The 2013 Oregon Ducks look to pick up right they left off after their Fiesta Bowl victory despite the departure of head coach Chip Kelly.
With Kelly taking the offense he implemented to the NFL in Philadelphia, new head coach Mark Helfrich steps into the void and inherits a team littered with offensive firepower.
Thanks primarily to quarterback and Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, who exploded onto the scene last year with 32 touchdown passes, Helfrich and Co. appear poised for a title run.
That's always possible with a quarterback of Mariota's talent, but the winds of change are blowing in Autzen Stadium, and Mariota is going to need others to step up for Oregon's title hopes to be realized.
Here are the X-factors who will decide if Oregon competes for a title.
Note: All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
Josh Huff, WR
Expect a shift toward the passing game as Helfrich takes over the controls and molds things to his liking. He played quarterback when he was younger, and he has a Heisman candidate who continues to develop.
The shift in priorities means senior Josh Huff is going to need a big year at wide receiver. Last year, he caught 32 passes for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. Injuries held him back from competing in all of the team's contests.
Those numbers do not jump off the page, but it is important to remember Mariota only threw for 2,677 yards last season in a scheme that relied on short to intermediate routes.
Things could get more vertical for the Ducks, and Huff is the No. 1 receiver. Anything less than a big senior campaign will disappoint and hamper the team's title hopes.
Boseko Lokombo, LB
Defensively, it is time new leadership steps up for the Ducks.
Gone is leader Kiko Alonso, who recorded 81 total tackles and four interceptions last year. So is Michael Clay, owner of 101 total tackles and three sacks a year ago. Dion Jordan had 44 tackles and five sacks.
Senior Boseko Lokombo is the only returning starting linebacker. Lokombo did not have a bad year last season (39 total tackles and two sacks), but he's going to need to step up in a big way if the Ducks hope to have a sound defense once again.
Physically, Lokombo has the traits to be a star. But time will tell if he will shine or shrink without the talent around him.
Colt Lyerla, TE
Now would be the time for Colt Lyerla to have his breakout campaign.
Which player is the X-factor for Oregon?
Lyerla took over starting duties from David Paulson (who jumped to the NFL with Pittsburgh) last season and managed 25 catches for 392 yards and six touchdowns.
While he has underperformed the past two seasons, the 6'5", 245-pound Mackey Award candidate is poised to have a big year with no other competition at the position and Mariota's continued development as a passer.
The last thing opposing defenses need to worry about outside of the passing and running from Mariota and the elite running from De'Anthony Thomas is an elite threat at the tight end position.
That's exactly what Lyerla will be if he can put it all together. His long-awaited emergence as one of the nation's best will put the Ducks offense over the top.
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