What it Takes to Get Back to the “Natty”: 2013 Ducks vs. 2010

Natty Trophy

In 2010, it took 12 wins, 6,986 yards of total offense, 37 takeaways, 49.6 points per game and 2,790 pushups for the Oregon Ducks to make it to the national championship game against Auburn.

With August now upon us, it is hard not to draw comparisons between the 2013 squad and its nearly undefeated 2010 counterpart in anticipation of what is sure to be another great season for the Ducks.

In 2012, Oregon fell three points shy of an undefeated season, losing to Stanford in overtime.  The 2010 team found the exact same fate when the 12-0 Ducks lost to Auburn 19-22 after a last-minute field goal by the Tigers.

After four straight trips to BCS bowls, a feat that not even Alabama has accomplished over that span of time, Oregon players and fans are hungry for that next big step. They’re eager to regain their crown atop the Pac-12.  They’re eager for a big win over an SEC team.

LaMichael James led the nation in rushing back in 2010 with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Photo by John Tutrone

LaMichael James led the nation in rushing back in 2010 with 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Perhaps most obviously, they’re eager for a national championship.

As college football fans, we’ve seen how much it takes to make it to the national championship game, though we’ve yet to take home the trophy.  As the numbers listed above indicate, the 2010 Ducks did just about everything right on their way to Glendale.

So, how does the 2013 team stack up against arguably the best team in Oregon football history from back in 2010?  The answer is quite exciting for Ducks fans.

Let us begin at quarterback.  Darron Thomas took over the reins of the offense back in 2010 after the shocking dismissal of incumbent starter Jeremiah Masoli during the offseason.  ”DT”, as he came to be known, quietly posted an outstanding season.

In his first year as a starter, Thomas completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,863 yards and only nine picks.  He added 486 yards on the ground, and tallied 35 total touchdowns.  He also racked up an impressive 363 yards passing in the national championship game, which was the second-highest passing total ever in a title game.

As awesome as Thomas was back in 2010, Marcus Mariota was even more impressive in his debut campaign, and has been listed on plenty of preseason Heisman lists.  Like Thomas, Mariota managed to somehow remain underrated while posting elite passing numbers in 2012.  He too added significant mileage on the ground.

However, the main difference that gives this 2013 team the advantage is Mariota’s poise.  As great of a leader as

Thomas was, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” refuses to be shaken, even on the biggest stage.

Darron Thomas was an outstanding quarterback for the Ducks during the 2010 season.

Photo by John Tutrone

Darron Thomas was an outstanding quarterback for the Ducks during the 2010 season.

One of the most consistent and dynamic guns in the country, Mariota is a top-tier quarterback and a truly elite leader.  Numbers aside, these intangibles under center may be the most important piece to the puzzle of a national championship season.

At running back, the 2010 squad may have the slight edge in terms of production.  However, this is not for a lack of talent on the 2013 team.  De’Anthony Thomas is likely to see an increased role this season, and we all know what he can do with the ball in his hands.  Joining him is the promising sophomore Byron Marshall and the super-recruit Thomas Tyner, not to mention veterans Ayele Forde and Kenny Bassett.

LaMichael James was a Heisman candidate back in 2010, but don’t be surprised to see one of these players, most likely Thomas or Marshall, receiver postseason attention in 2013.

It is at wide receiver that there may be the biggest offensive disparity between these two teams, and it goes in favor of the 2010 squad.  Like with the running backs, this is not due to a shortcoming on this year’s team.  On the contrary, Daryle Hawkins, Keanon Lowe, Josh Huff, and Bralon Addison are all great targets.

However, Jeff Maehl provided one of the best pair of hands in Oregon football history back in 2010.  The contributions of Maehl, who posted a 1,000-yard season as a senior, and of fellow receivers D.J. Davis and Lavasier Tuinei, were crucial to the success of the 2010 Ducks.  This year’s batch of rising stars must continue to improve in 2013.

Josh Huff made a number of big plays back in 2010, and he must step up and lead the receiving corps as a senior in 2013.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Josh Huff made a number of big plays back in 2010, and he must step up and lead the receiving corps as a senior in 2013.

Huff is one of the few players remaining from the 2010 team.  That season, he was a true freshman, and his role was quite different.  He often lined up in the slot or the backfield, allowing him to display his versatility.

With DAT likely to become more of a workhorse out of the backfield in 2013, Huff could easily move back to this all-purpose position and contribute exactly the way he did back in 2010.

Also, while David Paulson was an ever-reliable, outstanding tight end, Colt Lyerla may be the best at his position in the country.  Freakishly athletic and extraordinarily versatile, the rising junior will give Mariota an extremely valuable weapon in the middle of the field.

On the front wall, the 2010 Ducks had an outstanding batch of big bodies.  Among them were studs such as Bo Thran, Carson York, Jordan Holmes, and Mark Asper.  With that being said, this year’s group is bookended by one of the best tackle tandems in the country featuring Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone.  This duo will be aided by center Hronis Grassu, who has all-American potential.

The defensive line three years ago also featured some big names. Brandon Bair, Kenny Rowe, and Zac Clark each posted at least three sacks in 2010.  In 2013, the Ducks have a high ceiling in the trenches too.  Thanks to Nick Aliotti’s ability to rapidly substitute players into his front seven, Oregon has plenty of young linemen with game experience.

Former super-recruit Arik Armstead will likely display his outstanding talent this season, and Taylor Hart is one of the most underrated ends in the nation.  Add in young studs like DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci, and this line has the potential to be the best it’s been in years.

