CFN Preview 2013 - Oregon Ducks

Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas
Posted Jul 19, 2013 2013 Preview - Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mark Helfrich
First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 22, ST 0
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Oregon Players
1. QB Marcus Mariota, Soph.
2. RB/KR De'Anthony Thomas, Jr.
3. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr.
4. DE Taylor Hart, Sr.
5. C Hroniss Grasu, Jr.
6. OT Jake Fisher, Jr.
7. TE Colt Lyerla, Jr.
8. CB Terrance Mitchell, Jr.
9. DT Wade Keliikipi, Sr.
10. WR Josh Huff, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Nicholls State
9/7 at Virginia
9/14 Tennessee
9/28 California
10/5 at Colorado
10/12 at Washington
10/19 Washington State
10/26 UCLA
11/7 at Stanford
11/16 Utah
11/23 at Arizona
11/29 Oregon State
Chip has left Eugene. Expectations for championships have not.

It's been a busy offseason at Oregon. On Jan. 16, former head coach Chip Kelly announced that he was leaving the Ducks for another bird, the Philadelphia Eagles. It marked the end of one of the great abridged tenures by a head coach in college football history. Under Kelly, Oregon went 46-7 since 2009, winning three conference titles and appearing in four straight BCS bowl games. But the coach didn't just win a ton of games, he helped transform a program into the kind of national phenomenon that inspired the media and the West Coast's top recruits to travel to the Pacific Northwest.

On June 26, Oregon finally learned its fate following a protracted NCAA investigation into recruiting violations. In the end, it was not so bad, a slap on the webbed-foot that would not prevent the Ducks from participating in a bowl game. In other words, it's business as usual for the new head coach, Mark Helfrich, and his kids.

Helfrich was hired for all of the obvious reasons—he's young, he's been on staff during the historical four-year run and he knows all of the intricacies that pertain to Oregon's signature spread-option offense. Helfrich will surely put his own touch on the Ducks, but he won't be asked to reinvent football at Autzen Stadium.

Oregon came so frustratingly close in 2012 to appearing in its second BCS National Championship Game in three years, suffering its only loss to Stanford in overtime on Nov. 17. The Ducks' consolation prize was a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they easily disposed of Kansas State. Back from that squad is enough of a core of talent on both sides of the ball to continue dreaming big in 2013. Second-year QB Marcus Mariota returns to pilot an offense that will again rank among the most explosive and fastest-scoring in the FBS. And the D, led by DE Taylor Hart and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, will continue making the kinds of game-changing plays that too often go unnoticed.

Kelly is no longer in Eugene. But then again, neither is the NCAA. The coach is certainly going to be missed for his presence, his process and his overall genius with the offense. Still, Kelly did such a remarkable job of elevating the program and stockpiling talent that any tangible impacts related to his absence won't likely felt in the short-term.

What to watch for on offense: The distribution of carries. It's a virtual certainty that Oregon is going to rip off 300 or so yards per game on the ground in 2012. But, what will the individual breakdown of production look like? While QB Marcus Mariota will account for a portion of the output, the graduation of Kenjon Barner has changed the dynamic at running back. Yeah, De'Anthony Thomas will get more touches, but he's still not a true feature back. Sophomore Byron Marshall and blue-chip rookie Thomas Tyner are built for the kinds of expanded roles that'll net both more than 500 yards on the ground.

What to watch for on defense: The D-line rotation will be as deep as any in the Pac-12. Sure, the Ducks lost their leading man when "drop end" Dion Jordan used his final year of eligibility. However, Oregon is going to be loaded up front; like Stanford-loaded. Taylor Hart is the underrated leader of a well-sized and well-stocked unit. The wild card for the front wall will be the reserves. Behind the starters is a wave of former coveted recruits that includes ends DeForest Buckner and Christian French, and tackles Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. It'll be fun watching the aforementioned sophomore quartet.

The team will be far better if… someone other than DE Taylor Hart is hunting down quarterbacks. Hart led the Ducks with eight sacks a year ago. Just behind Hart were Dion Jordan and Michael Clay, who are now playing in the NFL. Oregon needs to mine more edge rushers who cannot only collapse the pocket, but also string out running plays from sideline-to-sideline. A more chaotic Ducks pass rush coupled with one of the country's best secondaries could equal even more takeaways than last season's FBS-high 40.

The Schedule: There are just enough high-profile games to give the Ducks plenty of national recognition, but there isn't one game that stands out as a sure-thing loss. If Mark Helfrich can keep the momentum from the Chip Kelly era going, there shouldn't be any problems with the non-conference schedule that starts out with Nicholls State as a light scrimmage before going to Virginia and hosting Tennessee. If Oregon really is national title-good, it should roll through those two games by double-digits.

The Pac-12 slate couldn't start out much easier with three of the first four games against teams that didn't go bowling, and helped by getting Utah from the South in November. California, at Colorado and Washington State need to be layups, but going to Washington could be the biggest landmine to sidestep. UCLA will probably be the best team on the schedule, but that's in Eugene, and there's a week off before going to Stanford. The Civil War against Oregon State is at home, but that's coming off a dangerous road trip to Arizona.

Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Marcus Mariota. As hard as it is to imagine today, Mariota wasn't even the slam-dunk starter at this time last year. Boy, did he ever make the most of his promotion and his surroundings. Playing nothing like a rookie, Mariota earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team. Ideally suited to run the spread-option in Eugene, he finished 230-of-336 for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions through the air. Mariota also rushed for 752 yards and five additional scores. Best of all, he's only just begun to evolve as a dual-threat.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Explosive, game-changing and dynamic in the open field—Ekpre-Olomu is to the defense what De'Anthony Thomas and LaMichael James have been to the offense in recent years. For those outside of Eugene, the junior came out of nowhere in 2012 to parlay 63 tackles, four interceptions and a league-high 20 passes defended into the All-Pac-12 First Team. Ekpre-Olomu has the instincts, closing speed and ball skills to become a very popular subject among NFL scouts later this fall.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Tony Washington. Washington is the Duck most likely to replace Dion Jordan at the critical "drop end", a mix between an outside linebacker and a traditional end. Now, absolutely no one is expecting Washington to be the second-coming of Jordan, one of the most gifted pass rushers in school history. However, the junior will need to have a presence on defense, or else the coaching won't hesitate to give more snaps to up-and-coming sophomore Christian French.

The season will be a success if ... it's the same old Oregon. With or without Chip Kelly, the Ducks expect to return to a fifth consecutive BCS bowl game, preferably one that comes courtesy of a Pac-12 title. The program will begin the year as one of the top five teams in the country, which means anything less than a return to the top of the league and National Championship contention will not be acceptable. As long as Marcus Mariota and the offense continue to hum, a fourth straight 12-win season ought to be in the crosshairs for this squad.

Key game: Nov. 7 at Stanford. Does it get any bigger than this in the Pac-12? The winner of this mega-clash on a Thursday night in primetime likely wins the North Division, and probably goes on to represent the league in Pasadena. Of course, that could mean Pasadena on New Year's Day or Pasadena five days later, with a title at stake. Oregon at Stanford is so big that it could wind up being a quasi-semifinal game for the right to play for the final BCS National Championship.

2012 Fun Stats:
- First-quarter scoring: Oregon 211 – Opponents 43
- Red-zone touchdown%: Oregon 81% – Opponents 49%
- Time of possession: Oregon 27:48 - Opponents 32:10

- 2013 Oregon Preview | 2013 Oregon Offense
- 2013 Oregon Defense | 2013 Oregon Depth Chart