With a returning offense capable of ridiculous stats, expectations run high across the college football landscape for Oregon’s 2013 campaign. New head coach Mark Helfrich and his team have set a high bar for themselves, and as is the natural tendency for sports fans everywhere, the Duck faithful also have soaring hopes for their team. While perfection is the mission, outlooks should be tempered. A score of 100-0 against Nicholls State may become a reality, but without question the Ducks will face tribulations this season. While the word “loss” seems to be missing from Duck fans’ lexicons, Oregon has not finished a full season (post-season included) undefeated since 1917.
To accomplish this feat, an unbeaten record and national championship for the first time ever, each offensive positional unit must pull its weight. Here are the best case scenarios, worst cases scenarios and predictions for each unit.
Best case: Marcus Mariota has a Heisman Trophy-worthy season, via a more prominent aerial attack. Helfrich cuts the number of screens and quick passes, allowing his highly accurate passer to sling the ball downfield more often.
Worst case: Injury. It has to be said that if the star signal caller goes down with an ailment, the season can go awry. If Mariota remains healthy, it is possible he could still be affected by the heavy pressure of high expectations. Pressures and the spotlight could cause Mariota to force things, if the rushing attack is not up to par.
Prediction: Mariota has a stellar year, but the offensive production is too diverse for him to bring home the Heisman. He finishes as the most complete quarterback in the nation after Johnny Manziel implodes and A.J. McCarron can’t repeat his numbers from last year. STATLINE: Mariota – 3,100 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes.
Best case: Three 1,000-yards rushers. It sounds bold but is actually possible. If the passing game is threatening enough, plenty of open space for rushers will be available. With so many options at tailback, the read-option could mean defenders focus on the running backs, allowing Mariota to use his legs. De’Anthony Thomas’ speed, Mariota’s ability to tuck and run along with Byron Marshall’s more between-the-tackles game could equate to a trio of four-digit rushers.
Worst case: Nobody steps up. The usage of Thomas is shifted to short passes and Marshall proves to not have the giddy-up of LaMicahel James and Kenjon Barner, forcing the Ducks to rely more on the passing game.
Prediction: Marshall is good but not great. Thomas is dangerous on the edge and in the passing game, but doesn’t get the tough blue-collar carries. Mariota runs a bit more in the red zone, meaning more scores but fewer yards accumulated. Thomas Tyner sees limited action, mostly in mop-up duty, a rarity during the first two quarters of play. STATLINE: Marshall – 800 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns. Thomas – 900 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns. Mariota – 700 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns (rushing). Tyner – 350 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns.
Best case: With a focus on the passing game, a core of reliable and versatile pass-catchers provides six proven targets for Mariota: Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe, Bralon Addison, Daryle Hawkins, De’Anthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla. Huff finally has a big breakout year, becoming the go-to for Mariota in an entirely healthy year of play. The young guys get involved and provide too much talent for defenses to account for, leaving Huff in single coverage, which helps him produce a Jeff Maehl-type year, circa 2010.
Worst case: Much like quarterback, the receivers are too good not to succeed this season. A couple injuries, however, could easily hamper the entire unit. Injuries, especially to Huff and Hawkins, could overtax the remaining veterans. Additionally, the younger receivers may not be able to “catch on” quickly, resulting in an increased focus on short, quick passes, allowing opposing safeties to cheat up.
Prediction: Huff takes on a role much like Maehl and Lavasier Tuinei had in prior years, and becomes the top target. Bigger guys like Hawkins, Lyerla and Dwayne Stanford pack the punch, Huff and Addison stretch the field, Lowe and B.J. Kelley are hybrids underneath and Thomas handles the flats and quick grabs. The continuous subbing of a receiver stable that can run with anybody has defenses looking every which way, equating in everyone getting their fair share of receptions. STATLINE: Huff – 53 receptions, 800 yards, 9 touchdowns. Thomas – 40 receptions, 480 yards, 7 touchdowns. Lyerla – 33 receptions, 420 yards, 7 touchdowns. Addison – 32 receptions, 400 yards, 4 touchdowns. Lowe – 30 receptions, 325 yards, 3 touchdowns. Hawkins – 27 receptions, 290 yards, 3 touchdowns.
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Jackson Long is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s school of journalism. A sports journalist for over six years, Jackson has accumulated over 300 published works across a multitude of publications and platforms. He has been a beat reporter covering the University of Oregon for football, men’s basketball and track and field. As a journalist, he provided live coverage from events including: the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, Rounds 1 and 2 of March Madness in San Jose and the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in Indianapolis, all in 2013. He also covered the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene that year. With an impressive portfolio of works mainly focused on long-form, feature style writing, Jackson hopes to have a career with a major sports media purveyor.
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