No. 8: Oregon
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 25, 2010
If not for U.S.C, Oregon’s summer would have been the most eventful in the Pac-10. It really all centers around the misdeeds of its two Heisman-caliber offensive skill players: one, a running back, will miss the season opener — though he should miss more. Then came Jeremiah Masoli’s departure for Mississippi, of all places. There might even be reason for concern, if you then consider Oregon’s losses due to graduation and attrition. Then you remember: there’s no reason to worry about U.S.C., as the Trojans aren’t eligible for the Pac-10 crown. And you remind yourself that Oregon still has Chip Kelly calling plays; the Ducks have averaged 38.8 points per game over his three seasons in charge of the offense.
tk (tk offense, tk defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 4
- Sept. 11
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
at Arizona St.
- Oct. 2
- Oct. 9
at Washington St.
- Oct. 21
- Oct. 30
- Nov. 6
- Nov. 13
- Nov. 26
- Dec. 4
at Oregon St.
Last year’s prediction
This team is far too good, far too talented, to finish anywhere outside the top 20. Not that there aren’t reasons for concern. Can Kelly keep this program headed in the right direction? I don’t think anyone can state with absolute certainty that Kelly’s either a great or poor fit for the Ducks (though every single sign has pointed toward his first few months going swimmingly), but I feel secure enough in Oregon’s talent and potential on offense to predict another double-digit win season for the Ducks, with a great shot at the Pac-10 crown. As of now, I’m putting Oregon just an iota behind Cal and a little further behind U.S.C., but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of the three take the conference.
In a nutshell Thursday, Sept. 3 — Friday morning on the East Coast, in fact. The punch heard ’round the F.B.S.: after a tough loss to Boise State, Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount unloads upon Boise State linebacker Byron Hout, adding further pain to Chip Kelly’s inauspicious debut. It’s hard to imagine a worse start to a coaching career; Kelly — not through his own actions, to be sure — couldn’t have come off any worse. Fast-forward three months: Oregon 37, Oregon State 33. In one of the more dramatic single-season turnarounds in recent memory, Oregon rewrote its 2009 story; the fairy tale ending included an outright Pac-10 championship, only the third in program history. Let’s give credit to Kelly, the rookie coach who went overwhelmed in September to master of his domain in December. Four years ago, if you recall, Kelly was calling plays at the University of New Hampshire. Good coaches come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of backgrounds — yes, even from the F.C.S. — with Kelly no exception. Now, how will the Ducks fare as the favorite?
High point The Pac-10 championship was sealed in a 37-33 win over Oregon State to end the regular season. So, let me get this straight: not only did Oregon win the Civil War, it clinched a Rose Bowl birth in the process? That’s happiness for a Duck fan, am I right? However, that game would have been merely for conference standing (and bragging rights) if Oregon had not defeated Arizona in rowdy Tucson two weeks earlier. I knew Oregon was going to win the moment Arizona fans made a premature rush of the field. Seriously.
Low point The Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State. Oregon actually entered the game as the popular choice, if not the heavy favorite, but the Buckeyes clamped down on Oregon’s multi-faceted offense. I suppose I could point out the Boise State game as the low point, but the Ducks recovered nicely from that little fiasco, didn’t they?
Tidbit Kelly’s 10 victories broke Mike Bellotti’s previous school record, nine, for wins by an Oregon rookie coach. Kelly and Bellotti are two of three Oregon coaches in the program’s modern era — since 1936 — to post a winning record in their first season, joining Jim Aiken, who went 7-3 in 1947. If we go back further, Prink Callison went 6-3-1 in 1932; Clarence Spears went 7-2 in 1930; Joe Maddock finished 4-3-2 in 1924; Shy Huntington posted a 4-2 mark in 1918; Bill Warner a 4-1 mark in 1910; Robert Forbes a 5-2 mark in 1908; Gordon Frost went 5-1 in 1907; Hugo Bezdek 5-0-1 in 1906 — lost of coaching turnover during this time; and I’d keep going, but you get the point. In comparison, Rich Brooks won eight games combined over his first three seasons in Eugene.
