For the last three years, the road to glory in the Pac-12 has gone through Eugene. Chip Kelly’s Ducks have ruled the roost, with only the Stanford Cardinal offering them any challenge. Critics point out that this occurred when USC was suspended from postseason play due to the Reggie Bush scandal. Now that USC can be ranked in the polls and play in a bowl again, the battle for Pac-12 supremacy will likely occur November 3rd in Los Angeles.
The offense for the Ducks will be commanded by sophomore Bryan Bennett, who takes over for Darron Thomas. Highly touted redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota sits behind him on the depth chart. Bennett is a dual threat runner and passer who can get as many first downs with his legs as his arm. Ideally the Ducks would like him to stay in the pocket more and make great use out of Oregon’s terrific wide receivers, but the ability to scramble is always valuable. Bennett’s low completion percentage in limited action last season is a small concern.
Fortunately, when you have a running back as talented as senior Kenjon Barner in the backfield, there will always be open throwing lanes. Barner is regarded by almost all scouts as the best running back in the Pac-12, and the fourth best in the nation. He had almost 1,000 yards last season with just 152 carries, with a spectacular 6.2 yards per carry average, despite backing up LaMichael James most of the season. He proved to be a terrific backup for James last season, and looks to be one of the top players in the Pac-12 this season.
It is hard to mention the wide receiver section on the Ducks without the player regarded as one of the best all around athletes in college football: De’Anthony Thomas. While he is technically listed as a running back, the threat he provides from the slot receiver position cannot be understated. Thomas is a lightning fast runner with terrific agility, a threat to score every time he touches the ball. If he is not one of Bennett’s favorite targets through the air, he will be a menace supporting Barner. Junior Josh Huff looks to make the leap to number one wideout along with senior Rahsaan Vaughn. Huff snagged 31 passes last season for 430 yards. Sophomore Colt Lyerla starts at tight end, and will be a red zone threat.
With three seniors on the offense line, all eyes will be on the left tackle position and sophomore Jake Fisher, the only new starter on the line. The 6’6, 279 pound Fisher will be counted on to protect Bennett’s blind side, along with senior guard Carson York. The effectiveness of Fisher will greatly determine how well Bennett throws the ball this season.
On defense, no one lights up the opposing ball carrier like the hybrid defensive end and linebacker Dion Jordan. Jordan, a senior, registered 7.5 sacks last season in earning 1st team Pac-12 honors. Jordan is explosive off the snap, and has the engine to track down players who manage to get past the line. Unlike many defensive ends, Jordan can also cover receivers, making him an exceptional asset in pass protection as well. On the other side of the line is junior Taylor Hart, a 6’6, 289 pound ball of strength and ferocity, complimenting Jordan well. Senior linebacker Michael Clay locks down the second level, and highly prized safety John Boyett leads the secondary. Boyett recorded 67 solo tackles last season (108 total), once again leading the Ducks in tackling.
The Ducks come into the season ranked fifth in the nation. USC comes in ranked first. All of the marbles will be up for grabs November 3rd. The Ducks will be ready to prove that they have been the best team in the Pac-12, USC or no USC. I think they will.
Projected Finish: 12-0, 1st place in Pac-12, national title game.