By any standards, the Oregon Ducks had a whale of a good 2012 football season. Aside from one, maybe two, misguided field goals, there were no glaring weaknesses on this Oregon team.
What will this year bring? Oregon fans are already perusing the 2013 schedule and imagining the wins piling up like so many fallen leaves in autumn.
However, there is no such thing as the perfect college football team. Every team has weaknesses and issues to resolve, including the Ducks.
If you are an Oregon fan, here are a few things you should be worried about.
Why is this man, linebacker Michael Clay, smiling? Because his team just won the Fiesta Bowl and he just won the Defensive MVP award.
Clay is also smiling because he is projected as a top-20 outside linebacker pick in the NFL draft. In fact, according to NFLdraftscout.com, Clay's stock is on the rise, no doubt because of his terrific performance in the Fiesta Bowl.
Clay's buddy, inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, is projected as the No. 4 player at his position. You are likely to hear Alonso's name called sooner rather than later in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
The point is that these are two great defensive talents who will soon walk down the graduation aisle at Oregon, and they will be difficult to replace. Clay and Alonso should get much of the credit for Oregon's defensive domination the past few years.
Yes, there is good talent on the Ducks' roster at the linebacker position, where returning senior Boseko Lokombo will lead the charge. But Clay and Alonso's backups, Derrick Malone and Rahim Cassell respectively, are young, as is Lokombo's backup, Tyson Coleman.
They will be joined by junior college transfer Joe Walker, who has much upside and will be expected to compete for a starting role.
Maybe one or more of these guys will be the next Alonso or Clay. But right now, linebacker looks like a position that will take a step backward in 2013.
Oregon has verbal commitments from some wonderfully talented kids for 2013.
In this class so far are running back Dontre Wilson, pictured here at the Oregon vs. Washington game last October, and the exciting Robinson twins, Tyree and Tyrell, from San Diego. Talented wide receiver Darren Carrington is also from San Diego.
Add to them big Even Voeller, an offensive lineman from West Linn, OR, and, of course, RB Thomas Tyner, one of the top 5-star prospects to ever come out of the state of Oregon.
But—and you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?—with only 13 current commitments, Oregon's recruiting class is less than two-thirds completed. And, while quality is very subjective, 247Sports.com has Oregon's current class ranked No. 25 in the nation.
Why isn't Oregon's 2013 class stronger? With just over three weeks left before National Signing Day, is there still time to fill some big gaps? How embarrassing would it be if the Ducks end up as the fourth best class...in the Pac-12 Conference?
Punter Jackson Rice
If you read this space often, you know that the Ducks have some issues with their kicking game.
Let's not rehash them today, OK? Suffice it to say that Oregon needs to find a young man who can kick that oblong thingy through those two white posts that stand ominously at each end of the field.
The psyche of the entire state of Oregon would take a tremendous blow if the Ducks miss even one field goal next fall. If returning starter Alejandro Maldonado takes the field on August 31, wouldn't you hate to be in charge of security at Autzen Stadium?
There are high hopes for incoming kicker Matt Wogan, who is apparently long on both talent and personality. But until Oregon fans see Wogan, and see what special teams coach Tom Osborne does with Maldonado, the kicking game has to remain a weakness for the Ducks.
The punter at Oregon has a cushy job. He is rarely called on, as the Ducks usually end each drive with a score. However, it's important to have a dependable kicker in that role, just in case.
Oregon's Jackson Rice will be off to the NFL this year. Rice is currently projected as the No. 6 punter in the nation. His replacement at Oregon will likely be Dylan Ausherman, but listed as the No. 2 punter on the Fiesta Bowl depth chart was—wait for it—Maldonado.
Maybe Maldonado shuffles over to punting duties and Wogan takes over at placekicker.
Whatever. Oregon's kicking game is a weakness until someone proves it isn't.
If you witnessed De'Anthony Thomas' electrifying 94-yard kickoff return in the Fiesta Bowl, you would say: "What special teams weakness could Oregon possibly have?"
You would be looking at the special teams glass half-full. But it's also been half-empty at times during the 2012 season.
With mega-talented returners like Thomas, sophomore Keanon Lowe and true freshman Bralon Addison, the Ducks should have taken more advantage on punt and kickoff returns than they did.
And don't get any Oregon fan started on defensive kicking coverage, or you will be occupied for several minutes. Even on those occasions when Maldonado did get a great kickoff—and to be fair, there were many—the Ducks' coverage looked, uncharacteristically, like it was in slow motion.
Slow. Missed tackles. Missed blocks. Does that sound like your Oregon Ducks?
It most certainly does not, and that's why special teams is a weakness.
If this article were about any other team—yes, including you, Alabama—there would have been more slides.
Looking ahead this year, the truth is that the Oregon Ducks have very few weaknesses.
And none that a couple of big surprises on National Signing Day wouldn't take care of.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.