Boseko Lokombo is the most seasoned linebacker on Oregon's roster. He must become a leader now that Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are gone.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Boseko Lokombo is the most seasoned linebacker on Oregon’s roster. He must become a leader now that Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are gone.

Linebacker might be the biggest question mark on the 2013 squad with the departures of Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.  The 2010 team had no shortage of leadership in its linebacker corps, a position group often seen as the quarterback of the defense, with Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.

Nonetheless, Boseko Lokombo has been strutting his stuff for three years now, and lean, athletic players such as Rahim Cassell and newcomer Terrodney Prevot have very high ceilings.  It is imperative that a leader emerges throughout the season, but they seem to have that in Lokombo.

It is in the secondary that we get to some very interesting comparisons.  In 2010, Cliff Harris had one of the greatest seasons an Oregon cornerback has ever had.  Harris posted six interceptions and led the nation with 23 passes defended.

Joining outstanding safeties John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant, as well as veteran corner Talmadge Jackson III, Harris helped make up one of the top secondaries in the nation.

While this production seems hard to match, it looks like the Ducks may be able to do it in 2013.  Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cemented himself as an elite corner in 2012, forcing six fumbles with 20 passes defended (sound familiar?).  His partner on the other side, Terrance Mitchell, is another lockdown corner, and safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson have proven their talent on the back end.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu led the Pac-12 in passes defended last year, and managed to force six fumbles.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu led the Pac-12 in passes defended last year, and managed to force six fumbles.

Another interesting comparison to draw between the 2010 and 2013 teams is that “x-factor” element.  The “x-factor” is that player capable of changing the game every time he gets near the ball.  This element is key in terms of getting to a national championship game.  Just ask former LSU Tiger Tyrann Mathieu.

The Ducks had just that in Cliff Harris in 2010.  On top of his six interceptions, Harris returned four punts for touchdowns (another was called back), and added a pick-six against Tennessee.  This included a hugely important punt return for a touchdown during Oregon’s close win over Cal when the Ducks snuck out of Berkeley with a 15-13 win to remain undefeated.

While Harris is no longer with the team, don’t forget that De’Anthony Thomas was not yet a Duck back in 2010.  He is arguably the most dangerous player in college football, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

On top of Thomas, the Ducks have some defensive players that also fit this “x-factor” mold.  Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has had no problem forcing turnovers (four picks, six forced fumbles in 2012), and Avery Patterson and Boseko Lokombo have each demonstrated an uncanny ability to score defensive touchdowns.

In fact, these two have combined for five defensive scores during their careers, and that does not include Patterson’s interception against Arizona State when he was tackled at the one-yard line in 2012.

On top of the actual talent on the field, a national championship run requires great coaching, as we saw back in 2010.  If it weren’t for Chip Kelly’s decision to go for an onside kick after Oregon’s first touchdown against Stanford, the Ducks would have had much less momentum while coming back from that early 3-21 deficit (Oregon ended up winning 52-31).

Kelly also made the aggressive decision to go for a two-point conversion after Harris’ punt return touchdown against Cal.  Had he not made that call, that 15-13 game would have been 14-14, and the fourth quarter would have been much different.  Instead, the Ducks’ lead allowed them to just run out the clock with an uncharacteristically long drive.

Former receivers coach Scott Frost will be taking over as offensive coordinator in 2013.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Former receivers coach Scott Frost will be taking over as offensive coordinator in 2013.

However, given the experience of Mark Helfrich as a play-caller, the talent of new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, and the consistently aggressive nature of play-calling that the Ducks have demonstrated since 2010, expect to see very little drop off in terms of coaching production in 2013.

The same goes on defense, where defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has been working for over 20 years.

The team’s schedule also plays an important role in a trip to the national championship game.  In 2010, the Ducks rolled over two small schools on their non-conference schedule, but still snuck Tennessee onto their calendar.

This year, they do the same thing.  They’ve found the right balance, scheduling relatively strong non-conference teams that are still beatable, hosting Tennessee while also taking on Virginia on the road.

After these two matchups, Oregon’s schedule is favorable with the exceptions of Stanford, UCLA, and Washington.  While no opponent should be overlooked, and the Civil War is always a tough way to finish out the regular season, the Ducks are in prime position in terms of scheduling to make a title run.

In the end, the average fan has to go through quite a bit of stress while their team is on the way to a national championship game.  The Ducks’ game against Cal in 2010 proved that, as did Notre Dame last season when they won five games by one score or less.

Sophomore QB Marcus Mariota will lead the Ducks in 2013 in what is sure to be another great season.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Sophomore QB Marcus Mariota will lead the Ducks in 2013 in what is sure to be another great season.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the Ducks have a great shot at an undefeated regular season and a trip to the national title game in 2013.  This year’s squad has everything the 2010 team had, just so long as Lokombo can emerge as a true leader on defense and Huff can maximize on his talent and become the truly lethal offensive weapon that Ducks fans know he can be.

In fact, if anything, the Ducks arguably show even more promise than they did three years ago on paper.

With steadier, more consistent quarterback play, plenty of talent and experience in the trenches, and a true “x-factor” in all three phases of the game, this Oregon team looks to become one of the best, if not the best, in school history based on how it stacks up against the 2010 team.

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Joey Holland

Joey Holland

Joey Holland graduated from the University of Oregon in 2013, majoring in History. He played several sports in high school, though football remains his passion. He has yet to miss a single Oregon Ducks home football game during his time in Eugene. Joey has written previously for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Joey welcomes your feedback.