Oregon Ducks 2012: Looking to the Future with Bryan Bennett

Phillip HowardContributor IJanuary 26, 2012

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  (L-R) Bryan Bennett #2 and Darron Thomas #5 of the Oregon Ducks celebrate the Ducks 45-38 victory against the Wisconsin Badgers at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Oregon Ducks have already had an up and down 2012, and it's only January.

The year started off on a high note with Oregon defeating Wisconsin 45-38 to nab the school's first Rose Bowl win since 1917.

Next, on Jan. 6, came the disappointing but expected news that star running back LaMichael James would declare for the NFL draft.

Not to be outdone, a week later on Jan. 14, quarterback Darron Thomas decided to follow his teammate and forgo his senior season to play in the pros. The news was a shock to everyone concerned with the program, and left many wondering about Oregon's future.

The old adage, "Bad things happen in threes," seemed to apply to the program when the Ducks' head coach, Chip Kelly, was reported this past Sunday to be in the works to fill the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coaching vacancy.

Luckily for the Ducks, Chip Kelly had "unfinished business" and elected to stay in Eugene.

With that near-disaster averted, fans, analysts and sportswriters once again turned their attention to Oregon's future on the field.

The loss of James was undoubtedly a disappointing turn of events, but if any program is capable of losing a Heisman-runner-up running back and not lose productivity, it's the Oregon Ducks.

Freshman phenom De'Anthony Thomas (55 attempts/595 yards) is expected to get more carries in 2012, and if his Rose Bowl performance (2/155) is any indication of his maturity, he's going to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Kenjon Barner will also be returning for his senior season. Despite being behind James, Barner amassed almost a thousand yards in 2011.

Even without James, Oregon will have success running the ball in 2012. The real question on everyone's mind: How will relatively-inexperienced Bryan Bennett play in the absence of Darron Thomas?

The freshman made his true debut against Arizona State on Oct. 15 (clean-up duty against Missouri State and Nevada notwithstanding). After a Darron Thomas injury in the third quarter, Bennett stepped in trailing 24-21, led the Ducks on a scoring drive and never looked back.

Many who aren't familiar with Oregon might be wondering if Oregon can recover from losing their proven signal-caller. What they don't know, or remember, is that Oregon has a history of not missing a beat after losing their QBs.

Dennis Dixon led the Ducks to No. 2 in the nation in 2007 before being injured. Although the Ducks collapsed that year, Oregon was back on the national stage in 2009 with junior college-transfer Jeremiah Masoli.

After Masoli was released from the team prior to the 2010 season, there was a fierce battle between Nate Costa and Darron Thomas. Many believed the senior, Costa, was going to emerge as the starter, but Chip Kelly saw something in Thomas.

And now, with Thomas gone, Oregon must move forward with Bennett.

In Bennet's limited playing time, Kelly simplified his dynamic offense down and opted for a more option-oriented offense, much like he did with Thomas in his first year. Expect that trend to continue at least through the beginning of the season, as Kelly lets Bennett ease into the offense.

Luckily for Bennett and the Ducks, Bennet's lofty 6'2" frame is well-suited to get out of the pocket and run if the need arises.

With De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner joining Bennett in the backfield come September, I'm confident the Oregon Ducks are going to be lighting up the scoreboard and tiring out their mascot.