Now that Chip Kelly has officially announced his return to the Ducks, I figured it would be appropriate to start getting everyone’s hopes up about the upcoming season (even if it is about 7 months away).
Not only will the Ducks be bringing back one of the great minds in college football in Chip Kelly, but they will also be returning eight starters on offense and seven starters on defense from a team that just tore through Kansas State like tissue paper in the Fiesta Bowl. Granted, the Ducks will have to replace the production of Kenjon Barner next season, as well as shore up the defense after the departure of Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan and Michael Clay, but replacing talent is something that Chip Kelly clearly specializes in. The Ducks were only returning 14 starters and breaking in a new quarterback for the 2012-2013 season and still managed to win the Fiesta Bowl.
To replace Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas will certainly have to step up, which should be more than welcome news to Duck fans. Byron Marshall will also see his role expand, but he will likely have to battle for playing time with Thomas Tyner, the highly touted running back out of Aloha High School who, just this past season, shattered the Oregon high school single-game rushing record by running for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns. Yes, 644 yards and 10 touchdowns … in ONE game. Tyner is a unique combination of speed and power. According to Rivals.com, Tyner is 6’0’’ and weighs 200 lbs., but he also runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. Needless to say, I think Duck fans should be excited to see what Tyner will be able to do in Chip Kelly’s offense.
The Ducks will also need to fill a big hole on their defense with the departure of Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan and Michael Clay. Kiko and Dion will almost certainly be going pro, while Michael Clay will only miss being drafted due to a lack of size. The Ducks have a young, yet experienced secondary. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was an absolute beast this season, and will only be a junior next year. Avery Patterson, who tore his ACL in the game against Cal, will hopefully be back and healthy for next season. He had three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, after filling in for the injured John Boyett. Freshman defensive lineman and five star recruit Arik Armstead also saw extensive playing time this season, and will certainly see his role expand next season as well.
Most Duck fans aren’t worried about replacing the graduating talent, however. The Ducks are such a deep team and so many different players get reps in games that it makes it much easier to replace talent, and the Ducks have shown a remarkable ability to keep on winning despite not returning many starters on either side of the ball. A lot of Duck fans are worried about NCAA sanctions possibly putting a damper on national championship hopes. Clearly Chip Kelly is not too bothered by it. Many people were quick to point out that Kelly was going to the NFL to avoid the NCAA sanctions and that he was “bailing” on a sinking ship. Instead he returned to face the sanctions, which are not likely to be anywhere close to as severe as the sanctions imposed on USC and Ohio State of late. The Ducks have been cooperating fully with the NCAA, and Chip Kelly has shown that he is confident enough with the situation to return to Eugene.
I see no reason why the Ducks shouldn’t compete for a national championship next season. They have a very young and talented quarterback who will only continue to get better, as well as a five star running back recruit who could make a huge splash in the Pac-12 in Thomas Tyner. Combine that with De'Anthony Thomas and a young, hungry defense, and this Ducks squad could be the most talented group that Chip Kelly has ever coached at Oregon.