It’s here! The time of year we all yearn for!
An ongoing fiesta has engulfed Duck fans since Oregon’s victory over Kansas State last January. Fans across the country have been anxiously waiting to commence another journey towards destiny. The highly anticipated college football season has finally arrived and though the road for the Ducks may look a bit different, the plan of attack is still the same: Win the Day.
Oregon looks poised for take off this Saturday when they will face Nicholls State, a team from the FBS Southland Conference that went 1-10 last season. The 2012 season included an atrocious 77-3 loss to Oregon State in the final game of their campaign. The Colonels should be better, returning nine defensive starters from last season, as well as eight on offense, but an upset is very unlikely. In fact, it would be the greatest upset in college football history.
The Ducks have a few voids to fill as well, but the squad has a number of talented players returning on both sides of the ball, a big reason why they are third in the AP Poll preseason rankings, leading all Pac-12 teams. For the first time ever, a total of five teams from the Pac-12 are included in the preseason rankings: No. 4 Stanford, No. 19 UCLA, No. 24 USC and No. 25 Oregon State.
This increase in competition could either make or break the Ducks’ season. Once again, Stanford is the most threatening team in the way of Oregon reclaiming the Pac-12 crown. The Cardinal returns quarterback Kevin Hogan, who outperformed Josh Nunes for the starting job midway through the year and never looked back, winning the final eight games to secure the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
However, they lose talented running back Stepfan Taylor, whose production was essential for Stanford’s effectiveness on offense. What makes the Cardinal dangerous is their resilient defense. They allowed only three yards per carry last season, one of the lowest in the country.
However, the Ducks will be much better than they were a year ago.
Even with the mastermind of Chip Kelly off to the NFL, the Ducks enter this season with one of the most explosive offenses in the nation: a more experienced Marcus Mariota behind center, the fabled athleticism of De’Anthony Thomas and a number of complementary players that will actively contribute to the up-tempo assault of the Ducks.
An increased pass attack is expected in head coach Mark Helfrich’s game plan to utilize Mariota’s exceptional passing ability. On the outside, Oregon brings to the field one of the most underrated receiving corps in the nation, and one with much depth. This will make the attack much more complex for opposing teams to defend.
The UCLA Bruins may also be a force to be reckoned with, within the conference and on a national level, despite the loss of running back Johnathan Franklin. The composure shown by young dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley has propelled this Bruin team in the right direction. Hundley had an impressive first year as a starter, and he will undoubtedly get better with time; last season he threw for 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 66.6 completion percentage.
Outside the Pac-12, Alabama and Ohio State lead the push of resistance against Oregon.
The Crimson Tide come in ranked No. 1 once again after winning their second straight national title, but the big question in Tuscaloosa is if ‘Bama will be able to fill the holes left by the nine players selected in the NFL draft.
On offense Alabama has one of the better teams its had in years, with a number of skilled players returning, including that of starting quarterback AJ McCarron. The senior signal caller doesn’t put up electrifying numbers, but his game management for the Tide is crucial. Last season, McCarron led the nation with a 175.3 passer rating, but what is most impressive is his 10:1 touchdown to interception ratio. The issue McCarron faces is his new offensive line and if they will be able to keep up with tradition. After losing three elite linemen to the draft last year, protection may become an issue.
On defense, the front eight is solid, led by senior linebacker CJ Mosely, but the picture seems a little hazy in the secondary. The Tide has an experienced corner in Deion Belue, who played opposite of star cornerback Dee Milliner last season and was more than effective for one of the nation’s toughest defenses, recording 40 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass deflections. After Belue, the gig is a toss up. Sophomore Geno Smith is expected to fill the void, but following a poor choice of off-field activities, he is suspended for Game 1 of the season.
These imperfections on both sides of the ball leave Bama more vulnerable this season than in recent years. They are still the front-runners for the national title, but if certain roles cannot be filled, the Tide may find trouble rolling to another championship.
Ohio State is another team on everybody’s radar this season after going undefeated in 2012-2013. Led by Heisman Trophy-candidate Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer’s team returns a heap of players to try to duplicate their results from last year – which is definitely possible with the limited competition on their schedule. Back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Northwestern will be two of their toughest games, with the season finale at No. 17 Michigan being the most crucial.
The Dawgs from Georgia are the final team I think will be a fierce competitor for the crystal football this season. Georgia was just was a mere five yards away from beating Alabama in last year’s SEC championship game, they return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray and a two-headed animal in the backfield with young running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
The only thing hindering the Bulldogs is whether or not their defense can regain the ferocity of last year, given the loss of a significant amount of talent on that side of the ball.
The SEC and Pac-12 are leading the way, with Ohio State being the only exception in the Top 5. Oregon’s match-up against Stanford Nov. 7 could ultimately determine which team will win the Pac-12 championship and head to Pasadena with hopes of dethroning the SEC from their perch as kings of college football.
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