Oregon Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Ducks

Chris AndersonCorrespondent IIIAugust 26, 2012

Oregon Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Ducks

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    The Oregon Ducks are coming into a 2012 season ranked fifth in both the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll and the AP Top 25 Poll. 

    After winning three straight Pac-10/12 Championships, the Ducks are expecting much of the success that they have become acquainted with in recent years to continue in 2012. Over the past three years, the Ducks have compiled 34 wins to only six losses, with their latest victory coming against Wisconsin in one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in history.

    Coming off of a Rose Bowl victory, the Ducks are loaded with talent that should make them one of the most dangerous teams in 2012. 

    However, a more competitive Pac-12 conference is waiting to play spoiler to the Ducks' chances of securing a fourth straight conference championship. 

    Improving teams like Washington, Washington State and Cal will throw all they have at the reigning conference champions, trying to unseat them from their current throne. 

    And then there are the USC Trojans.

    USC will be coming off of its postseason ban in 2012 and are primed for a magical season of its own. Stars such as Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and T.J. McDonald will all be leading a preseason No. 1 Trojan team down the field. 

    Without a doubt, this will be one of the most exciting seasons in the history of Oregon football.

    And so, without further delay, here is your 2012 Oregon Ducks football preview. 

Offseason Synopsis

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    The Oregon Ducks had a relatively calm offseason compared to their previous offseasons that saw their school riddled with scandals and player violations.

    Oregon did, however, have its fair share of surprises. 

    Besides the "normal" NFL draft departures Oregon fans expected, Darron Thomas shocked the Duck fanbase when he declared that he would forgo his senior season and test the NFL waters, thus leaving in place a budding quarterback competition.

    And, up until this past weekend, Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota were battling it out for the starting position. 

    After much competition and both being heralded as great athletes worthy of leading the prolific Oregon offense, Marcus Mariota was named the starting quarterback. 

    The Ducks also brought in yet another top recruiting class loaded with players ready to make an immediate impact. 

    Though there was speculation that the NCAA would come down hard on Oregon with sanctions, that speculation was quickly dispelled as ludicrous and word has yet to come from either the NCAA or Oregon about pending sanctions. 

Offense Preview

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    The Oregon offense should be just as potent as ever, even with Marcus Mariota as the new starting quarterback in place. 

    Much of this offensive potency can be linked to returning stars De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. Excelling at their positions in 2012, these players have already proven that they have what it takes to put up gaudy offensive numbers.

    With these two leading the charge at running back, Marcus Mariota should be able to ease into the Oregon offense with a fairly nice ease. 

    Questions do remain, however, about the kinds of production the Ducks will receive from their wide receiver position.

    While they do return Josh Huff, the loss of Lavasier Tuinei to the NFL and Justin Hoffman to injuries (concussions) left some uncertainty surrounding the Oregon receiving corps. That uncertainty has been calmed, at least a little, by the production of Bralon Addison, B.J. Kelley and Devon Blackmon during Oregon's preseason camps.

    The tight end position is currently the only position that has not listed a starter yet and will remain an interesting competition to watch during the beginning of the season. 

    Despite some uncertainty at a few positions, don't expect Oregon's offense to skip a beat as the talent is in place to make this offense one of the most prolific in the nation once again. 

Defense Preview

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    Though Oregon's offense usually receives all the attention, it is Oregon's defense that could make the 2012 season one of the most special in school history. 

    Riddled with returners all across the defense, this unit is stacked with the talent necessary to stop offenses right where they get started. 

    Fueled by a potent defensive line, this Oregon defensive unit will be one of the most intimidating in school history. 

    Returning stars such as Dion Jordan, Ricky Heimuli, John Boyett, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso all contribute to the defensive prowess that Oregon will be supplied with this season. A stable of incoming talent also provides the Ducks with the depth to succeed should injuries become an issue.

    Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has always been known for his special blitz packages and attacking style of play and that should not change in 2012.

    Just about every defensive unit has improved for the Ducks during the offseason, and the defense as a whole will be the key to whether or not Oregon can claim a fourth straight Pac-12 title. 

