With plenty of stars returning next season, the Oregon Ducks will likely enter the season as the Pac-12 favorite.
After an 8-0 start, which led to a No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings, the Ducks struggled to a 2-2 finish to close out the regular season. Once a program reaches the point where a 10-2 season is viewed as somewhat of a disappointment, it has officially arrived.
Heading into their Alamo Bowl matchup with the Texas Longhorns, that is where the No. 10 Oregon Ducks find themselves.
Despite a sixth consecutive season with at least 10 wins, the 2013 season has left many of the Oregon faithful with a bad taste in their mouth. Not even the disappointing 2-2 finish to the regular season should overshadow another outstanding season from one of the country's best programs.
A win against the Longhorns would be a nice way for Oregon to cap off another remarkable season. With a win in the Alamo Bowl, the Ducks would secure a fourth straight season of at least 11 wins and another top-10 finish.
With a roster full of young and talented players and the biggest news, the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks are primed to have another outstanding season in 2014.
QB Marcus Mariota will be a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy in 2014 as the leader of the Oregon offense.
The Ducks will lose a number of important players after the Alamo Bowl. The defense will lose two starting defensive linemen, a starting linebacker and both starting safeties to graduation, but the biggest hit could come at cornerback.
The Ducks have a big and talented group of defensive linemen to replace Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi. Replacing linebacker Boseko Lokombo shouldn't be difficult with experienced returners in the rotation this season. And safety Erick Dargan will help fill the void left by Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson at safety. Reggie Daniels will be the leading candidate to fill the other safety spot.
However, both starting cornerbacks are juniors and could declare for the NFL draft. If CB's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell decide not to turn pro, the Ducks will return their top pass defenders, their leading pass-rusher in defensive end Tony Washington and their leading tackler in LB Derrick Malone.
Washington will likely be joined on the starting defensive line by Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, while LB Tyson Coleman will likely replace Lokombo.
On offense, the Ducks will be as strong as ever, even if De'Anthony Thomas, their biggest playmaker, declares for early entry into the NFL draft.
Led by Mariota, running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, the run game should be elite once again. All three are extremely talented and experienced players and will be running behind an offensive line with four starters returning.
The wide receiving corps will lose its leading receiver in Josh Huff and veteran utility man Daryle Hawkins, but will return a host of talented athletes to keep the offense as versatile and dangerous as ever.
Starters Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe will lead the way, with any number of potential stars lined up next to them. Tight ends Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt all return with talent and experience on their side.
In all, the Ducks will return at least eight offensive starters, even if Thomas leaves early, as expected.
An elite track and field program is an important piece to the recruiting puzzle of Adoree' Jackson.
Three players the Ducks must land
ATH Adoree' Jackson, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
Jackson is a potential star on either side of the ball. As the best athlete out of California since De'Anthony Thomas left Crenshaw High in 2010, Jackson would be the perfect fit to replace Thomas on offense. He also has the talent to start immediately in place of Ekpre-Olomu or Mitchell at cornerback.
ATH Budda Baker, Bellevue (Wash.) High School
Baker is comparable to Jackson as a dual-threat athlete who could be a versatile offensive weapon or an elite player on Oregon's defense.
UCLA and Washington are Oregon's biggest competition for the dynamic athlete. The Huskies have the hometown edge, Baker wants to stay close to home, and UCLA has former Bellevue star Myles Jack on the roster.
The Ducks haven't had much recruiting success at Bellevue, the Northwest's top high school program, but Baker could be the one to break the mold. With the coaching change in Seattle, the Ducks should be able to capitalize and land the best player from their region.
CB Arrion Springs, San Antonio (Texas) Roosevelt
Oregon has always been the favorite school for Springs, one of the premier cover corners in the nation. After an unofficial visit over the summer, Springs verbally committed to the Ducks.
His commitment hasn't stopped schools like Texas, Florida State and Notre Dame from pursuing him. Springs is likely to stick with Oregon, and the Ducks' Alamo Bowl trip should only help since it will be held in Springs' hometown.
The 5'11", 192-pound Springs has the size, speed and physicality to compete for playing time right away.
WR Bralon Addison emerged in 2013, but without Josh Huff in 2014, he should become a bonafide star for the Ducks.
WR Bralon Addison arrived on the scene in 2013, but as the definitive leader of the wide receivers in 2014, Addison will become a household name.
Safety Reggie Daniels is a big and talented athlete who will likely begin spring practice atop the depth chart alongside Erick Dargan.
DL DeForest Buckner has the size, strength and skill to become a star opposite Tony Washington on the strong side of the defensive line. At 6'7", 285 pounds, Buckner is strong enough to play inside and athletic enough to rush off the edge at a high level.
WR Chance Allen has earned rave reviews from coaches in his two years on campus, but there just haven't been many opportunities for him to play. He has five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in limited duty this season, but could emerge as the leader to replace Huff in 2014.
LB Tyrell Robinson is an elite athlete who has shown flashes of his raw talent as a true freshman. At 6'4", 205 pounds, Robinson should grow into a star at outside linebacker and could push for a starting job in 2014.
In his first year as a head coach, Mark Helfrich guided the Ducks to a sixth consecutive season with double-digit wins.
The Ducks continue to have the longest tenured staff in the country, and that shouldn't change in 2014.
Head coach Mark Helfrich will be back and more seasoned in 2014. Running backs coach Gary Campbell has hinted at retirement over the past few years, but should return.
Offensive coordinator Scott Frost has been a hot name in the coaching ranks, but another season calling the plays in Eugene is almost a certainty before entertaining any outside offers.
As of now, there don't appear to be any members of the staff who are on their way out the door, giving the Ducks another advantage on the recruiting trail and the sidelines going into the offseason.
The Ducks will be hungry to regain the top spot in the Pac-12 after a disappointing end to the 2013 regular season.
With the coaching continuity, the majority of the offense returning and a talented and experienced two-deep roster on defense, the Ducks should enter the 2014 season as the Pac-12 favorite.
The defense will definitely take some time to adjust and grow into a dominant group, but the talent is certainly there for the Ducks to regain the top spot in the Pac-12.
The season begins with three home games and will kick off on August 30 against FCS South Dakota State. The rest of the out-of-conference schedule is made up of matchups with Wyoming and this season's Big Ten champions, the Michigan State Spartans.
Expect another season with double-digit wins—and if the defense comes together and plays up to its capabilities, the Ducks could make a push for a spot in the inaugural college football playoff at the end of the season.