As a student at the University of Oregon, and a diehard fan of the Ducks, it’s frustrating to see how concerned people are with the football team heading into this season. It seems as if every fan is saying “The void that Marcus Mariota left behind might be too much for the Ducks to overcome.” Instead, people should be talking about the absurd amount of talent that head coach Mark Helfrich and staff have put together, or the fact that the Ducks are one of the most successful college football programs in recent history.
You might be asking why any of the above thoughts should matter. For starters, the Oregon Ducks have seven straight 10-win seasons — the only other Power 5 Conference team managing this is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Over the last 10 seasons, the Ducks have compiled a record of 106-26. This is good for No.4, behind No.1 Boise State (113-19, .856), No.2 Ohio State (110-21, .840) and No.3, ’Bama (107-26, .805).
Keeping in mind the Ducks football prowess, and one of the best incoming recruiting classes in recent school history, let’s take a look at how the Ducks stack up against the rest of the Pac-12 North division this season.
Stanford Cardinal (2014 Record: 8-5, 5-4; Pac-12)
Last year was a very disappointing year for Stanford hopefuls. The team underachieved under head coach David Shaw, and that may be an understatement. This season the team looks to show that it’s still a top competitor in the Pac-12 North.
Oregon had its way with Stanford last year, running the ball well against the otherwise stout Cardinal run defense. Oregon must replace Mariota at quarterback, but the Cardinal must replace six defensive starters from last season. Against weaker teams in the North, Stanford could get away with being sloppy on defense. Against Oregon, however, that type of play won’t work. Though Stanford was second in the country last year in points allowed per game, at 16.4, Oregon made them look bad.
Stanford has a lot to improve upon and replace if they wish to regain supremacy over the Ducks in 2015. The Ducks, behind the rushing attack of Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, will look to trample the Cardinal yet again.
Oregon is set to take on Stanford, at Stanford, on November 14.
Washington Huskies (2014 Record: 8-5, 4-5; Pac-12)
If you thought Stanford has a lot to replace, then you would feel bad about the situation that the Huskies find themselves in this year. In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Huskies had three defenders taken in the first round (NT Danny Shelton at No.12, CB Marcus Peters at No.18, and LB/S Shaq Thompson at No.25), along with with 12th pick of the second round, LB Hau’oli Kikaha. Whether the Huskies have a lot of depth on the roster or not, replacing that many top picks is nearly impossible.
Despite all that talent on defense last season for the Huskies, the Ducks still managed to score 45 points, commemorating the 20th anniversary of “The Pick” by Kenny Wheaton.
On offense the Huskies struggled the entire season. If you are into fun stats, the Huskies have not had an all-Pac-12 lineman since 2001, according to Adam Jude of blog.seattletimes.com. The lack of consistency for the offensive line poses yet another issue that the Huskies must deal with heading into the 2015 season.
Oregon is set to take on Washington, at Washington, on October 17.
California Golden Bears (2014 Record: 5-7, 3-6; Pac-12)
From a national perspective, the Bears were not expected to win more than three or four games last year. Thanks to good play from rising star QB Jared Goff, the Bears regained some stability in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, they are still very far from contending for anything.
Last year, Cal put up an astonishing 41 points on the Ducks, but their defense couldn’t do a thing, giving up 59 points en route to a very high-scoring loss. Cal’s defense has been bad for years, so this type of play was to be expected.
This season, all the weight lies on the shoulders of Goff. Whether he has enough gas in the tank to save this truck from reversing right back down the very steep hills of Northern California will have to be seen. For the Ducks, molding a game plan to stop the Goff air raid will likely yield better defensive results than last year, and a strong offensive game plan should yield similar results as well.
Oregon is set to take on California, in Eugene, on November 7, for UO’s official homecoming weekend.
Oregon State Beavers (2014 Record: 5-7, 2-7; Pac-12)
Last season was a brutal year for the Ducks’ in-state rivals. Things did not start well, things did not continue well and things did not end well. A big decision was made by the OSU Athletic Department to hire former Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Anderson. Anderson brings a fresh face to a water-treading football program, but only time will tell if his efforts will help the Beavers battle for state of Oregon supremacy in the near future.
Longtime OSU QB Sean Mannion took his talents to the NFL, leaving a big void for the Beavers to fill on offense. Returning RB Storm Woods might be the Beavers’ only chance of producing on offense this coming season. Again, this year looks to be a rebuilding year for the Beavers, one in which new coach Anderson will work toward implementing his ideas. Advantage, Eugene.
Oregon is set to take on Oregon State, in Eugene, on November 27.
Washington State Cougars (2014 Record: 3-9, 2-7; Pac-12)
Surprisingly enough, the only Pac-12 North team to give Oregon a tough game last season was the Cougars. The Ducks showed up in Pullman thinking they would have an easy win, and they got much more than they expected.
This year, however, the Cougars are depleted. Longtime QB Connor Halliday is done with football following a serious leg injury, and a lower-tier recruiting class means the woes from last season likely won’t be fixed anytime soon. Expect a matchup in Eugene this year to be far different from last year, as Oregon wants to prove that the close 38-31 margin of victory was a fluke.
Oregon is set to take on Washington State, in Eugene, on October 10th.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline