Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas runs back the opening kickoff of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
2012 Record: 12-1, 8-1 (Pac-12)
Won Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State 35-17
The Oregon Ducks head into the 2013 season with high hopes of reclaiming a Pac-12 title and being a national title contender. Offensive guru Chip Kelly went 46-7 in four years at the helm, but darted for the NFL to take a job with the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s now up to former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to keep the program at an elite level and in the national spotlight.
The Ducks shouldn't miss a beat this year with all of the talent and depth returning from last year.
Last season, the high-powered Oregon offense ranked 2nd nationally with 49.5 points per game and was also ranked in the top five in rushing (315.2 yards per game) and in total yards (537.4 yards per game). With Helfrich being promoted to the head coaching position, Scott Frost, who was the receivers coach the past four seasons, is now the new offensive coordinator for the Ducks.
The Oregon offense will continue to be explosive with nine returning starters back in action. Sophomore Marcus Mariota has the potential to be the best quarterback to ever run Oregon’s spread offense. After two-year starter Darron Thomas decided to leave college early for the pros, there was a bit of a scare surrounding the quarterback situation at Oregon. After the season opener last season though, Duck Nation knew that Mariota was going to be something special.
As a first year starter, the cool and collected Hawaiian threw for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He was also a threat in the rushing attack as well. Mariota rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns.
The backfield will miss Oregon’s second all-time career rushing leader in Kenjon Barner, but it has depth with speedster De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and highly touted freshman Thomas Tyner. Thomas will finally get his time at running back, but don't be surprised if he's lined up at receiver as well.
The receiving corps will be loaded with talent and depth this season, meaning that Mariota will be passing the ball a lot more. Senior Josh Huff returns after averaging 15.4 yards per reception last season, as well as junior tight end Colt Lyerla, who scored seven total touchdowns and brought a physical presence to the Duck offense.
Mariota will also have targets Bralon Addison, Keanon Lowe and Daryle Hawkins to choose from. The offensive line basically stays intact with All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone and right tackle Jake Fisher.
The Oregon defense returns seven starters from last season, but defensive end/outside linebacker Dion Jordan, as well as inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will not return after heading to the NFL.
Will the Ducks win the Pac-12 Conference this year?
The linebacking corps will be the biggest concern with just one returning starter in senior Boseko Lokombo back. Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Tyson Coleman should be the other starters, but watch for JUCO transfer Joe Walker to make an impact as well after looking impressive in the spring.
The secondary will easily be the strongest unit on the Oregon defense this season. After leading the nation with 26 interceptions last season, the Ducks return all of their starters and then some. The secondary is led by potential All-American junior cornerback Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, who had 16 pass breakups and four interceptions last season. The secondary will also consist of cornerback Terrance Mitchell and safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson.
Duck fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief after Oregon recruited placekicker Matt Wogan. The kicking game has struggled, to say the least, with senior Alejandro Maldonado, who missed key kicks in 2011 and 2012. Wogan should replace Maldonado as the starting kicker. JUCO redshirt junior Dylan Ausherman will have a chance to beat out Maldonado for the starting punting job.
There should be no surprises in who will be returning kickoffs this season for the Ducks. Thomas is always dangerous when the ball is in his hands. Once he hits a corner or the open field, he is gone. After a 94-yard kickoff return to open the Fiesta Bowl, it's not even a question that Thomas will be handling kickoffs. Expect Addison to handle punts, though.
Oregon should handle its opponents rather easily and have a 7-0 on Oct. 26 when they host UCLA. Even though the Ducks shouldn't sleep on Virginia, Tennessee and Washington, the most critical game of the season will be a Thursday night game on Nov. 7 at Stanford. The Cardinal ruined the Ducks title hopes last year and will be hoping to do so again this year.
The game at Arizona (Nov. 23) could be tougher than most people might expect, but other than that, the Ducks should be good for their their fifth-straight BCS bowl game.
PROJECTION: 11-1, 8-1 (Pac-12)
Aug. 31 Nicholls State W
Sept. 7 @ Virginia W
Sept. 14 Tennessee W
Sept. 28 California W
Oct. 5 @ Colorado W
Oct. 12 @ Washington W
Oct. 19 Washington State W
Oct. 26 UCLA W
Nov. 7 @ Stanford L
Nov. 16 Utah W
Nov. 23 @ Arizona W
Nov. 29 Oregon State W