Oregon Football: 5 Players the Ducks Should Fear
It's difficult to think of other teams and other players with all the excitement surrounding the start of Oregon's fall camp this week.
However, the Pac-12 is loaded with star-quality players this season, both established veterans and exciting recruits. One reason the Ducks have been so successful the past few years is that they have had more quality depth than their opponents. While that will still be true in 2012, each of Oregon's opponents has guys to be on the lookout for—players that can single-handedly break a game wide open.
Here are five who should scare the daylights out of you if you're an Oregon fan.
Utah's Star Lotulelei
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His name is appropriate. The Utah Utes' star defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, is a force to be reckoned with.
Utah's defense was very good at creating turnovers last year, and Lotulelei was the main reason why. He is huge, disruptive and smart.
But why is he on this list, you say? The Ducks don't play Utah.
They do if Utah wins the South Division and the Ducks win the North. It's not impossible, and you heard it here first.
Washington State's Marquess Wilson
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The Pac-12 is loaded with pass-happy quarterbacks and coaches and, therefore, many quality wide receivers.
While the two guys in la-la land may get the most attention, do not, for one minute, turn your back on Washington State's Marquess Wilson. The junior at 6'4", 185 lbs is ready for a break-out year.
Wilson played in all 12 games last season for the Cougs, and was named to the Pac-12's second team as a sophomore (first team all Pac-12 by Phil Steele). According to his official bio on WSU's website, Wilson had 82 receptions for 1,388 yards, both Wazzu single-season records. He had 12 touchdown catches.
If Wilson's team had showed up on the airwaves more often last year, he would be a household name by now.
By the way, there are 19 wide receivers listed on the Cougs' roster for 2012. Suppose they are planning to throw the ball a couple of times per game?
Oregon State's Sean Mannion
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I have this recurring nightmare: Oregon and Oregon State play in the last regular season game with the Pac-12 championship game on the line. In my dream, Oregon State finally wins one of these games and halts the Ducks' march to the national championship.
How do they do it? On Sean Mannion's strong arm.
At 6'5", 212 pounds, sophomore Mannion is the perfect quarterback for a Mike Riley offense. With a tough year under his belt in 2011, Mannion will feel much more comfortable under center this year. He was chosen as one of four team captains, the first sophomore in OSU history to be named a captain. That shows his team has confidence in him and recognizes him as one of its leaders.
Mannion has excellent targets in Markus Wheaton, Obum Gwacham and Kevin Cummings, among others.
According to the Beavs' website, Mannion ended 2011 with 11 straight games with 200-plus yards passing. Last season was his tuneup; now it's on to the real deal.
Stanford's Stepfan Taylor
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It's nice to see Stanford's running back, Stepfan Taylor, with a microphone in his hand and getting some attention. The poor guy has been on the same team with Andrew Luck for three years.
Taylor is one of the top running backs in the Pac-12, and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last year behind you-know-who. Although we only remember Luck throwing the ball beautifully, Taylor rushed for 1,330 yards on 242 carries for a 5.5 average.
Taylor's single season rushing total was the second highest mark in Stanford history, only behind a guy you might recall—Toby Gerhart, now playing for the Minnesota Vikings. The Ducks held him to 99 yards last year, but Taylor averaged 102.3 yards per game.
Taylor can play, and with LaMichael James and Andrew Luck playing on Sundays this fall, 2012 should be his year in the spotlight.
USC's Matt Barkley
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Oh, all right. Surfer dude has to be on this list.
After all, he did pick apart the Ducks in last year's meeting. Sorry to remind you, Duck fans, but Matt Barkley was 26 of 34 passing, with 323 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing only one interception. That computes to a 76.7 percent completion rate. Definitely not shabby.
While Marqise Lee did a lot of the heavy lifting in that game with 187 yards receiving, someone had to get the ball to him, no? And, yes, Dion Jordan did not play and his presence should make a big difference this year.
Whether the media deluge has convinced you that Barkley is the second coming, you can't deny he will be highly motivated, and, therefore, extremely dangerous on November 3.
Will USC make it to the national championship game? Will the Ducks? Will Barkley win the Heisman? Will DAT or John Boyett?
One game. One Saturday. Winner takes all.