College football 2019: Can Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert reach his potential?

He stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs a sturdy 237 pounds. He has the ability to make any throw. He may well one day be a great NFL quarterback, which has been the expectation around him for years now, but Oregon needs Justin Herbert to be a great college quarterback first.

Herbert entered last season as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. By season’s end, he was not even voted honorable mention All-Pac-12.

Yet, he was still projected as a first-round NFL draft pick because of his natural gifts, and it would have made a ton of sense for Herbert to go ahead and cash in.

But he decided to stay at Oregon, which shows that Herbert is not satisfied with his college career and wants to win big in his hometown of Eugene more than he wants the quick payday.

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His decision infused Oregon’s program with new life after an up-and-down 2018 that didn’t leave Ducks fans feeling like the glory days of Chip Kelly were just around the corner. Herbert gets another crack at bringing them back with basically the entire offense returning with him.

Herbert’s numbers were underwhelming last year — he completed just 59.4% of his passes, down from 67.5% his sophomore year. His stats will improve, but the Ducks need more than that from their native son if they’re going to follow through on the Pac-12 media’s prediction that they will win the North Division.

The best college quarterbacks are playmakers first. They make up for their teammates’ inevitable mistakes and clean them up with a feel for the game that you can’t teach. Herbert has to show that quality for the Ducks to have a hope of getting past road games at Stanford, Washington and USC, not to mention the opener against Auburn in Dallas.

He is never going to be Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ Heisman-winning quarterback in 2014. But Oregon can hope that Herbert will be more than just bottled-up NFL potential his last season.

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