2008 CFN Oregon Preview
Oregon C Max Unger
Oregon C Max Unger
Posted May 9, 2008

Oregon was on the fast track to a Pac 10 title and the national title game, and then a Dennis Dixon knee injury sent the season careening into a disappointment. C Max Unger and the Ducks appear to have reloaded, but can they be as good as they were early last season? Check out the CFN Oregon Preview.

Oregon Ducks

Preview 2008

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2008 Oregon Preview | 2008 Oregon Offense
- 2008 Oregon Defense | 2008 Oregon Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Oregon Preview | 2006 CFN Oregon Preview 

Head coach: Mike Bellotti
14th year: 106-52
19th year overall: 127-77-2
Returning Lettermen: 53
Off. 26, Def. 23, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Duck Players
S Patrick Chung, Sr.
2. DE Nick Reed, Sr.
3. C Max Unger, Sr.
4. CB Walter Thurmond, Jr.
5. CB Jairus Byrd, Jr.
6. OT Fenuki Tupou, Sr.
7. RB Jeremiah Johnson, Sr.
8. WR Jaison Williams, Sr.
9. TE Ed Dickson, Jr.
10. DE Will Tukuafu, Jr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Washington
Sept. 6 Utah State
Sept. 13 at Purdue
Sept. 20 Boise State
Sept. 27 at Washington State
Oct. 4 at USC
Oct. 11 UCLA
Oct. 25 at Arizona State
Nov. 1 at California
Nov. 8 Stanford
Nov. 15 Arizona
Nov. 29 at Oregon State

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Results: 9-

Sept. 1 Houston W 48-27
Sept. 8 at Michigan W 39-7
Sept. 15
Fresno State W 52-21
Sept. 22 at Stanford W 55-31
Sept. 29 California L 31-24
Oct. 13
Washington St W 53-7
Oct. 20 at Washington W 55-34
Oct. 27 USC W 24-17
Nov. 3
Arizona State W 35-23
Nov. 15 at Arizona L 34-24
Nov. 24 at UCLA L 16-0
Dec. 1
Oregon St L 38-31 2OT
Sun Bowl
Dec. 31 South Florida W 56-21

Oregon is not rebuilding. It just might look that way over the first few weeks of 2008.

A season after coming painfully close playing for a national championship, with the dreams dying when former QB Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury, the Ducks are looking to reload a backfield that played such an integral role in last year’s torrid 8-1 start. A new quarterback must be found, as does a new feature back to replace Jonathan Stewart.

Add in the losses of a couple of key receivers and starting linemen, and Oregon could lean uncharacteristically on the defense in the early stages of the season. After doing a great job in his Duck debut a year ago, second-year coordinator Chip Kelly will have to be even more innovative this fall, coaching up an offense that’ll be without its two main sparkplugs. But at this point, the program brings in strong recruits with the talent to shine right away. And then there’s the “Dixon” factor.

Raise your hands if you knew Dixon was going to be the difference between a possible national championship and the Sun Bowl. Yeah, right. He came from out of nowhere to become a superstar, and now that he’s gone to the NFL, will Oregon be able to simply coach-up one of the good prospects, or was Dixon really that good? It might be a little of both.

Until the new starters on offense come around, the underappreciated and opportunistic defense, led by one of the Pac-10’s best defensive backfields, could carry the team. There are offensive prospects to build around, and the coaching should be solid. But there’s still last year to get over.

While the 56-21 thumping of South Florida in the bowl game might have been cathartic, 2007 will mostly be known for the epic collapse, losing the final three games of the regular season, right after beating the Pac 10’s two other stars, USC and Arizona State. Can the Ducks recapture that magic of the hot start, or were the late season losses indicative of a lack of mental toughness?

If there’s a little bit of patience, the Ducks should grow into a strong Pac 10 player by the middle of the season. But if three are problems after a little bit of adversity, this could be another season of wondering what might have been.

