Oregon Football: Are the Ducks Relinquishing the Driver's Seat in the Pac-12?

Joe PenkalaCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2012

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 19: Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu #14 of the Oregon Ducks goes up in a vain attempt to knock down a pass intended for wide receiver Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans during the  third quarter at Autzen Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. USC won the game 38-35. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

With the 2012 season right around the corner, many people around the nation are talking about how good USC will be this year and also believe that the Trojans have the ability to go out and win the national title game. 

For the past three years, Oregon has dominated the Pac-12, winning three straight conference titles and only losing twice in conference over that stretch. Despite these accomplishments, the media overwhelming selected USC to win the conference this year by a margin of 102-18 votes.

Coming into the 2012 season, Oregon is looking to find a replacement for the void left by Darron Thomas, who surprised everyone by turning pro with a year of eligibility left.

Not only are the Ducks looking to replace the leadership of Thomas, but they need to replace LaMichael James, arguably one of the best backs in the nation for the past three years.

Despite all of these holes, the Ducks have an extreme amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball and expect to have one of the best groups in the conference.

Also, the Ducks have answers at running back with both Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas ready to step up and take on more carries. 

On the other side of the coin, USC has some of the best talent in the nation. When Matt Barkley announced that he was returning for his senior year, USC vaulted towards the top of the ratings and Barkley found himself being considered a Heisman favorite.

Despite the talent on the Trojans roster, they lack depth and that could be an issue if they face any injuries. While the Trojans have a game at home against the Ducks, it isn't played until November, giving the Trojans a long wait with a thin depth chart.

On top of how this year is stacking up, the Trojans are hauling in one of the nation's best recruiting classes. While rankings don't necessarily guarantee success, the smart money would bet that way.  

With all of these factors adding up, the Ducks enter the season as an underdog in a conference they have won for the past three years. For the Ducks, this is a perfect place to be.

For now, Oregon's focus needs to be on continuing to win the day, developing their new starting quarterback and making sure they get to Southern California with a record of 8-0.

Joe Penkala is a B/R National Featured Columnist who covers college football. You can contact him @joepenkala.