Tidbit (disrespect edition) Tell me if this makes sense. A B.C.S. conference champion, one that wins its conference by two games, places only one player on the all-conference first-team. That’s one of a potential 27 spots, by the way. Well, that’s what happened to Oregon in 2009. Only tight end Ed Dickson was a first-team all-conference pick, with worthy Ducks left off the board — at least off the first-team. In my mind, the Ducks had a bone to pick at quarterback; running back; along the offensive line, where at least one Oregon linemen deserved some love; and at linebacker.
Former players in the N.F.L.
31 P Josh Bidwell (Washington), RB LeGarrette Blount (Tennessee), S Jerome Boyd (Buffalo), S Jarius Byrd (Buffalo), S Pat Chung (New England), QB Kellen Clemens (New York Jets), TE Ed Dickson (Baltimore), QB Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh), QB A.J. Feeley (St. Louis), DE Ra’Shon Harris (Pittsburgh), RB Jeremiah Johnson (Houston), WR Jordan Kent (St. Louis), OG Mark Lewis (St. Louis), RB Maurice Morris (Detroit), DT Haloti Ngata (Baltimore), DE Igor Olshansky (Dallas), TE Justin Peelle (Atlanta), DE Nick Reed (Seattle), TE Dante Rosario (Carolina), OT Geoff Schwartz (Carolina), DT Junior Siavii (Dallas), OT Adam Snyder (San Francisco), RB Jonathan Stewart (Carolina), CB Walter Thurmond (Seattle), DT Matt Toeaiana (Chicago), DE Will Tukuafu (San Francisco), OT Fenuki Tupou (Philadelphia), C Max Unger (Seattle), S T.J. Ward (Cleveland), WR Demetrius WIlliams (Baltimore).
Arbitrary top five list
Basketball players from Portland, Ore.
1. A.C. Green, forward for the Los Angeles Lakers.
2. Terrell Brandon, guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
3. Damon Stoudamire, guard for the Portland Trailblazers.
4. Mike Dunleavy, Jr., forward for the Indiana Pacers.
5. Michael Doleac, center for the Orlando Magic.
Chip Kelly (New Hampshire ’90), 10-3 after a single season as the Oregon head coach. He’s in an enviable position: a program still in its prime with a deep, talented roster well suited to his offensive system. But with this program comes high expectations, thanks to his predecessor’s level of success. Still, a large portion of Oregon’s recent success (29-10 over the past three seasons) must be attributed to the job Kelly has done with the offense, which has risen from merely explosive to the most dangerous dual-threat attack in the country. Each of the past two years has seen Oregon set new school records in scoring, and the 2008 Ducks set new school marks in rushing touchdowns (47) and total touchdowns (71). The 2007 season, however, may have been Kelly’s best work; the Ducks went through four starting quarterbacks over their final four games but still managed to finish sixth nationally in rushing and lead the Pac-10 in scoring and total offense. The following year’s unit showed just what the offense is capable of with the proper personnel; ditto with 2009. Kelly’s experience prior to being hired at Oregon came at New Hampshire, of the F.C.S., where he began as running backs coach before moving to offensive coordinator in 1999. Like at Oregon, the results at his alma mater were spectacular. The Wildcats averaged at least 400 yards of total offense in seven of his eight seasons as coordinator (1999-2006) and scored more than 30 points per game in each of his final four years. Were eyebrows raised when Kelly was tabbed by Bellotti as his next offensive coordinator? Not by those aware of what Kelly had accomplished at New Hampshire, nor by those intrigued by how his offense would play on the F.B.S. level with top-tier athletes. The results, as stated, have been nothing short of stunning. If last year is any indication, Kelly will have little trouble keeping Oregon among the top teams in the Pac-10.
Players to watch
He’ll miss the first game, and his off-field misdeeds will prevent him from being in the Heisman mix, at least in 2010 — that’s my opinion, anyway. Even with that against him, LaMichael James is poised for an outstanding season. By all accounts, James is bigger, stronger and faster than he was as a freshman. In other words, look out. All he did as a redshirt freshman was rush for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns, all despite earning only 11 carries over the first two weeks of the year. Once inserted into the lineup, he took off — as did the Oregon offense. James cracked the 100-yard mark in 9 of his 10 regular season starts, and in 9 of his final 11 games, with his 70-yard performance against Ohio State representing his low mark. Seeing that he rushed for more than 1,500 yards in 11 games last fall, give or take, he should threaten the 1,700-yard mark in 2010.
