Whatâ€™s not to like about the Oregon Ducks this year? Two top 10 Heisman candidates. Â An offensive line with 3 of 5 starters projected to be high NFL draft picks. Â A freshman running back considered the top running back recruit in the country last year who falls in line at 3rd string. Â All of the returning wide receivers plus some talented additions who have been waiting on the sideline as redshirts. Â Lastly you have Colt Lyera, the other world Tight End, who likely will be a 1st round NFL draft pick. Â To mix it up sometimes he plays running back.
And to think Oregonâ€™s defense could very well be better than the offense. Â Itâ€™s pretty well accepted that the secondary is in the top 3 in the country if not #1. Â The defensive line finally looks like a group that would be at home playing in the SEC. Â The one area of question is the linebackers where Dion Jordan left as the 3rd overall pick in the NFL draft. Missing also are two middle linebackers, the best Oregon has fielded in some time, graduated to the NFL as well. Â The good news is their replacements are bigger, faster and stronger albeit lacking in experience.
Oregon starts the year ranked #3 in most pre-season polls and it seems well deserved after 3 straight top 5 finishes.
The biggest question then becomes how can this talented group do without Chip Kelly who left also left for the NFL as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Â Iâ€™d be ready to project Oregon to play in the BCS championship if not for the coaching change. Â Only time will tell. Â For the third straight time Oregon has chosen to promote from within by moving the Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich to the head coachâ€™s office. Â Wide receiver Scott Frost will move to the Offensive coordinator position. Â Two vacancies have been filled by highly regarded coaches and everyone else remains. Â From that perspective things should be fine. Â The same philosophies and people are in place. My concern, although not a big one, is the coaching during the game. Chip Kelly called all the plays from the sideline and was second to none in making in game adjustments. Â This year Scott Frost will be making the play calls from upstairs while Mark Helfrich has chosen to defer so that he can have a more active role in coaching players on the sideline. Â That being said, Scott Frost is one of the most highly regarded coaches in college football having a played for and coached for several of the best coaches in football. As QB he also lead Nebraska to an National Championship.
So Iâ€™m good with the idea that this could be Oregonâ€™s best chance so far to win a national championship. Â Their biggest challenge will be Stanford on the road and avoiding slipping up in games that they should win. Â The change to 12 teams in the conference means that no longer do schools play every team in the conference. Â This year that means that USC is not on Oregonâ€™s schedule.
Some additional notes:
Because they can be counted on to play man coverage on receivers without additional help Oregonâ€™s cornerbacks make things a bit easier on the rest of the defense, allowing them to focus on other things.
While DeAnthony Thomas will be listed as the starting running back, donâ€™t expect him to fill the role in the same what that LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner did. Â He will move around the field a lot in search of mismatches with the defense. He is one of Oregonâ€™s best receivers. Â Bryan Marshall will play a lot as either the prime running back or a 2nd running back along with DeAnthony. Â I expect Marshall to surprise a lot of people. He was the #1 target of the coaches at running back in 2012. He is bigger than LaMichael and Barner and just a step slower than LaMichael was. Â I donâ€™t Â believe that Thomas Tyner is ready for prime time but he will play in certain situations much as Marshall did last year. Â As he develops he is going to be amazing to watch because of his fullback size and sprinter speed. Think of Jonathan Stewart’s size with LaMichael James speed.
Best Oregon defensive line ever? Haloti Nagata and Igor Olshansky were an amazing combination but overall ability and depth may make this the most effective defensive line yet.
Mariota could be turn out to be the best Duck QB yet. Â But who is the back up? One of two talented redshirt freshman who we hope we donâ€™t have to see until garbage time.
Those who wonder if Oregon will be able to play as fast and efficient without Chip Kelly shouldnâ€™t worry. Oregon players wear GPS devices that measure how effectively they are practicing. Â Since they also did this last year they have something to compare this Falls effort to. The intensity is higher than last year. Enough said.