Marcus Mariota heads up the explosive Oregon offense.
With the season just over a month away, we're going to take a look at Oregon Ducks fans' greatest hopes and fears for the upcoming season.
But rather than blab on about the talent on offense or the woes of the kicking game, I'm going to make two separate arguments—one for why fans should be hopeful that this will finally be the season Oregon captures the elusive crystal ball and another that lays out why potential success is merely a mirage.
Which side of the fence do you fall on?
Why Duck Fans Should Be Hopeful about the 2013 Season
Well, why shouldn't they?
The offense has so much talent that it's practically unfair for opposing defenses tasked with the challenge of stopping it. Sure, Stanford had its fun for one gloomy night last November, but it was hardly indicative of what happens when the offense faces great defenses.
Why, in 2011 the Oregon Ducks put up 53 points against a Stanford team that had been previously unbeaten. And how many bonehead mistakes did the Ducks make in the 2012 game? De'Anthony's missed block? Maldonado's field goals? Numerous fourth-down failures? With the contest firmly in the mind of every returning player, a repeat outcome is unlikely.
The Ducks led opponents by more than 30 points in nine out of their 13 games last season. While that sinks in, remember to consider that the 2013 offense, on paper, is even better.
Somebody said coaching change? You mean the promotion of the offensive coordinator? The guy who's been involved with the program day in and day out for several years now? The same guy who had the great fortune of working with Chip Kelly in creating and tweaking the fast-paced blur offense?
I'm not buying the coaching switch as a problem whatsoever. The players love Mark Helfrich, and while you can't ever take away much from a spring game, the offense did look oddly familiar, didn't it?
In reading team previews of the Oregon Ducks, you'll see the word "talent" more than a few times. But to the casual fan, that word needs some oomph behind it for it to mean something.
You want oomph?
Let's start with Marcus Mariota, the dual-threat wizard who threw for 32 touchdowns last season with only six interceptions. He ran for another 750 yards as well.
Then there's De'Anthony Thomas, the most electric player in the game who can line up at multiple positions and is truly a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Byron Marshall joins him in the backfield as a promising young back with a physicality not seen since LeGarrette Blount, and incoming freshman Thomas Tyner has game-breaker written all over him.
The wide receivers are led by senior Josh Huff, who has the play-making ability that can take over a game. Fellow wideouts Keanon Lowe and Daryle Hawkins are expert blockers and experienced pass-catchers, and young guns Bralon Addison, B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford all appear to have bright futures.
The tight end spot is held by Colt Lyerla, the best all-around athlete on the team with a combination of size, speed and power rarely seen before, and he'll line up at the end of an offensive line that is as rock solid as it has ever been.
The defense, which led the nation in interceptions, returns all four starters in the secondary and is deeper than ever on the line. The only minor question mark comes at linebacker, where talent is overflowing but relatively inexperienced.
With the promotion of Scott Frost to offensive coordinator, the passing attack will likely expand and make the offense even more dangerous.
The Ducks haven't lost a true road game since 2009, which means that trips to Washington and Stanford may not be as difficult as they might appear. Reigning Pac-12 South champion UCLA has to come to Autzen. If ever there were a schedule that lends itself to an undefeated run, the Ducks have it.
So to everyone predicting some sort of major downfall, stop it. The Ducks could win 10 games with their hands tied behind their backs, and fans should be very hopeful about the upcoming season.
Why Duck Fans Should Be Fearful about the Upcoming Season
You know all that chatter about the coaching switch?
Well, if we're being honest, there's some merit to the argument that it could lead to a drop-off in production, even with the current abundance of talent. Chip Kelly was the man who led Oregon's offense, and even though continuity should remain with the promotion of Mark Helfrich, there's still going to be a different voice in charge.
There's been quite a bit of speculation that this year will feature a more pass-heavy offense than before given Mariota's experience and the talent at wide receiver. But that might not be such a good thing. Experimenting with something new will only take away from what has worked so far: the run-heavy, up-tempo attack.
It might look good on paper, but going away from what you know is often a recipe for disaster. The pieces are in place for a successful passing attack, but it may take some time for the players to fully understand the new aspects of the offense.
Oregon fans might mention that the team hasn't lost a true road game since 2009. But let me ask you this: Where would you rather see Oregon face Stanford this season? Palo Alto or Eugene? Exactly. History be darned, the Thursday night showdown against the current conference champs will be as tough a game as they come.
Then there's the matter of the team up north, which has waited for years now to take back control of the rivalry and 2013 sets up perfectly as the year it will finally happen. The game is in newly renovated Husky Stadium, and the Dawgs boast a tough defense to go along with a talented offense.
One of the greatest things about Chip Kelly was that his teams never lost games that they had absolutely no business losing. There were no major head-scratchers, such as Florida State's loss to North Carolina State last season. Stanford and USC were surprises, but the results weren't unimaginable. Can Helfrich get the players prepared each week like Kelly did?
While the offense is admittedly loaded, the defense will struggle because the linebacker spot is weak. Those are the guys charged with filling the gaps on run plays and covering the middle of the field on pass plays. They have to diagnose and react faster than anyone, and without much experience that could pose some problems.
Oh, and if a game should come down to a field goal, the Ducks are in major trouble. Even the incoming Matt Wogan will be reminded of the misses in crunch time over the past couple seasons.
Oregon will win its fair share of games—of that I have little doubt. But given the coaching change, the inexperience at key positions and the tough road games, fans should be afraid about what the 2013 season could bring.