Special Teams Preview

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    The Ducks' 2011 special teams unit definitely had its ups and downs. With brilliant kick returns from De'Anthony Thomas and punting from Jackson Rice, the Ducks' punt coverage and punt return units flourished in 2011.

    On the other side of special teams, place kicking especially, the Ducks were a little unfortunate. Alejandro Maldonado was inconsistent as a place kicker and cost the Ducks a chance at overtime against the Trojans, a game that could have propelled them straight back into the BCS National Championship race. 

    In 2012, expect all facets of Oregon's special teams to be much improved from their 2011 versions.

    The kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return units should all be stellar as each returns key pieces of the puzzle. Punter Jackson Rice will be entering his final season with the Ducks, looking to finally win the Ray Guy award. 

    All-around player De'Anthony Thomas will be returning punts for the Ducks and looks to be just as special this year as last.

    In terms of place kicking for this season, the Ducks have Rob Beard instead of Maldonado listed at PK. A year of more refinement can only improve the Ducks' chances at placing more kicks between the uprights. 

Coaching

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    Chip Kelly is one of the brilliant offensive minds in all of college football. He has taken the Ducks from being good to being one of college football's perennial football powerhouses. 

    Preaching his slogan Win the Day, the Ducks have done everything Kelly has asked for and commands complete leadership and respect from his players.

    Yet, it is not just head coach Chip Kelly that makes the Ducks a special team.

    Defensive coordinator Nick Allioti will have one of his best defensive units in his tenure with the Oregon Ducks and will be looking to resurrect shades of the Gang Green defense that was heralded as the best in Oregon football history. 

    Another coach that has been left relatively unappreciated is defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. Now entering his fourth season as defensive line coach, Azzinaro has transformed the Oregon defensive line into one of the best in the nation.

    With players like Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart pressing opposing offenses, Azzinaro's defensive line will once again wreak havoc on their opponents. 

Schedule

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    9/01/12 - vs. Arkansas State (Eugene, Oregon)

    9/08/12 - vs. Fresno State (Eugene, Oregon)

    9/15/12 - vs. Tennessee Tech (Eugene, Oregon)

    9/22/12 - vs. Arizona (Eugene, Oregon)

    9/29/12 - at Washington State (Seattle, Washington)

    10/06/12 - vs. Washington (Eugene, Oregon)

    10/18/12 - at Arizona State (Tempe, Arizona)

    10/27/12 - vs. Colorado (Eugene, Oregon)

    11/03/12 - at USC (Los Angeles, California)

    11/10/12 - at California (Berkeley, California)

    11/17/12 - vs. Stanford (Eugene, Oregon)

    11/24/12 - at Oregon State (Corvallis, Oregon)

One Game the Ducks Will Absolutely Win

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    While the Ducks will be favored in most of their games this season, their contest against Colorado is essentially a guaranteed win. 

    The Buffaloes will be an improved team in 2012, don't get me wrong, but they still have no shot against the Ducks with a shady defense and offense that will have to battle against a better Oregon defense in 2012.

    Add in the fact that Colorado will be making the trip to Autzen Stadium and Colorado just does not have a shot in this one. 

    Maybe next year, Buffs. 

One Game That's a Tossup

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    If there is any game that nobody is sure whether the Ducks will win or lose, it is their contest against the USC Trojans. 

    Taking place on November 3rd in Los Angeles, many fans on both sides are already anticipating this to be one of the best games in the history of college football.

    The two teams will likely come into this game undefeated and will make this quite the game to watch.

    USC returns a bevy of offensive stars that could exploit a Duck secondary that can be called into question at times.

    Oregon, however, may be able to exploit a USC defense that was prone to big plays last season and a defense that could tire out with the fast pace of the Ducks.

    As of right now, there are many people on both sides saying that this game could go one way or the other, and it surely seems to be that way.

    The best thing for fans of both teams to do is just to wait it out and sit back and enjoy the game on November 3rd. 

One Game the Ducks Could Lose

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    Just like they could win the game against USC, Oregon could very well see this result in a loss for their football program.

