SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #7 Oregon
The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #7 Oregon.
Team: Oregon Ducks
Location: Eugene, Oregon
SQ Ranking: 7th
2014 Record: 13-2
Finish in the AP Poll: 2nd
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich (3rd Year)
Previewing the Duck Offense: Without Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota at the helm, the Ducks will need to find a new QB messiah to lead them back to the College Football Playoff... and fast.
The Ducks' play Michigan State on the road in Week 2. The loser of this game will have their playoff chances put on life support, as either would need to run the table in their respective conference to get back in the hunt.
Junior quarterback Jeff Lockie should get the starting nod, but if Michigan State becomes a disaster, then look for the transfer Vernon Adams to take control. Adams put up some decent statistics at Eastern Washington over the past three years, but has taken his talents to Eugene.
Lockie has big shoes to fill in Eugene, Oregon
Regardless of who is at the QB position, the receiving core is stacked, yet again. The top-five leading receivers return – including 1,000 yard receiver Byron Marshall. Marshall is a senior this year, and has the help of juniors Dwayne Stanford and Bralon Addison. Throw Darren Carrington into the mix, and you have a receiving core that is one of the most experienced in the country.
From a rushing game standpoint, the Ducks are still solid. Sophomore Royce Freeman, coming off a 1,392 yard season, looks to give PAC-12 defensive coordinators nightmares for another year. Freeman gets help as junior Thomas Tyner and freshman Taj Griffin complete a loaded backfield. If everyone can stay healthy, this trio could wreck the PAC-12 and find another way to the playoffs.
Oregon's offense is in good shape. With six returning starters, the situation isn't as dire as for other teams.
Previewing the Ducks Defense: Like the offense, the defense brings back six returning starters.
Last season, the Ducks stifled just about every team in scoring – with the exceptions of Cal who scored 41, and Ohio State who scored 42. Giving up yards was a whole different category: the Ducks defense gave up over 450+ yards in seven games last year. Luckily, they had Mariota on offense to help score, but he's gone this year.
Linebacking will be the strong point of the Ducks defense. Four seniors in Tyson Coleman, Christian French, Rodney Hardwick, and Joe Walker will naturally become leaders this season. Hardwick and Walker were two of the top-six tacklers from last year – especially in the tackle-for-loss section of the board, where both men were in the top-three.
However, the secondary isn't as fortunate. Junior safety Reggie Daniels is the most experienced member. Growing pains will be a part of the early season for the Ducks passing defense. Unfortunately, Michigan State will be the second game this defense faces, and could lead to a field day for Spartan's senior quarterback Connor Cook.
While the top-two defenders from last year, Dargan and Malone, have left Eugene, the Ducks still have a chance at shutting down teams this season, but expect games to be a lot closer.
Three Key Games
1. Oregon at Stanford (Nov.14) - This will be a de-facto game for the PAC-12 North crown. In the past, this game has ended championship ambitions for the loser. Expect this edition to have the same results. Whoever loses this game will be out of the CFP picture, and will pretty much be out of the PAC-12 championship game. Oregon will need to have a big game at the QB position, but also will need Freeman and company to pile on the rushing yards against a tough-as-nail Cardinal defense. This game will be an instant classic for the college football season. Fun fact: Oregon has dropped two of the last three to Stanford.
The loss to Stanford in 2012 derailed the Ducks hope at a National Championship appearance.
2. Oregon at Michigan State (Sep.12) - Michigan State wants revenge for last season's loss at Autzen Stadium. As Sparty looks to become a real contender for the playoffs, they can pad their résumé with a win against the Ducks at home. This game will determine who becomes the starting QB – if Lockie impresses and wins, he stays; loses badly, he's out. This game in East Lansing, Michigan will have playoff implications, as the winner will have a small security blanket for a loss after a win of this magnitude.
3. Oregon vs. USC (Nov. 21) - A classic PAC-12 power showdown. When these two last met, the outcome was a 62-51 (yes, you read that correctly) Ducks win on the road in 2012. While they shouldn't have that kind of score this year, expect it to be evenly matched. USC has Cody Kessler at the helm, and the Ducks will need to find a way to contain the Heisman hopeful. Whoever has the better defense on this day will walk out a winner.
Final Analysis: This Ducks team is good. However, the defense will have a weaker secondary compared to last year and growing pains at the quarterback position. That doesn't mean that they are out of the PAC-12 picture.
The PAC-12 North will come down to Oregon and Stanford, and their matchup on Nov. 14 will almost certainly be for the division title.
The Michigan State showdown will be the toughest test of the season for the Ducks, and I have Sparty taking the game at home.
Realistically, the Ducks are likely to go 9-3 or 10-2 this season.