Oregon Ducks Football has gone through trials and tribulations in recent years. The last time the men in green and yellow won the Pac-10 title was in 2002, when senior quarterback Joey Harrington led the team to The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where the Ducks clobbered the favorite, the Colorado Buffaloes, 38-16. Since then, Duck Football started to slide down a slippery slope. Key players on that spectacular team such as Joey Harrington, Maurice Morris, Onterio Smith, Steve Smith, Kennan Howry, Samie Parker, and Justin Peelle, have since left the team and entered the NFL. Then offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, left to pursue a head coaching vacancy at California Berkley.
Since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl Win, the Ducks have only claim to one other bowl win, the 2007 Sun Bowl, where freshman quarterback Justin Roper, and junior running back Jonathan Stewart, led the team to the utter destruction of a once highly touted South Florida Bulls team, 56-21. This uplifting moment came after what some call the most unfortunate season in Ducks history. The Ducks were coming off an 8-1 start to their season, defeating highly touted squads such as the Michigan Wolverines, the USC Trojans, and the Arizona State Sun Devils, and narrowly loosing to a then ranked #2 squad, the Cal Golden Bears.
The Ducks had continued to win despite huge losses to their teams: The season ending injuries of Wide Receivers Brian Paysinger, and Cameron Colvin (a five star recruit), Running Back Jeremiah Johnson, and Linebackers A.J. Tuitele, and Kevin Bacon. Then, just after the Ducks had risen to No. 2 status, disaster struck. