Oregon Football: 5 Reasons Ducks Will Struggle in 2012
The Oregon Ducks have been one of college football's best teams over the last several years.
Since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009, the Ducks have gone 34-6 with two trips to the Rose Bowl and a national championship appearance.
The Ducks have firmly established themselves as a Pac-12 powerhouse. They continue to get solid recruits and have some of the best facilities in the nation thanks to Phil Knight.
Still, that doesn't mean the Ducks are without some chinks in their armor heading into the 2012 season.
Until they beat the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2012 Rose Bowl, they had a rep as a team that couldn't win the big game.
They may have shed that label but here are five reasons why the Ducks will struggle in 2012.
The Loss of LaMichael James
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LaMichael James is arguably the best running back to ever play football at the University of Oregon.
Last season he set the Ducks' records for career rushing yards and the single game record with 288 yards against the University of Arizona.
He was the NCAA's leading rusher in 2010 and the second leading rusher last year. Also, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season, more than any other player in the NCAA with more than 145 carries.
Plain and simple, LaMichael James was easily one of the best three running backs in the nation last season.
The Ducks have excellent running backs waiting in the wings with last year's backup Kenjon Barner and the do-it-all Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year DeAnthony Thomas.
But LaMichael James was the kind of player defenses had to specifically game-plan for and without him lining up in the Ducks' backfield every game it will hurt the Ducks offense.
As good as his replacements are, it is going to hurt when you lose a player like James.
The Kicking Game
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Last season, the Ducks didn't have to attempt many field goals.
Their offense was one of the fastest and most efficient in the nation. They typically ended up in the end zone, not having to settle for a three-point try.
When they did though, it wasn't always pretty.
Their kicker, Alejandro Maldonado, finished the year 7-for-12 on field-goal attempts. His missed 37 yarder at the end of the USC game cost the Ducks a chance for overtime and probably kept them from going to the national championship game.
Kicker is the most enigmatic position in football. An extra year of experience doesn't necessarily translate to improvement.
If Maldonado struggles early, this will end up being Oregon's biggest weakness next season, and one that could cost them a few games.
Chip Kelly Wants to Coach in the NFL
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Chip Kelly wants to coach in the NFL.
As successful as he has been with the Ducks, Kelly is the kind of coach who won't rest until he has gone all the way to the top and proven his worth.
Will he be a successful NFL coach? Who knows?
What is apparent, though, is that Kelly wants a shot at the pros.
Many thought he was going to leave Oregon in December to go coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, the Eugene Register-Guard actually began printing newspapers announcing Kelly's departure.
Kelly ended up staying at Oregon but something tells me he isn't a Duck for life.
Proposed NCAA Violations Could Bring Down Sanctions
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While the NCAA has yet to announce any sanctions against the University of Oregon for the use of improper recruiting services, ESPN's Ted Miller speculates that they will receive a moderate amount of punishment.
Now will they receive the death penalty or a two-year bowl ban a la USC during the last two seasons? Highly doubtful but they are still going to face some sort of penalty.
Whatever their penalty is, it will definitely hurt them in some way, shape, or form.
If it's a one year bowl ban, like Bud Withers of the Seattle Times speculates, then it will clearly affect their season.
A New Quarterback
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Whoever starts at quarterback for the Ducks next season, it won't be Darron Thomas.
Thomas led the Ducks to the national championship game and a Rose Bowl victory during his two years as a starter. Although he was never a Heisman candidate or won any major postseason awards, Thomas was a solid signal-caller and one who ran the complicated Oregon offense well.
During the times that he played last season, Bryan Bennett was impressive. He appeared to be the shoo-in starter but after Marcus Mariota's impressive performance during the spring game it is evident that there is definitely a QB competition going on.
Anytime there is a new quarterback coming in, there is some uncertainty and that uncertainty could cause the Ducks to struggle next season.