The Oregon Ducks have a great shot to win the Pac-12 in Mark Helfrich's first season at the helm, but there are a few games on the schedule that will require nothing less than a stellar all-around effort to come away victorious.
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota is generating plenty of national buzz as a Heisman Trophy contender. Oregon's offense should be as potent—if not more so—than it has been in years past, and it'll take a phenomenal defensive effort by opposing teams to shut it down.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and defensive end Taylor Hart lead an underrated unit that excels when playing with a big lead.
Last season, Oregon's national title hopes were smashed when the program lost to Stanford at home.
Here are the teams that could cause the Ducks to flounder in 2013.
Saturday, Oct. 12: Oregon @ Washington
Washington proved to be an inferior opponent last season when the Huskies traveled to Oregon. The Ducks easily won that game by a lopsided score of 51-21, as Mariota tossed four touchdown passes while Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas ran wild.
Washington's defense was much improved last year under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, however—the game against Oregon notwithstanding. His defense ranked No. 39 in the nation in points allowed, and eight starters return this season.
On the other side of the ball, senior quarterback Keith Price opened up a lot of eyes with a fine junior campaign, though poor offensive line play tarnished his bottom line toward the end of the season.
His top playmaker is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is being touted as a potential first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
Oregon should win this game, but Washington can't be taken lightly.
Saturday, Oct. 26: UCLA @ Oregon
Jim Mora has transformed UCLA into a respectable program that looks to be trending up.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley isn't getting as much national attention as Mariota, but he's no less impressive as a dual-threat quarterback. As a redshirt freshman last season, Hundley passed for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns while adding nine more touchdowns on the ground.
If his offensive line can play better than it did in the second half of the season, then Hundley will give Heisman voters something to think about this year.
On defense, UCLA features one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the nation in Anthony Barr, who is a likely top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. He had 13.5 sacks a year ago in his first season as a defender, having spent his first two years at UCLA on offense.
UCLA will likely attempt to pound the ball on the ground to keep Oregon's potent offense off the field as much as possible, and this is a game the Ducks could easily lose if the players don't execute the game plan to perfection.
Thursday, Nov. 7: Oregon @ Stanford
Once again, Stanford is Oregon's toughest opponent in 2013, just as it was last season.
The Cardinal are expected to do great things this year, receiving plenty of love in the preseason polls. Both the AP and USA Today polls have Stanford at No. 4, which is impressive considering the SEC teams placed below this Pac-12 powerhouse.
Starting quarterback Kevin Hogan looked fantastic last year after he replaced Josh Nunes, completing 71.7 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions. If he can continue playing with the same kind of efficiency this year, then the Cardinal offense will be difficult to slow down.
Stanford was the only team on Oregon's schedule last year to have any success against the Ducks offense. Utilizing a devastating blend of physicality and savvy game planning, David Shaw's team out-muscled the high-flying ducks into submission.
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