Amid all the off-season changes and rumors swirling around the mighty Ducks of Oregon, there is still a strong belief around the nation that these Chip Kelly-less Ducks can contend for a national title, and that the Ducks are favorites to win the Pac-12 crown. If you look across all major sporting websites, specifically at their college football previews, almost every expert has the Ducks winning the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 overall. Some of those same experts believe that the Ducks (led by the Flyin’ Hawaiian Marcus Mariota) will also be playing for the national title come January.
Obviously just because we are picked to win the Pac-12 and be in the national title game by many experts doesn’t mean by any stretch that it is going to become a reality. The Pac-12 is tough once again this season. Oregon State will be good as they return the majority of their starters. UCLA should be even better with quarterback Brett Hundley having a full year of experience under his belt. USC is still USC, despite the massively underwhelming season that took place in Los Angeles last year. They are the prime example of why it doesn’t matter who is picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason. Last year, the Trojans were picked to win the Pac-12 and was the No. 1 team in the nation coming into the season. That quickly changed, however.
Let’s not forget the Stanford Cardinal and what they are building down in Palo Alto. Those who don’t have the Ducks winning the Pac-12 have Stanford winning it, and it is hard to argue with either prediction. The Cardinal came into Autzen last year and held our juggernaut of an offense to a measly 14 points – not to mention that they completely derailed any hope for our Ducks going to the national title. The championship game nods, of course, went to Notre Dame, who finished an unimpressive-though-still-undefeated regular season, and the winner of the SEC (Alabama), an almost-automatic qualifier as long as it has less than two or three losses, since all of America knows that the SEC is “the nation’s toughest conference.” However, that is an entirely different animal that I shouldn’t even get started on, because it will be quite hard for me to stop once I get going.
Looking ahead to the Ducks’ season, there are only a couple of games on the schedule that you look at and say, “You know what? I think we could lose that game.” Obviously, November 7th at Stanford is the game that everyone is pointing to as the game where the Ducks lose their perfect season; however, the games at Virginia and at Arizona could very well be tougher than expected. Not to mention, Tennessee always has some incredible athletes on both sides of the ball despite the program being down the last several seasons. So all in all, when looking at the Ducks’ schedule, there are some opportunities for slip-ups. However, we return most of the starters on both sides of the ball. Kenjon Barner is a big loss at running back, and Dion Jordan’s departure highlights a need to reload at drop end/linebacker. We have ample depth at the running back position with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, and freshman phenom Thomas Tyner. Jordan, along with linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso will be harder to replace, but we have a lot of talent and experience at linebacker and along the front line.
The real reason we all feel so comfortable heading into the season and didn’t have a coronary when Chip decided to leave was that we know we have a guy in Helfrich who can take over the team without much transition and that we return our school’s most impressive freshman quarterback in history in Mariota. The sky is the limit for this year’s Ducks squad. The question is, do the Ducks have all the pieces in place to get back to the National Championship Game and not skip a beat with the departure of Kelly the Magnificent?
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