What to watch for on offense
: Who replaces Dennis Dixon under center? What began as an open field has been narrowed down to a pair of very different sophomores, Nate Costa and Justin Roper. While Roper was lights out in the blowout of South Florida, Costa is the better fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. He’s coming off knee surgery, but has far better mobility than Roper and can make plays outside of the pocket. Although Costa has the edge, he still has plenty to prove when practice resumes in August.

What to watch for on defense
: The play of the secondary. When you think Oregon football, many things come to mind and a suffocating pass defense usually isn’t one of them. At least for one season, this year’s squad is going to change that notion. Led by Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond, and Jairus Byrd, the Ducks have one of the most athletic and opportunistic defensive backfields in the country. Yes, they’ll give up yards, but they’ll compensate by taking a bunch of passes the other way and doing a good job of erasing the mediocre receiving corps.   

The team will be far better if… the new quarterback can pick up where Dennis Dixon left off last November. If that quarterback happens to be Nate Costa, it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem.  Let’s not forget that Dixon was a mess before Mike Bellotti had the foresight to name Kelly as his new offensive coordinator. Costa has now had more than a year to work with Kelly and digest his offense, and has many of the same skills that made Dixon so tough to defend a year ago.      

The Schedule: Starting off the Pac 10 slate right away isn't that bad if it's a home game against Washington, but that's where the conference fun stops. The Ducks have five league road games including the three toughest dates possible: at USC, at Arizona State and at California. If that wasn't bad enough, those three come in a five-week span wrapped around a tough battle with UCLA along with an off week. Throw the road trip to Washington State into the mix and the Ducks have four away dates in five games. On the plus side, the mid-November home games against Stanford and Arizona (in a revenge date) aren't bad, and there's a week off before the Civil War at Oregon State. If the Pac 10 slate wasn't tough enough, the non-conference slate has two interesting tests at Purdue and at home against Boise State to go along with a layup against Utah State.

Best offensive player: Senior C Max Unger. A long-time model of stability for the program, Unger hasn’t missed a game in his first three seasons, evolving into one of the Pac-10’s best blockers and an All-America candidate. Able to play any position on the offensive line, he’s a dominant all-around blocker and one of the heady leaders of the entire offense.  

Best defensive player: Senior Rover Patrick Chung. Part linebacker and part cornerback, Chung can do it all for the Oregon defense. A dynamic athlete with a keen field awareness, he’s a bona fide playmaker who’s equally effective stopping the run as he is defending the pass. One of the respected leaders of the defense, Chung put of the NFL for one more season, after coming this close to bolting, opting instead to make another run at a Rose Bowl and a likely spot on the All-America team.    

Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Jeremiah Johnson. Of course, the new quarterback will be critical to Oregon’s success, but Costa or Roper can be eased into the job if Johnson recaptures his pre-injury form. The Ducks are at their best on offense when balance is on display, meaning the running game might have to be even more explosive than it was a year ago. Now that Jonathan Stewart has departed Johnson is the type of complete back who’s capable of erupting with an opportunity to be more than just a backup.              

The season will be a success if ... the Ducks finish ranked in the final Top 25 and no worse than No. 2 in the Pac-10. With the uncertainty at quarterback and road trips to USC, Arizona State, and Cal, it’s asking too much for the program to buck the recent trend and win the conference. However, there’s more than enough talent on the field and on the coaching staff for Oregon to be the next best thing to the Trojans, earning a second Holiday Bowl trip in the last four years.         

Key game
: Oct. 4 at USC. Why not? As dominant as the Trojans have been under Pete Carroll, they have hardly been invincible over the last few seasons. The Ducks won this game last year at Autzen Stadium, so forget about them being intimidated when they arrive at The Coliseum. If Oregon has any hopes of being more than a runner-up in the Pac-10, it needs to deliver a statement win on the road.         

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Touchdowns scored: Oregon 62 – Opponents 36
- Rushing yards per game: Oregon 251.7 – Opponents 132.8
- Third down conversions: Oregon 89 for 207 (43%) – Opponents 67 for 205 (33%)