Aarghh. It's still 10 days to go until the Fiesta Bowl. What are we supposed to do while we wait for the Oregon Ducks vs. Kansas State matchup?
Start dreaming and planning for next season, of course. One can only drink so much eggnog with the relatives.
While this exciting and successful season for the Ducks (11-1) still has one big game remaining, there are all sorts of interesting things on the horizon.
Will Chip Kelly leave for the NFL? Will Mark Helfrich be handed the keys if Kelly leaves? Or will Oregon, as mandated by state law, interview a minority candidate like Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin or Jon Gruden (there must be a Chucky minority category.)
That's an article for another day.
Will the NCAA bring the hammer down? Will players leave Oregon early for the NFL or just transfer to another school?
Lots of questions, which makes this assignment intriguing. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, here are projections for what the Ducks' offense might look like when they first take the field on August 31, 2013 against the Nicholls State Colonels.
Projected starters are in bold type.
The story at offensive line is mixed.
In 2012, the OL was greatly improved over the previous season, and was an important reason why the Ducks were so unstoppable on offense. When we look ahead to next fall's OL, there is good news and bad news.
The really bad news is that Kyle Long was denied an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA (those guys are beginning to get on my nerves). The left side of the line will see some adjustments due to Long's departure.
The other bad news is that Ryan Clanton will also be gone, as will his backup at right guard, Nick Cody—both are seniors. Cody is academically ineligible and won't make the trip to the Fiesta Bowl, so the Ducks will give an early peek at who might be in the mix to start at right guard in 2013.
While there will be some major juggling at both guard positions, the tackles are intact, barring injuries or anything weird happening.
LEFT TACKLE: Tyler Johnstone — Andre Yruretagoyena
LEFT GUARD: Hamani Stevens — Axel McQuaw
CENTER: Hroniss Grasu — Karrington Armstrong or Mana Greig
RIGHT TACKLE: Jake Fisher — Everett Benyard III
RIGHT GUARD: Jamal Prater — Trevor Fox
One of the best outcomes of 2012 for the Ducks has been the outstanding play of tight end Colt Lyerla—both on and off the field. The lack of negative headlines for Lyerla has, frankly, been a pleasant surprise.
If Lyerla has a clean summer, he will be elevated to superstar status next fall. This kid has all the physical tools to become a prototype NFL tight end, and he just needs to prove he can consistently do what his coaches ask of him.
Lyerla will get pushed in fall camp by current redshirt freshman and former 4-star recruit Evan Baylis, but the starting job is his unless he shoots himself in the foot.
TIGHT END: Colt Lyerla — Evan Baylis — Koa Ka'ai — Pharaoh Brown
Talk about your embarrassment of riches.
The Ducks were very deep at wide receiver in 2012, and virtually everyone is back with a year of great experience—only seniors Rahsaan Vaughn and Will Murphy will be gone. Unless someone does something stupid like declare for the NFL draft early (I'm talking to you Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins), wide receiver will be a strong position for the Ducks in 2013.
Oregon will still be a "run first" offense, but my guess is that it will be more balanced in 2013 between run and throw. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has a very good, accurate arm, and with star RB Kenjon Barner gone, look for more receivers to get in on the action.
WIDE RECEIVER 1: Daryle Hawkins — Bralon Addison (I wouldn't be surprised if Hawkins and Addison change places by October) — Chance Allen
WIDE RECEIVER 2: Josh Huff — Eric Dungy — Dwayne Stanford
WIDE RECEIVER 3: Keanon Lowe — B.J. Kelley — Blake Stanton
And the starting quarterback for the 2013 Oregon Ducks will be—ta da!—Marcus Mariota.
OK, so that was an easy call. But after Mariota, it gets tricky.
My prediction is that Mariota's backup, Bryan Bennett, will either transfer to another school right after the Fiesta Bowl, or he will change positions but remain a Duck.
Therefore, the QB depth chart will change next fall. Here's how I see it—please don't be shy about disagreeing with me.
QUARTERBACK: Marcus Mariota — Jeff Lockie — Jake Rodrigues — Dustin Haines
Even more embarrassing than the Ducks' talent at wide receiver will be the cornucopia of running backs in Oregon's stable.
The RB position promises to be the most heated competition of spring practice and, especially, fall camp when the newbies arrive. Only senior Kenjon Barner will be gone, and the excellent backs returning will be joined by at least two highly—and I'm talkin' highly—rated recruits.
Trying to predict this far out who will win the competition and earn a role is a fool's errand, but that's never stopped me before.
RUNNING BACK: De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall — Thomas Tyner — Ayele Forde — Dontre Wilson (possible redshirt)
As I'm writing this, CBS Sports is reporting that the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles will go after Chip Kelly hard after head coach Andy Reid either leaves on his own volition or is fired.
If Kelly leaves, the question then becomes who is Oregon's next head coach. If it's current offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich—as conventional wisdom assumes (me, I'm not so sure)—then you would expect that personnel decisions would continue much as they are right now.
But, what if there is turmoil in the Oregon assistant coaching ranks? What if receivers' coach Scott Frost leaves, either with Kelly or elsewhere? I would expect that a new receivers' coach would start from scratch, and come up with his own depth chart.
If Helfrich gets the job, who replaces him at offensive coordinator, and what decisions might that guy make about the existing offense?
Lots of possible scenarios. I wouldn't stray too far from your favorite media device starting January 4 if I were you, Duck fans.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.