“If” seems to be the big story this year for the Oregon Ducks. If Jonathan Stewart stays healthy. If the D-line plugs in the new guys and doesn’t struggle. If Dennis Dixon stops throwing so many picks. If all these things happen, then Oregon Ducks are going to be a great team, and they’re going to be hell to try and beat. And if not, then they’re going to spend another season hovering around .500, with an outside shot of missing a bowl game altogether.
When things are going right, this is a dangerous attack that can spread the field and then slam it in with two great runners in Stewart and Johnson. And when Dixon is on, he’s able to beat you with his legs and his arm. The receiving corps isn’t fantastic, but they’re a solid group that has the depth and the talent to support a spread attack.
The line may be a problem, though. They did a good job last year, but there’s a bit less experience this time around. And that could turn out to be very important, because if Dixon does end up under a lot of pressure, then he could once again get into the very bad habit of throwing a lot of bad passes that get picked off.
This is a solid through unspectacular group. The secondary looks like their strength, with young guys who have shown that they can play well, especially the pair of sophomores they have at corner. And Patrick Chung has done an excellent job at rover. This will be one of the best pass defenses in the conference.
The front seven isn’t quite as good, but should also be solid. They lose a very good linebacker in Blair Phillips, which will hurt them against the run a bit. The D-line needs some patching up, but there’s decent talent coming in, so at the least the unit shouldn’t be a liability.
Potentially Huge Upset Win:
Michigan. The Wolverines obviously have a lot of talent, but this will be the first test for a team that is young, especially on defense. Ohio State had a lot of success running the spread, so the Ducks may also do well with it. Plus, Oregon will be pulling out all the stops in this game, while Michigan also needs to be ready for the next two games against Notre Dame and Penn State.
Also, USC is a possibility, largely due to how tough Autzen can be for a good team to visit and come out with a win.
Potentially Huge Upset Loss:
Nothing jumps out as especially obvious, but both Fresno State and Wazzu have had a lot of recent success against the Ducks. And huge home upset losses (Arizona in 2006, Indiana in 2004, Wazzu in 2003, ASU in 2002, Stanford in 2001) have been a huge problem for this program. Don’t be shocked if we see another one this year.
This team’s season rests on quarterback play. If Dixon finally matures, they could be great, and if not they’re in trouble. Expect the middle ground on that question, and a corresponding finish somewhere around 8-4.
OREGON STATE BEAVERS
“My kingdom for a quarterback.” These days, that has to be what coach Mike Riley is thinking, as this looks like an otherwise strong roster. Yvenson Bernard is a strong running back, the receiver corps has good experience, and the defense should be strong.
But quarterback looms very large, as there is basically no way to know what they’ll be getting at that position, and they don’t have a good track record at the position. Moreover, since they were generally fortunate last year (positive turnover margin and a huge net positive close wins), some sort of slide seems almost inevitable.
For better or worse, this is going to be the Yvenson Bernard show. He’s done a great job the past two seasons, and he’s got a strong line to run behind. If he can stay healthy (a huge if after all of the injuries he’s fought during his tenure at Corvallis), he’s going to have another great season. If not, they’re going to have to rely on Clinton Polk, who isn’t bad but is still a definite downgrade.
In the passing game, the Beavers’ line should do a better job protecting the quarterback than they did last year. However, Canfield is young and has basically no experience, so there’s going to be a definite learning curve. More than that, this program has been absolutely dreadful at getting QB’s to play well in their first (and sometimes second) year starting. Matt Moore had 19 picks in 2005, and before that Derek Anderson had a whole career of being known for his bad passes.
With that sort of track record, Beaver fans should be very worried, especially now that Sammie Stroughter is apparently out for the year, taking away their only big threat at WR. Powers and Wheat-Brown have experience, which will help make up the gap, but losing a playmaker of that caliber simply isn’t something that can be compensated for.
This should be the strength of the team. They’ve got a lot of experience everywhere here, and they’ve shown themselves to be capable of doing a good job on a consistent basis. The very best offenses will have an edge, but not by much.
The front seven looks especially strong, as they did a generally good job against the run, only struggling against a couple of teams. Returning their whole linebacker corps will be huge, as they were already solid against the run, and should be even better this time around.
The secondary isn’t quite as good as some other teams’, but it is still decent. If they can do a better job making picks, this could turn into a good unit.
Potentially Huge Upset Win:
UCLA seems like a possibility. Both teams emphasize defense, and it comes in the middle of a tough stretch for the Bruins (soon after BYU and Utah, and right before Notre Dame). If it’s a low scoring game, then a couple of big plays might make all the difference.
Potentially Huge Upset Loss:
Washington State. Not only is this hostile road environment for a young, unproven quarterback, but this is also late November in Pullman. That’s not a fun environment for anyone to be playing in, and could very well be the difference.
It’s an odd year, so once again Beaver fans can expect the breaks to go against them, and losing Stroughter this late in August is a pretty good indication that this trend isn’t likely to stop this time around. Moreover, there are just too many question marks, and too many tough road games, to expect the Beavers to match what they did last year. 7-5 or 6-6 seem like the most likely outcomes.
Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org