Optimism is overflowing in Eugene about the potential of the 2013 Oregon football team.
Despite the coaching change, there is a talented mix of experienced veterans and young guns that bodes well for achieving success next season.
You know all the names by now: Marcus Mariota, Josh Huff, De'Anthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla and many others. Even the offensive line, led by the outstanding trio of Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone, has names and players that fans recognize.
And who better to lead the defense than the lockdown cornerback duo of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell? Perhaps it's the defensive line, which has the depth and talent to make even a few SEC teams jealous.
Before I let myself ramble on too long about the many reasons why this version of the Oregon Ducks is special, the point is that 2013 has unlimited potential. Oregon is going to be very good.
So what do you tell someone when they ask you how many wins the Ducks are going to have this season?
Well, let's take a look at the schedule and come up with an over/under mark for the 2013 Ducks (excluding both the bowl game and possible Pac-12 title game appearance).
I'm going to start off by penciling in a "W" next to the first five opponents. I'm using a golf pencil, too, so even if there's a random change of heart, a 5-0 start to the season is set in stone and cannot be changed. I just can't see things starting out any other way.
Nicholls State might honestly be the easiest victory in program history, given its 77-3 loss at Oregon State last year. Not only is it an FCS team, but it's an FCS team coming off of a one-win season! Enjoy the paycheck, Colonels.
Then there's the East Coast trip to face Virginia before a home date with Tennessee. In most other years this might be a tough stretch, but Virginia just flat-out isn't very good, and the Volunteers are at a low point in program history. Barring a cavalcade of major injuries, neither game is likely to be close.
A bye week follows what should be a 3-0 start, and then it's home against California before a road game against Colorado. I don't need to remind you that Cal won just three games last season, and the Buffaloes, well, they managed just one.
So that puts them at five wins as the Ducks hit the meat of the schedule.
The remaining games are, in order, at Washington, Washington State, UCLA, at Stanford, Utah, at Arizona and Oregon State.
I'm going to mark a "W" next to both Washington State and Utah now, as both games will take place in Autzen and neither of those teams have the talent or the defense to make things interesting.
Of the remaining five games, let's count Oregon State and Arizona as wins, too. The Beavers may be slightly improved from last season, but remember the Ducks won by 24 in their house. We don't know how the season will play out given that it's only June, but at this point, a sixth straight win in the Civil War seems likely.
The Wildcats have an outstanding running back in Ka'Deem Carey, and the desert hasn't been the friendliest environment for the Ducks. But Arizona is breaking in a new quarterback, and it's unfortunately lost its best receiver, Austin Hill, to an ACL injury that could potentially sideline him for the season. Even if the Wildcats D is better than last season, the offense won't be able to keep up.
That gives us a total of nine wins before taking a look at the games against Washington, UCLA and Stanford, which are the toughest three on the schedule.
Individually, the Ducks have a good chance to win all three. But in looking at the trio as a whole, a loss doesn't seem all that far-fetched. Can you really set the over/under at 12, meaning an undefeated season is not merely attainable but expected as well?
I don't think so, which is why I believe a good number to set the over/under at is 11. And it makes sense when you consider that Oregon will likely be favored (possibly by double digits) in every game on the schedule with the exception of Stanford. Finishing the season 11-1 wouldn't be the dream result fans are hoping for, but it wouldn't signal utter failure, either.
Eleven wins may seem like a lot, but this is largely the same team that lost a single game last season by just three points to a Rose Bowl-winning opponent. This group had little trouble dismantling highly ranked Kansas State, and the Ducks haven't lost a true road game since 2009.
Now that I've set the over/under at 11, let's hear your thoughts! Am I crazy to set the benchmark that high? Or do some of you believe 12 wins is a better place to set it?
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