Back in February, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning hinted at what’s to come.

“We gotta go play games and see how we play as a team, but we have a lot of talent on this roster,” Lanning said on the Ducks’ National Signing Day show. “It is the most talented roster I’ve had since we’ve been here.”

You hope to find yourself in such a place as a new coach building a program. Lanning took over Oregon ahead of the 2022 season. He has done phenomenal work on the recruiting trail. To compete for titles, that’s a prerequisite. In a way, Oregon needs to have its most talented team to be where it wants to be.

But if you pay enough attention to Lanning, you know he’s not one to make projections. He’ll talk about what has been done, but he usually stops short of saying what will happen. (Unless the pregame cameras are on and Colorado is in the other locker room.) He’s mostly measured in front of media members, careful not to give away the farm, calculated in how he speaks to his team through his availabilities.

Oregon was excellent last season. A couple of corners short of being a College Football Playoff team. If the Ducks are just as good in 2024, they’ll make the expanded CFP. If the Ducks are better, they’re a threat to win the national title.

At FanDuel, Oregon is +900 to win a national championship next fall. Only 3 teams — Georgia, Ohio State, Texas — have shorter odds. The same is true at DraftKings, which has Oregon priced at +850 to win the title.

A $100 bet on Oregon to just make the CFP only wins $40 at FanDuel. The same would win $41.66 at DraftKings.

The Ducks’ win total is set at 10.5 by both books. At ESPN Bet, the over on 10.5 wins has even odds.

The Worldwide Leader’s Football Power Index (FPI) projects 10.8 wins with a 24.4% chance to make the national title game — the second-best of any FBS team.

FPI has Oregon as the No. 2 team in the country in its preseason projections. Bill Connelly’s SP+ has the Ducks at No. 3 (with the No. 1 offense). As the other power models start to trickle out, expect the Ducks to be a regular inside the top 3 or 4.

Most expect Oregon to be better. Lanning thinks the Ducks are more talented.

But are they winning a title?

Or, at the very least, are they a legitimate contender to win a title?

The short answer is yes. Oregon has everything it needs.

Remarkable, really, considering what Oregon lost when the 2023 season ended.

A quick refresher: The Ducks saw their record-breaking, Heisman-contending quarterback enter the NFL Draft alongside their record-breaking wide receiver and their best running back. The Rimington Trophy-winning center went to the NFL. The top corner, top safety, and top defensive end went to the NFL, too.

Remember, Lanning expects this new iteration of the Ducks to be his most talented.

That’s what happens when you sign a second consecutive top-10 recruiting class and a second consecutive top-10 transfer class.

Oregon’s 2024 haul was the third-ranked group of high school prospects in the industry-generated 247 Composite. The transfer class ranked second in the country. In 2023, Oregon signed the No. 9 high school class and the No. 9 transfer class.

The Ducks are in a class of their own in that regard.

And a number of the big names are expected to contribute in 2024.

The 2023 transfer class brought Tez Johnson, Ajani Cornelius, Jestin Jacobs, and Jordan Burch (among others). Arguably, each of those aforementioned players is an All-Big Ten talent and one of the 10 or 12 most important Ducks.

The 2023 signing class brought Matayo Uiagalelei and Rodrick Pleasant (among others), 2 young defenders whose development could take the defense from good to great.

Does Elijah Rushing, a 2024 5-star, press for early playing time? Does top-100 wideout Jeremiah McClellan crack the receiver rotation? We know the 2024 transfer crop has produced multiple instant-impact starters — Kobe Savage at safety, Derrick Harmon on the interior of the defensive line, Jabbar Muhammad at corner, Matthew Bedford at tackle, Evan Stewart at receiver, and Dillon Gabriel at quarterback.

Gabriel is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. And he’s a perfect fit at Oregon on the heels of what Bo Nix built.

At Oregon, Nix became the NCAA’s record holder for starts in a career and would frequently use that bank of information to serve as a de-facto 11th on-field coach. Nix would call plays on the fly. The relationship between he and offensive coordinator Will Stein was almost one between peers; Stein trusted Nix completely.

In taking Gabriel, the Ducks ensured their floor would stay high in the post-Nix era.

For his career, Gabriel has thrown for 14,865 passing yards and 125 touchdowns across 49 starts. He has a career 63% completion rate and a 1.6% interception rate. He is 30 touchdown passes shy of tying Case Keenum’s career NCAA record and 4,352 passing yards shy of Keenum’s other all-time record.

Last season, Gabriel was the nation’s ninth-best passer on deep balls, according to Pro Football Focus. (Nix was eighth.) Among qualified passers, Gabriel posted the fourth-best Total QBR in the country (87.3). He had the sixth-best offensive grade of any quarterback when blitzed (89.7; Nix was fifth). Faced with a blitz, Gabriel completed 64% of his throws with 14 touchdowns and an average of 10 yards a pass.

There wasn’t a better quarterback in the country — not just among the available guys, but anyone — to slot into Stein’s offense.

The offense is loaded. It’s good enough to win a Big Ten title and compete for a CFP title. But that was the case last year.

The Ducks’ undoing was in their defensive depth. Starting cornerback Jahlil Florence was unavailable for the Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington. Khyree Jackson, a starter on the other side, was in and out of the game with an injury. Burch was knocked out of the game almost as soon as it started.

It was a worst-case scenario, as you needed all the help you could get in the secondary against Washington’s trio of elite receivers and you needed to be able to affect Michael Penix Jr. in the pocket. Oregon had neither and lost.

In the fourth quarter, Washington killed off the game with a 6-plus-minute scoring drive.

Over the last 2 classes, Lanning has added 23 blue-chip defensive recruits to the team. Nine of the 11 projected starters on the defensive side are either 2023 or 2024 additions to the team.

Just in the 2024 class, Oregon added 41 scholarship players to the team. Eight of the defensive high school signees were top-200 prospects. Eight of the 14 transfers were defenders.

Getting Jamaree Caldwell (Houston) and Derrick Harmon (Michigan State) to plug the defensive line was huge. Brandon Dorlus did well to create one-on-ones for his teammates last season, and Oregon would have missed that had it not been able to replace him like-for-like.

Harmon is an experienced Big Ten defensive tackle with a 6-foot-5, 320-pound frame. Caldwell is 325 pounds and generated 8.5 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks last season for the Cougars. Both of them together will make life better on Burch and Uiagalelei.

This will be a Lanning defense. Can it look anything like his Georgia defenses?

Oregon has to be better on third downs (37th in conversions against) and better in the red zone (69th in score percentage against). In both regards, having a stronger 2-deep will help.

On paper, Lanning is correct. This is the most talented team he has had since taking over the program. In the secondary, Oregon looks to have one of the better groups it has had in recent memory. If health permits, the front seven has enough tools to create havoc.

When Georgia won the national title in 2021, it did so with a havoc rate (passes defended, TFLs, forced fumbles) of 19.5%. That mark ranked eighth in the country.

Last season, Oregon produced a havoc rate of 17.1%, which was good for 45th in the nation.

Lanning talks about the splash plays often. Takeaways and chunk plays win ball games. Oregon can hit home runs all day long with its offense. Can it do the same with its defense? Does it have enough beyond the initial starting 11 to impact the game by generating havoc plays?

That’s the central question in deciding whether Oregon is a contender or a pretender in 2024. As things stand in June, Oregon looks good on paper. Lanning has done plenty to retrofit this roster, which looks like one of the 4 or 5 most talented in the country.

Verdict: Contender

Best value for a title bet on Oregon: +1000 (BetMGM)