Examining the Realistic Expectations for the Ducks in 2015

After the Game 62, Pac-12 Champ,14,KC

Expectations have become perpetually high in Eugene for the Oregon football team. The Ducks have been ranked in the top five of the preseason AP and Coaches’ Polls for each of the last four years. The Ducks have then backed up these expectations by making it to the National Championship Game twice in the last five years and by being in strong contention to reach the national title game late into each of the other three seasons.

The 2015 campaign looks to be on track to follow a similar path. Early preseason polls once again have the Ducks pegged in the top five. Experts are predicting the Ducks will be contenders again this year despite losing many key players to the NFL — including the best player in program history — Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota. In addition, notable All-Americans Hroniss Grassu and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and first-round pick Arik Armstead are gone.

So what are realistic expectations for the Ducks in 2015? Would anything other than winning the program’s first national title be considered a failure? Or is making it to the title game a must for success? Would winning the Pac-12 North and making a New Year’s Six bowl game be sufficient? Or, with Mariota and others gone, is Oregon actually in rebuilding mode for the first time in years and ANY top 25 finish would be a success?

Oregon's 2015 Football Schedule

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Oregon’s 2015 Football Schedule

When you look at the talent Oregon has on its roster and how experts are putting Oregon in their preseason top five, this does not feel like a rebuilding year. Additionally, Vegas’s win total lines have the Ducks tied for fourth in the nation in expected regular season win-total with 9.5. Given all of this, Oregon should not be in rebuilding mode and should challenge for a playoff berth and the Pac-12 title. Anything less would be a disappointment for this team.

However, given the quarterback situation and question marks throughout the defense, expecting a national title feels a bit unrealistic. Even one loss during the regular season or in the Pac-12 championship game can end a team’s national championship aspirations (just ask one-loss TCU and Baylor last year). If you look at the Ducks’ 2015 schedule — even if they do develop into a great football team — I believe there is almost certainly at least one, probably two, losses on the schedule.

Of the Ducks’ 12 regular season games, two of the three non-conference games are almost certain wins. The Ducks would be unwise to overlook any team (see Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007), but Eastern Washington and Georgia State have little to no chance of beating the Ducks. EWU is solid — but a solid FCS program — that lost its best player, Vernon Adams, to the Ducks. Georgia State just launched its football team in 2010 and joined the FBS in 2012 and has a combined 2-33 record since then.

The other non-conference game is extremely difficult. Michigan State, like the Ducks, will be ranked in the top-10 at the beginning of the season and opens up as a 1-point favorite at home against the Ducks. MSU is led by senior quarterback and likely first-round draft pick Connor Cook. It’s not unlikely that the Ducks could very well suffer their first loss of the season in this second week.

Byron Marshall and the Ducks will look to beat a top-10 ranked Michigan State team for the second time in two years

Kevin Cline

Byron Marshall and the Ducks will look to beat a top-10 ranked Michigan State team for the second time in two years.

The Pac-12 has proven year after year that even what appear to be blow-outs on paper can be very close games or losses (remember Washington State and Oregon last year). Having said that, Oregon should take care of business against Colorado, Washington State, California, and Oregon State, all rebuilding this year. Additionally, Oregon should also handle Utah and Washington, both of whom are at least two-touchdown underdogs against the Ducks.

Obviously, anything can happen in Pac-12 football, but Oregon has been almost undefeated the last five years against teams who were not ranked in the preseason polls. The lone exception to that was Arizona the past two years. Arizona was receiving votes in preseason polls each of the last two years despite not being ranked.

The Pac-12 slate also includes tough games against Arizona, who is listed as a five-point underdog against the Ducks — despite returning a lot of talent and beating the Ducks each of the last two years during the regular season. Stanford, generally a tough matchup for the Ducks, is currently listed as even odds against the Ducks.

Oregon’s other Pac-12 game this year is against USC, a trendy college football playoff pick and likely preseason top 10 team. Oregon is currently a 6.5 point favorite vs. the Trojans at home. The Ducks are widely predicted to face the Trojans again in the Pac-12 championship game where the Ducks will not have the benefit of a raucous Autzen stadium like the regular season game against the Trojans.

Oregon has proven over the last five years that it doesn’t need to rebuild, that contending for national championships and playing in major bowl games is the norm. However, in the hyper-competitive college football environment, expecting a national title is foolhardy, especially given the Ducks’ questions at quarterback and on defense.

The Ducks do have the talent and schedule to make it back to the national championship game this season but are much more likely to finish with about ten wins and two losses in the regular season. A 10-2 or 9-3 record should put the Ducks in the Rose or Alamo Bowl, either of which should be viewed as a solid season.

Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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Aaron Lewis

Aaron Lewis

Aaron Lewis grew up 15 minutes from Autzen Stadium and has been a die-hard Ducks fan his whole life; he painted his chest for an Oregon football game for the first time at age 10. Aaron studied economics at Brigham Young University and after graduation worked as a management consultant for Bain & Co. in Dallas. More recently Aaron joined a mid-cap private equity firm in Salt Lake City. In addition to spending too many hours following the Ducks and college football more broadly, Aaron enjoys spending time with his wife and two girls, cycling, hiking, and following college basketball and the NBA.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Sorry Aaron I don’t want to be an A** but you clearly have NO CLUE about what this Ducks team will be able to do this year even regardless if Adams doesn’t start day 1 because he will be Oregon’s starter soon enough. I will tell you what the Ducks do have and that is the best Roster on both sides of the ball ever on a Ducks team ever! This Ducks team will be favored or not against MSU and it will not matter because this team will be all about taking care of business and beating the Spartans because on paper the Ducks are clearly more loaded and it will not matter that it’s in the EAST as the Ducks really don’t lose big non conference games and they wont this one either. This Ducks team is the best team in all the PAC 12 including USC who still has Sarkisian and that is a disadvantage to them not us! You look like your just starting out in life so take this Wise advice from a Football veteran this Ducks team will more than likely not suffer with the freakish injury’s from last years team. This team will not only win the PAC 12 once again but they will be in the College Football playoffs once again and play OS again and this time Oregon will finally win a BIG GAME for a change. They will probably be the underdog this time and this will workout for the Ducks finally because usually they have always succeeded when Vegas picks against them. Oregon is better team talent wise than last years team and we still have the same Coaching for success.

