2012 Pac-12 Team Preview and Breakdown: Oregon Ducks

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2012 Pac-12 Team Preview and Breakdown: Oregon Ducks
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Rich Brooks set the foundation. Mike Bellotti built on it nicely. Chip Kelly has topped it off with a penthouse suite and all the bells and whistles you could want. Well, all but one thing. 

Kelly took over as the head coach and Mike Bellotti moved to AD for a year. This is his first head coaching job. In his three years he has an overall record of 34-6 and a conference record of 26-2. He has guided the Ducks to three straight conference titles and their first Rose Bowl win in 95 years.

The one thing that he does not have is a National Championship. They played for it but lost in 2010. Kelly flirted with the NFL this off season but said he still had unfinished business to take care of and I think this is what he meant.

His offensive coordinator is Mark Helfrich, but I am not sure who calls most of the plays, him or Kelly.  On defense, Nick Aliotti runs things and has been doing so for 14 years. As a matter of fact, Oregon has not had coaching turnover at any position since Kelly took over in 2009.

Darren Thomas surprised everyone by declaring for the draft early. He led Oregon to an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the National Championship game and to a Rose Bowl win. A lot of Oregon fans think that both guys vying for the job are better. 

Red shirt sophomore Bryan Bennett would appear to have the job based on experience as he played in a few games last season when Thomas was injured. He first came off the bench and held off Arizona State. He started the next week and led Oregon to a 45-2 stomping of Colorado. Thomas came back for Washington State but struggled and Bennett came in and closed it out. 

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The other guy fighting for the job is Marcus Mariota, a true freshman.  Most people got their first real look at Mariota in the spring game and what a look it was. Mariota completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, not to mention 99 yards rushing and two more scores. 

Losing a schools all time leading rusher seems like it would really hurt. While I have no doubt that Oregon will miss LaMichael James, I think their running backs will step up nicely.

Kenjon Barner is no stranger to the offense and ran for just under 1000 yards while backing up James.  He will split time with utility player DeAnthony Thomas who will line up anywhere you ask him to and make a play doing it. Unfortunately after those two, the depth of this position becomes a question.

Speaking of DeAnthony Thomas, he is listed as a running back but has been more valuable as a receiver.  He led the team last year in receiving yards.  The next two leaders are gone, one being tight end David Paulson. Josh Huff was a starter last season and Rahsaan Vaughn got some quality experience. At Tight end will be a new starter, if it is Colt Lyerla as expected, who by the way looked pretty good in his time on the field last season.  

Oregon has led the conference in rushing the last six years and led the nation last year. Good running backs are one part of it the other is the offensive line. Oregon could make an argument for the best line in the conference. They replace two starters and wait on the status of starting guard Carson York. York was injured in the Rose Bowl. The early schedule should help with any cohesion problems.

Harry How/Getty Images

The defensive line is one of the best in the conference as well, and that is with some uncertainty as to who will play. Highly recruited defensive end Arik Armstead is just a freshman. If he has a good fall camp he could start. Defensive end Dion Jordan could have a breakout season. 

Due to a rotation of players on defense the linebackers graduate two and still look just as strong.  Michael Clay was just a few tackles away from being the team leader. Kiko Alonso played off the bench and still managed to be named Rose Bowl defensive MVP. 

The secondary will be led by free safety John Boyett who was the team's leading tackler and a four year starter. There was a high rotation of corners last season and that should pay off this year. Terence Mitchell started at one side and the other appears to be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu coming out of spring. Rover Eddie Pleasant is gone and it is uncertain who will take over. 

Special teams comes back nearly 100% in tact. Punter Jackson Rice is back, though Oregon doesn’t use him as much as some other teams would. Kickers Rob Beard and Alejandro Maldonado will battle for the starting job again, while long snappers are in place.  There are questions as to who will return but with the amount of speed Oregon stock piles they should have plenty of options. 

DeAnthony Thomas and LaMichael James were the main return men last season. With an expanded role for Thomas and James departing, I am not sure who will handle these jobs. Thomas is of course still an option but will Kelly risk him getting injured on special teams?

Oregon is favored to win the North and got a few votes to win the conference. On top of that, there are some out there who even have Oregon playing for the National Championship. Oregon looks to be in a reloading phase at a few key positions but should be capable of meeting these expectations. Oregon should reach their fourth BCS bowl in a row. 

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