The job will belong to another sophomore, converted defensive back Kenjon Barner, for the season opener. He made the most of his opportunity in 2009, rushing for 366 yards and 3 scores on 6.0 yards per carry. When James returns, Barner will go back to a secondary role. Keep an eye on true freshmen Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, with Seastrunk one of the nation’s top prospects in the most recent recruiting cycle.
This group will be running behind perhaps the Pac-10′s best offensive line; at the very worst, it’s the conference’s most experienced. All five starters return up front: three seniors, one junior, one sophomore. As has been the case with recent Oregon fronts, the line is led by a talented center. Jordan Holmes, one of those seniors, is a clear all-conference candidate. The remaining two seniors, Bo Thran and C.E. Kaiser, will bookend the line. Thran’s on the blind side, where he really found a home in 2009. It’s sophomore Carson York at left guard, junior Mark Asper on the strong side; York’s a rising star, Asper an intimidating blocker in the run game. Want more good news? Every single lineman that made up last year’s second group also returns. And several redshirt freshmen will figure into the mix. If this line has taken another step forward from last season, when it went from a question mark to a strength… my goodness.
Oregon’s pass-catchers seem to be regarded nationally as the team’s biggest weakness on offense — perhaps outside of quarterback, at least. That the Ducks return all three starting receivers should tell you something about this offense, in terms of its depth and nearly overwhelming talent. From all accounts, senior Jeff Maehl has taken his game to another level: he’s coming off a 53-grab, 696-yard, 6-score junior season. He’ll be the top dog on this receiver corps, but don’t sleep on fellow returning starters Drew Davis (23 receptions for 223 yards) and Lavasier Tuinei (24 for 217). The biggest question is depth: Oregon has some, like in sophomore Justin Hoffman and redshirt freshman Blake Cantu, but it’s unproven.
The Ducks must also replace Ed Dickson, that aforementioned first-team all-conference tight end. It may be by-committee, but the Ducks have options to choose from in the search for his replacement: junior David Paulson is the favorite to start, but Oregon could also turn to Malachi Lewis, JUCO transfer Brandon Williams and talented true freshman Curtis White. If reports are to be believed, White looks too good to keep off the field.
Now, this Oregon defense has a few issues to address. The most meaningful is along the defensive line, where for the second consecutive year the Ducks lack optimal depth. Again, as at wide receiver, it’s not a question of bodies. The Ducks have options. It’s a lack of proven depth that’s a concern.
The line begins with seniors Brandon Bair and Kenny Rowe, two returning starters coming off honorable mention all-conference seasons. Another year of honorable mention accolades would be a disappointment for Rowe, who led the Pac-10 with 11.5 sacks in 2009. Three of those sacks came in the Rose Bowl defeat; don’t underestimate the effect such a strong finish has on a player’s subsequent season. Junior Terrell Turner, a solid situational rusher last fall, will start on the opposite side. I’ll be rooting for sophomore Dion Jordan, whose college career was very much in question after suffering severe burns during an accident as a high school senior. He’s coming off a superb spring, and will push Turner for playing time.
Bair anchors the interior of the line. He’ll be joined by senior Zac Clark, a steady, unspectacular tackle who has waited patiently for his shot at a starting role. I’m a little concerned about the second group in the middle of this line. There’s no proven depth here, to repeat a phrase, and injuries to the starting pair could spell trouble for the Oregon rush defense.
The Ducks return Talmadge Jackson III at cornerback, but there’s an interesting battle brewing on the opposite side. I would think the eventual winner of this battle would be sophomore Cliff Harris, who responded well after having his redshirt burned midway through last season. He’s not a lock to start the season opener, however, as Oregon could also turn to junior Anthony Gildon. He has starting experience — three games in 2009 — and great athleticism, as illustrated by his testing numbers during winter workouts.
The big story at safety was the play of former linebacker Eddie Pleasant, an 11-game starter on the second level in 2009 who transition to rover during the spring. He’s played well enough in his new spot to potentially supplant returning starter Javes Lewis at the position. At worst, Lewis would be a very important reserve for this secondary. John Boyett, last year’s leading tackler, returns at free safety. After a strong freshman campaign, Boyett seems poised for an all-conference season.