    • jimmydeen

      you do sound like an a** and someone who has no clue what they’re talking about. Your post is bearly understandable.

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Jimmie I am an A** and can admit that for sure, but If I were you I would never have a Name like Jimmydeen for everyone to see and 1st of all I can W/O a doubt talk it play it state it Football than you any day of the week! As for NO CLUE I can clearly agree with that inn a few other things in life but Football is not 1 of them. I mean Jimmydeen you have got to be kidding me! You have ” NO CLUE ” if you want to talk Football because you are going to lose this conversation little Jimmie! You suck as a Duck fan fool and really shouldn’t even be on here!

    • Mike West

      Maitai,

      You are the quintessential definition of a HOMER. I love the Ducks, but this team is facing up FOUR losses. USC and Stanford are much better than advertised. MSU is almost a definite loss given it is the 2nd game of the year. That six game stretch will be much tougher if the Defense is anything like it was in the Spring Game.

      This team has the potential to go undefeated. Their Defense must have the ability this year to keep EVERY team on this year’s schedule under 20 Points. The Offense will need to score 30 on the VERY BEST Defenses at will-EVERY TIME.

      That is what the 4 teams that reach this year’s Playoff will be doing this year. I don’t see that happening-the coaches don’t (IMHO) use the strengths they have in scheme or talent. LY the Buckeyes scored 42 because we were determined to demonstrate our “physicality” running the ball. Just like the Auburn game, we set them up PASSING, only to decide we could muscle a very hot, and stout team.

      In the NFL, QBs win Superbowls, not RBs. In College, if you don’t execute at least 10 runs that gain at least 7 yards by halftime, you are not going to control the game running the ball. Especially in a Playoff game. USC and Stanford are the barometers (on both sides of the ball) of how we will handle the nation’s elite teams. It will take an undefeated season this year to reach the playoffs. I don’t see the Ducks running the table.

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Mike Mike come on man you have to clearly see the talent on this team even without Marcus. I have to really say to you there is no way Oregon loses 4 games so if you are a Duck fan then what games have you been watching over the years. I will take a bet with you that Oregon wins the PAC 12 again and ends right back in the 4team Playoff. I seriously have total faith that these guys will get it done. 2 capable QB’s this year something we haven’t had the luxury in the past as Lockie completed 9 for 9 even though it was a Spring game. We will need to get back and say whats up after game 2 in East Lansing and after the Ducks have won this game maybe just maybe you will see the light. Anyway appreciate your thoughts on my comments but I’m stating my opinion on watching this teams success in just the last 10 seasons and they will be a very good team. This team being rated 6th in a preseason poll clearly cannot say this team is losing 4 games. So I’d love to here what you think after Oregon’s 2-0.

        • Mike West

          Hey Maitai,

          I just read this message about last year’s team. You looked right about less than 4 losses till we collapsed that last 2 quarters of the year. THIS YEAR though, I’d guess we’ll surprise everybody.

  • Anthony Joseph Gomes

    i dont know what question marks about the defense this writer is talking about unless he is claiming the defense was in some sense defective last year when the ducks were #2 nationally. they lost 1 defensive linemen, zero linebackers, and 2 defensive backs. it should also be noted that oregon rotates players in and out on defense so that many of the so called “subs” those starters will be replacing saw significant playing time. it should also be noted that graduation happens to everybody not just the ducks and i doubt you can find even 20% of teams that didnt lose just as many players to graduation if not more than the ducks.

  • Krsmqn

    Oregon plays ASU this year, not Arizona.

  • Dennis Bolt

    That stretch of @UW, @ASU, Cal, @Stanford, USC will be real test. And honestly MSU will be a nail biter. I think this team is a 1-2 loss team this year. I bet no Pac-12 team makes College Football playoff.

  • DaProphet

    Ducks could easily lose 3 games…. Issue is defense… Most pac12 teams run the spred…. Defense wins Championships.

  • Mike Green

    I am going to do some blasphemy here and be a blasfemer…

    mariota didn’t play that well in the natty — seisay got burned a few times — key duck players were hurt and new replacements were used in the natty

    I think Adams will be better than MM in the most competitive games,
    the added yr of experience for all the LBs will really show a difference,
    (I didnt think that T. Wash was all that good, except for some pass rush plays)
    the ND center will be a stud
    Armstead didn’t deliver quite as much as he should have
    H Grassu was not the most dominating center in the game (the fla st center was)

    a lot of the pieces that made the ducks great last year could have even better replacements by the end of the season

    getting by mich st early will be the toughest trial for the ducks next year

    for some reason, I am not too worried about stanford/usc — stanford was at a high the last few years that cannot be sustained — and usc is just not recruiting so much better than the ducks like it did in the 00s