After some off-field turmoil in the off-season, Oregon football is heading into a season with high expectations and some Duck fans have stated that anything less than a Rose Bowl would be a disappointment. But with star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli out for the season and numerous tough road games in locations where the Ducks have struggled to win, is another conference championship a reasonable expectation?
Second year head coach Chip Kelly will be looking to achieve something that Mike Bellotti could not in his time at Oregon. Reaching consecutive BCS bowls.
In fairness to Bellotti, after both the 1996 Cotton Bowl and the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks lost the majority of their starters to graduation. Bellotti seemed to really perform well when his teams were the underdog, but struggled to prepare his team fully when the target was placed squarely on his back.
From what we have seen of Kelly, he has done a good job of playing both roles, but he hasn’t really been tested outside of the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, and the Buckeyes shut down the Ducks attack on New Years Day.
If Kelly can guide Oregon back to another BCS bowl in 2010, it will be the Ducks first consecutive New Years Day (or later) bowl games since the ’94-95’ seasons. Kelly will certainly have his work cut out for him after he suspended his starting quarterback for all of 2010 in the off-season, and if we know anything having a young quarterback could be the differences between 10-2 and 6-6.
The Pac-10 is notorious for having underachieving teams because of youth or inexperience at the quarterback position. That is certainly the position that Oregon is in heading into the fall. Nate Costa may be a senior, but he has played in five games, only one of which was in doubt at the time he played. Redshirt Sophomore Darron Thomas has even less experience as he has seen significant time in just one game (2008 v. Boise State). Unlike the SEC or any other conference in the country, putting up more than 20 points is generally necessary to win a high-level Pac-10 game.
While Masoli struggled to pass at times, he seemed to have the ability to find a way to put points on the scoreboard. Last season the Ducks were seventh in the country in scoring at just under 38 points per game, and while most starters return on the offensive side of the ball, so much of the offense is geared around the quick decision making of the quarterback it will take at least a few games to work in the new guy.
Now the Ducks have a pretty easy non-conference schedule with the exception of a trip to Tennessee on September 11th , but once they reach the conference slate things get pretty tough. The team opens up conference play with a night game in Tempe against Arizona State, followed by a nationally televised night game in Autzen against the Stanford Cardinal who beat the Ducks last season. After a road game against lowly Washington State and an ESPN Thursday night game at home against the UCLA Bruins, the Ducks will reach their stretch run with five tough games, three on the road and two at home. First up on the night before Halloween, a trip to Los Angeles to take on USC and while the Trojans might seem down still, the Ducks haven’t won in Los Angeles since 2001.
Follow that up with a home game against a supposedly improved Washington team, and a game against California in Berkeley, and that could easily be a 1-2 stretch. The Ducks haven’t won in Berkeley since 2001 (the Pre-Tedford era). Oregon finishes the season with two teams that desperately want revenge, Arizona in Eugene and Oregon State in Corvallis.
Lets split up the games into three categories: wins, losses, and toss-ups.
In the wins column: New Mexico, Portland State, Arizona State, Washington State, and UCLA.
Finally, the toss-ups: Tennessee (haven’t faired well in early season road tests recently), Stanford, Washington, California (an even bigger hippy town seems to scare the Ducks), Arizona (wants revenge badly after giving away a 10 point lead in the second half at home), and Oregon State (last two Rose Bowls, zero belong to the Beavers because of the Ducks, enough said).
Now this is based off of my opinion but if the Ducks lose the toss-ups and everything else goes according to that logic, the Ducks are 5-7. As scary as it sounds, I don’t think that is outside the realm of possibility.
The Pac-10 will once again live up to the reputation of being one of the two toughest conferences in the country come fall, and the Ducks better be ready to defend their crown because the gap between them and their foes is not that great.
We will certainly find out a good amount when Oregon travels to Knoxville in early September because Tennessee may not be a national championship quality team, but they will be ready for the quack attack.