas this season in the program, and we still have to take a significant step how we play, the type of football we play when we’re on the road.
“Particularly against a team like Michigan State.”
This matchup won’t rival the two previous meetings in 2014-15 when both programs were ranked in the top 10 and the winner went on to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Ducks can still make a statement about the direction they’re headed in and reach some impressive statistical milestones against the Spartans stout defense.
Herbert is 15 yards shy of becoming the fifth player in program history with 3,000 passing yards in a season and CJ Verdell needs 25 yards to join LaMichael James and Royce Freeman as the only freshmen to rush for 1,000 yards at Oregon.
Dillon Mitchell, who leads the Pac-12 with 1,114 receiving yards, needs 27 more yards to set Oregon’s single-season record.
Oregon will likely join Oklahoma and Memphis as the only teams this season with a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver.
“If you start focusing on those numbers, you’ll fall short every time because that’s all you’ll start thinking about,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “I think that us going out and doing the things we need to do to win a game are the most important part.
“If we put that foot forward and those guys go out and execute the plan, I think we can have good numbers like that.”
Michigan State ranks third nationally in points allowed (18.0 per game) and yards allowed (311.5 per game).
Oregon’s offensive line welcomes starting left tackle Penei Sewell back after the talented true freshman missed the last six games with a leg injury.
“They play the way I would play if I was a defensive lineman,” left guard Shane Lemieux said of the Spartans’ formidable front. “They’re really physical. It’s not cheap. They’re really tough guys and they want to get after it.”
The Ducks’ defense, which ranks 63rd in points allowed (27.0 per game) and 61st in yards allowed (390.5 per game), will face an anemic Michigan State attack.
The injury-riddled Spartans scored a total of 26 points over their final three games of the regular season.
The unit is hoping quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back LJ Scott, who were able to get healthier during the extended break in between games, can spark the offense.
“They are a real physical, hard-nosed team, so we will try to match that,” outside linebacker La’Mar Winston said. “I feel for the most part, during the majority of the season, we have been going toe-to-tie with people.
“So I am excited to see where we are at with Michigan State.”
Mullens, the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, said the advent of four-team championship format has not completely diminished the importance of the bowl system.
Especially when fans are eager to climb back on the bandwagon ahead of Oregon’s 2019 opener against Auburn on Aug. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I think the Redbox Bowl is a great opportunity for us,” Mullens said. “It’s a great fit. It’s in the Bay Area at an NFL stadium with a great broadcast window and a huge reach against a Big Ten opponent.”
Cristobal wasn’t worried about his team’s preparation during bowl practices and events in San Francisco. The hurricane of an announcement from his hometown blew the coaching carousel back into motion, but it appears Oregon will avoid the winds of change this time.
“(Herbert) wanted all the focus to be on this game and our players have, they’ve done a good job with that,” Cristobal said. “So have (the coaches). It’s very easy once you look at the opponent.
“Just when you mention the name of the opponent and then you watch them on tape, there are no distractions.”