5 Bold Predictions for Oregon's 2014 Season
It’s finally here! The Oregon Ducks will officially kick off their 2014 campaign Saturday against the South Dakota Coyotes. With the season finally within reach, it’s time to do what we do best: tap into our inner clairvoyant senses and make some bold predictions!
It’s tough to make "bold" predictions for the Ducks. Suggesting that Marcus Mariota may win the Heisman or that the Ducks will take home the national championship isn’t exactly like predicting lottery numbers. The Ducks are the third-ranked team in the nation, according to The Associated Press, while Mariota is considered to be one of the top three favorites to win the Heisman, according to every human being alive.
So let’s go out on a limb here and make some bold statements. I’m talking about “throw some water on your face because you’re dreaming” type of predictions.
Here are five bold predictions for Oregon’s 2014 season.
Freshman Running Back Royce Freeman Will Rush for over 1,000 Yards
I’m not the first person to boldly take this position. In fact, Tyson Alger of The Oregonian took this stance just last week.
While it may seem like too bold of a statement, it’s not for those who have seen Royce Freeman play during fall camp. Yes, playing against Pac-12 opponents in game situations is a different beast than competing in practice. However, Freeman has impressed every single coach in the Oregon program so far.
The Ducks return two excellent running backs in Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. In fact, Marshall is the top returning rusher in the Pac-12, gaining 1,038 yards in 2013, while Tyner gained 711 yards and scored nine touchdowns as a freshman last season. While most would expect Tyner and Marshall to exceed 1,000 yards on the ground this season, it may be Freeman who explodes onto the scene as Oregon’s leading rusher in 2014.
Freeman possesses something that both Tyner and Marshall do not have: size. Freeman is 6’0” and 229 pounds. He is an inch taller (or more) than Marshall and Tyner, and he has 14 pounds on Tyner and 24 on Marshall.
When it comes time to put the ball in the end zone or get the ball out of the opponent’s side of the field, Freeman is going to be the go-to running back.
By the end of the season, all three running backs will have amassed over 800 yards on the ground, with Freeman and Tyner leading the way. Both should gain more than 1,000 yards during the 2014 season.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Will Be an All-American...as a Returner
When Oregon released its depth chart for the opener against South Dakota, one of the more interesting highlights was that All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu would be the Ducks' starting punt returner.
Oregon has plenty of athletes that could’ve filled this role, including wide receivers Keanon Lowe and Devon Allen, as well as running back Thomas Tyner.
Ekpre-Olomu, who is a senior, hasn’t returned punts since his freshman year at Oregon. However, the Ducks are ready to see what he can bring to the position.
While the Ducks may be exposing their best cornerback to more hits and the potential for injury, there is no doubt Ekpre-Olomu possesses the speed and elusiveness requisite of a great punt returner.
Ekpre-Olomu may very well be an All-American at cornerback for the Ducks this season. But our bold prediction is that he will be an All-American punt returner this season and score three or more touchdowns as a returner in 2014.
Oregon Will Set a School Record for Total Offense
In 2013, the Ducks racked up 7,345 yards of total offense, which ranked second in the nation and was also a school record. The Ducks will top that mark in 2014.
The reason they will surpass that mark this season is because of their rushing attack, which will be amongst the best in the nation this season. In 2013, the Ducks rushed for 3,556 yards, which ranked ninth in the country. Look for the team to rush for over 4,000 yards this season. With Tyner, Marshall, Freeman and Mariota running the ball, there is no way Oregon’s rushing attack regresses this season.
The Ducks are probably a reasonable bet to throw for over 4,000 yards this season as well. Last season, they threw for 3,789 yards. Sure, the team is without its top four pass-catchers last season. But Oregon also returns Mariota, who figures to improve much more as a passer in his third year as starter.
Add all those elements up, and you have an offense that is poised to run up around 8,000 yards on offense this season. That would easily break the school record from last season.
Marcus Mariota Will Score over 50 Touchdowns This Season
To say that 50 touchdowns over the course of one college season is a lot would be the understatement of the century. But that’s what we expect from Mariota this season.
The gold standard for dual-threat college quarterbacks in this day and age is Tim Tebow’s 2007 season. In 2007, while a member of the Florida Gators, Tebow threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for 23 more. Scoring 55 touchdowns in a single season won Tebow the Heisman Trophy.
In 2008, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford won the Heisman by throwing for 50 touchdowns and rushing for another five.
To illustrate how hard it is to score that many touchdowns in a season, let’s take a look at Vince Young’s 2005 season. Young finished second in the Heisman to Reggie Bush and won a national title. In that season, Young scored “only” 38 touchdowns, scoring 26 through the air and another 12 on the ground.
It’s a monumental task, but one that Mariota has an outside shot at achieving. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for another five for a total of 37. In 2013, his second year as a starter, Mariota scored 40 touchdowns (31 passing, nine rushing).
In 2014, Mariota will throw for 37 touchdowns and run for another 13, giving him 50 on the season. That should be good enough to win the Heisman Trophy.
Oregon Will Beat Stanford, UCLA and Michigan State
The Ducks have three “marquee” games on the schedule this season: Sept. 6 against Michigan State, Oct. 11 at UCLA and Nov. 1 vs. Stanford.
While parts of the Oregon schedule will be relatively easy, games against eighth-ranked Michigan State, seventh-ranked UCLA and 11th-ranked Stanford will make the Ducks' overall schedule seem very tough.
Stanford has taken Oregon out of national championship contention in each of the past two seasons. If the Ducks are going to make a run at a title this season, they’re going to have to overthrow the Cardinal. UCLA has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley, and the Ducks will have to play the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Michigan State has one of the best defenses in the country and took down Stanford in the Rose Bowl by beating the Cardinal at their own game.
It seems almost unlikely that the Ducks will go through those three teams without suffering a loss. But that’s the bold prediction here: The Ducks will take down Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford en route to a national semifinals appearance Dec. 31 or Jan. 1.