Five things that could derail the Ducks

Oregon’s fall camp opens Monday as it bids to capture a fourth-straight Pac-12 title and set itself up for a trip to the BCS National Championship Game.

On paper at least, the outlook looks promising. The Ducks are deep on both sides of the ball, feature playmakers like De’Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Dion Jordan, John Boyett and Kiko Alonso, and enjoy a favorable schedule.

Earlier this week, Oregon received a No. 5 ranking in the USA Today coaches preseason poll.

But the college football season is a long one and any number of things can throw a kink into a team’s path and chemistry.

Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Here are 5 things that can’t happen if Oregon is to continue its recent mastery:

Injuries at QB: Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota provide the Ducks with two talented yet inexperienced QBs. Given Chip Kelly’s penchant for squeezing high-level performances from the position, however, expect Bennett and/or Mariota to be solid, if not spectacular at times. The early- and mid-season schedule — most in the media expect Oregon to win its first eight games — should allow Kelly to bring his QBs along at a measured pace. But injuries happen in the spread option offense, and if both go down at some point, the Ducks will be in trouble. The fallout likely won’t be as disastrous as the 2007 season, but Jake Rodrigues (true freshman), Jeff Lockie (true freshman) and Dustin Haines (former walk-on) don’t appear to be top-shelf Pac-12 QBs at this point in their careers.

Second-year jinx: Last preseason, the defensive secondary was loaded with young athletes — namely Terrance Mitchell, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill. Mitchell started against LSU in the opener and when Cliff Harris (dismissal) and Anthony Gildon (injury) created openings, Ekpre-Olomu and Hill made the most of it. By the time the Rose Bowl rolled around, those guys were it, and they performed admirably against Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. Now, with a season under their belt, the youngsters (along with veteran safety Boyett) are viewed by some as one of Oregon’s strengths. Still, there is a nagging question as to whether the now-sophomores will upgrade their play, or take a step back as second-year players sometimes do.

Colt Lyeria runs for yardage against Oregon State last season.

Tight-end troubles: Coming out of Hillsboro High School, Colt Lyeria was one of the nation’s top recruits. As a true freshman last year, he showed signs of brilliance and athleticism (five TDs on just seven catches) as well as inconsistency. With David Paulson off to the NFL, Colt is now the man. Those close to the team marvel at his potential, including matchup problems his size and speed can pose for defenses. But the Duck offense also is predicated around a tight end who can block at the line, block down field, and catch balls in traffic — and all within a complicated scheme — and Lyeria has yet to show he can be a sustained contributor. If Lyeria falters or gets dinged up, or if the Ducks go with a two tight-end alignment, Oregon will be faced with throwing Evan Baylis (true freshman), Pharaoh Brown (true freshman), Brian Teague, Jennings Stewart or Koa Ka’ai into the game. With the exception of perhaps Teague, all carry the ‘inexperienced’ tag.

Leadership lag: College football can be a fickle business. You can stockpile all the talent you want, but if a team isn’t functioning well and together, the ride can be bumpy. Likewise, a team can overcome talent deficiencies by becoming one. Think back to Oregon’s 1994-95 Rose Bowl team. The athleticism was not top rung that season but the work ethic, drive and cohesion was exceptional. There has been plenty of indications this off-season that leaders have emerged — Michael Clay, Kenjon Barner, Carson York, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, among them. But the team seemingly has yet to face its first crisis — on or off the field. Neither do we know what goes on behind closed doors — as in the locker room — and whether any divisive issues linger or will pop up.

The Ducks will need to guard against complacency against the likes of Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars.

Over-confidence: The Ducks have arrived nationally. A Top 5 preseason ranking a few years ago would have generated elation from Oregon fans and cynicism from opposing camps. Now, it’s recognized as almost commonplace. Oregon opens with four straight home games — Arkansas State, Fresno State, Tennessee Tech and Arizona (Pac-12 opener). The Ducks then go on the “road” to play Washington State in Seattle for Game No. 5, then entertain Washington a week later, followed by a game at Arizona State and then home for Colorado. They will be heavily favored in all of these first eight contests, and if they remain unbeaten, the Ducks will surely remain in the Top 5 national rankings week to week. Much of Kelly’s coaching philosophy is centered around living in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. Given the opposition, that “Win the Day” mantra will be tested those first two months of the season.

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FishDuck Staff

FishDuck Staff

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  • Colt went to Hillsboro High not Lake O.

  • J10eff

    USC was ranked high and upset by Washington one year….Duck’s need to look out for washington this year.

    • #whatdoesthatevenmean?

      LSU was ranked high and upset by Kentucky one year… Gator’s need to watch out for Kentucky this year.

      • 84Duck

        :-D. Well played.

  • Mikefitz_mcguire

    what about injuries to Barner or Deanthony Thomas? That’s the big cloud hanging over this season. You listed 5 things and totally missed the most obvious one. Without Barner the Ducks would be one dimensional. The defenses could just sit back and stop our young qb’s and receivers.

  • Good list, here’s mine:
    1) Inexperience at QB.   It’s one thing to make mistakes against Ark State.  Quite another on the road against USC.  BB or MM need to go down the learning curve as fast as possible and not let the big stage of LA take them out of their game.
    2) Depth at RB.  If Barner gets dinged up, who takes his place as the bell cow?  If DAT has to assume a boat load of carries for a game or two, who takes his place as the game breaking weapon?  DAT is so explosive because defenses are focusing on stopping the run first.  If he’s the primary ball carrier then defenses will be focused on him first and foremost.  
    3) Depth at LB.  Kiko and Clay are studs on the inside.  NA’s defense is complex to learn, especially for the LBs.  They must know their keys inside and out.   Behind Kiko and Clay is some great young talent, but it’s raw talent.   Injuries to either Clay or Kiko would definitely be felt. The rest of the D is deep and experienced, so injures wouldn’t hurt as much IMHO.

  • Globalpt8

    Colt Lyerla is from Hillsboro HS not Lake Oswego!

  • oregon111

    at QB, MM/BB is an upgrade over DT,

    at RB, TE, WRs, DBs, O-line: all upgrades (at least on paper)

    REAL things to worry about…

    is this the year that Oregon has an elite D-line? – because that is what has been missing,

    Hemuli/Keelikeepi & Jordan/Washington should be great,

    but can Remington/Hart/Armstead/Ebert handle their loads at DE and DT/DE???

    so goes those guys – go the fortunes of the team – why?

    because with new starters at most of the skill positions on offense, the D-line will need to be extra good to sail thru some rough patches until the new kids start playing with a rythm

    • Peter

      2012 Byron Marshall is an upgrade over 2011 LaMichael James? 2012 Pharoah Brown and Evan Bayliss are an upgrade over 2011 David Paulson? You may be focusing on the starters, but I’m less comfortable with the position groups this year than I was last year.

  • Steve Maher

    My bad on Lyeria’s high school. Got it fixed. 

  • Wow, so much pessimism.  Anything can happen on game day, this we know.  I prefer to enjoy the season week by week and not think about all the bad things that “could” happen.

    Enjoy the season everyone.  Go Ducks!

  • Bienbo

    compalcency will never be a problem with ck’s regime,, but ck’s decision making at the pinnacle moments, that will continue ti make the differnec, between national title, and conference championships, and usc games, and bowl games.. he does have an achilles heal,, it can be overcome/corrected,, but he has to grow that next step,, not sure he will.