    USC should be able to exploit the Ducks' secondary with receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods while also opening up their offensive attack should the Ducks start to key in on the pass.

    Playing at USC is no easy matter, especially when the Coliseum will be packed full of Trojan fans.

    Though they may lose this game, the Ducks will likely have a shot against the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game as well. 

Offensive MVP Prediction

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    De'Anthony Thomas was more than stellar in 2011 and should remain so in 2012. 

    An offseason where he has built into his frame more should give him added confidence when carrying the ball this year.

    With the departure of LaMichael James to the NFL, Thomas should see even more action in 2012 as he looks to be incorporated at both the running back and wide receiver position as in 2011. 

    Though there are many offensive players for the Ducks that will perform admirably throughout the season (Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota come to mind), nobody will match the production of Thomas. 

    Expect De'Anthony to continue his stellar performance on the offensive side of the ball and dominate defenders who dare go up against his Black Mamba speed. 

Defensive MVP Prediction

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    The college football nation began to witness how good Dion Jordan was in 2011, and 2012 should be his time to shine on the Oregon defense.

    Originally recruited as a tight end, Jordan made a quick transition to the defensive end position where he has thrived for the Ducks the past two years.

    He is a monster of a man and is one of the key pieces of an Oregon defense that will have one of its best seasons in 2012. With standout players surrounding him, Jordan should receive much more one-on-one attention in 2012, thus boosting his statistics and chances to prove to the nation that he is one of the best defensive ends in college football.

    Though John Boyett and Michael Clay will give Jordan a run for his money, Dion should emerge as the Defensive MVP of the 2012 Oregon football team. 

Newcomer of the Year Prediction

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    While Bralon Addison has made quite the name for himself during spring and fall camp, B.J. Kelley will be the newcomer of the year for the Ducks in 2012.

    Redshirting last season, Kelley has consistently shown improvement in every facet of his game throughout the 2012 preseason. He caught a touchdown in the Oregon Spring Game and has been heralded as quite the football player by teammates and coaches alike.

    With depth issues at the wide receiver position, Kelley should see a lot of time early on in the season, where he will be able to make an immediate impact and cement himself as part of a prolific Oregon offense. 

Best NFL Draft Prospect

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    As mentioned earlier, Dion Jordan is a beast of a man. 

    He is also the most NFL-ready of all the Ducks on the football team. 

    Standing at a towering height and boasting great explosiveness, Jordan should fill out at the NFL level quite well. He can alternate between the defensive end position and the linebacker position, making him a versatile player that could succeed at multiple positions in the NFL. 

Best 5 Oregon Twitter Accounts

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    @McNamaraUO (Oregon Football SID)

    @UOPintens (Craig Pintens - Associate AD)

    @Rocket23k (B.J. Kelley)

    @oregonducksnews

    @GoDucks

Bowl Bound

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    If Oregon plays up to its potential this season, they will be BCS National Championship bound. 

    There are two ways the Ducks could end up in the national championship.

    The first way is by winning all of their Pac-12 contests and the Pac-12 Championship game. This would see the Ducks go undefeated and easily place into a national championship game after finding themselves through what will be a tough Pac-12 schedule. 

    The second route the Ducks could take to a BCS National Championship is by losing to USC in their November 3rd meeting but taking care of an undefeated Trojans team in the Pac-12 Championship game after the Ducks win all of their other contests. 

    A win over the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game should give the Ducks the necessary votes to boost themselves to No. 2 in the rankings. 

Final Prediction

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    Trying to separate myself from all biased opinions, I really do believe the Ducks have what it takes to run the table and get to the national championship and win the day.

    An extremely potent offense combined with the best defense in Chip Kelly's era should yield the tools necessary to take down every team that they face.

    Marcus Mariota, though young and inexperienced, has shown flashes of greatness in his short tenure at Oregon and is poised to be the next great Duck quarterback.

    For those who don't believe a rookie QB could lead the Ducks to a national championship, Darron Thomas did just that in his first season as a QB at Oregon, and Mariota has already shown that he is better than Thomas in several areas. 

    Get ready, Duck fans, this could be one special season.