Even with Pleasant’s position change and Kiko Alonso’s year-long suspension, linebacker is clearly the deepest position on the defense. Two seniors return in starting roles: Casey Matthews in the middle, Spencer Paysinger on the weak side. Matthews — who has relatively solid bloodlines — is a reigning all-conference pick, thanks to his 81-tackle performance a year ago. Paysinger, a two-year starter, also notched 81 stops on the year, tying this pair for second on the team. Pleasant’s move opens up the strong side, with junior Josh Kaddu his likely replacement. If not Kaddu, who missed the final six games of last season due to injury, Oregon can turn to Boseko Lokembo or Michael Clay, though the latter is currently playing on the weak side.
Position battles to watch
Quarterback So much for that senior starting at quarterback. Well, not quite. There’s a very, very good chance that Jeremiah Masoli, now a Rebel, will be replaced by another senior — one he supplanted in 2008. Nate Costa, who won the starting job that fall before losing the season to a knee injury, is battling sophomore Darron Thomas for the starting spot under center. This pair have gone back-and-forth all summer long, since Masoli was sent packing in July. When it comes to experience, the edge goes to Costa. He’s a senior, of course, but he’s started games in the past. And it’s hard to forget it was he, not Masoli, who drew the task of replacing Dennis Dixon heading into 2008. To be fair, Costa’s lone start in 2009 didn’t go all that well: he completed 9 of 17 attempts for 82 yards at U.C.L.A., though he did lead the Ducks to a 24-10 victory. What about Thomas? He has significant game experience as well, throwing for three touchdowns — an Oregon freshman record — against Boise State in 2008, nearly pulling the Ducks back from a 24-point deficit. His performance in that game was remarkable, given the fact that not only did Thomas have his redshirt pulled just prior to the game, but he only celebrated his 18th birthday in late May of that year. For now, this race is too close to call: Thomas has outplayed Costa in recent practices, but the job is truly up in the air. When are we going to find out Kelly’s decision? This Saturday, as Oregon enters preparations for its opener against New Mexico.
Game(s) to watch
What do you get when you combine a burning hatred with a potential Rose Bowl berth? You get a repeat of last season’s Civil War, of course. If you’re not watching this game yearly, then you should make a habit of doing so in 2010. If you’re not planning on watching this year’s game, you’re probably at the wrong Web site.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell And so I wrap up the Pac-10. Why is Oregon the favorite? Because of this offense, for starters, which despite losing its starting quarterback remains the most potent in the conference. If we learned anything in 2007, when the Ducks were stymied by continuous injuries at the position, it’s that the offense makes the quarterback, not vice versa. Whether Kelly calls on Costa or Thomas, don’t worry: Oregon is going to score points in bunches. Depth can be found all along the offense, though slightly less so at wide receiver. The biggest concern is on the defensive line, where for the second consecutive year Oregon seems to lack proven depth. If that situation fixes itself, on the other hand, there’s absolutely no reason Oregon cannot again finish in the Pac-10′s top four in each meaningful statistical category. There’s a slight cloud hanging over this program, which is unfortunate; the Ducks, as a team, don’t deserve the negativity. Now, as for Oregon’s national title hopes: I don’t think they’re very strong. I think the Ducks will drop one game, maybe two, though in my mind, they are the clear top dog in the Pac-10. What if U.S.C. was eligible for a Rose Bowl berth? Wouldn’t matter: Oregon’s the best team in the Pac-10, and will return to Pasadena for the second consecutive year. It will be a rematch of this past January should Ohio State not reach the national championship; if the Buckeyes do advance, it will be Oregon and Iowa, perhaps Wisconsin.
Dream season The Ducks run the table, landing a spot in the B.C.S. title game.
Nightmare season The offense continues to roll, though at a slightly diminished pace. The real worry is the defense, which gives up yards and points in chunks: 7-5, 5-4 in conference play.
In case you were wondering
Where do Oregon fans congregate? Those looking for message board chatter and a helpful dose of recruiting can find both in spades at Ducks Sports Authority and eDuck. For a blog’s take, check out Addicted to Quack and The U.O. Sports Dude. Additional coverage can be found at the Web sites of The Eugene Register-Guard and The Oregonian. And Duck Sports Now has all the links you’ll find above in one convenient place.
Who is No. 7? Talk about defense. Over the last six years — 80 games — our next team has allowed only 14.3 points per game.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Chip Kelly, Oregon
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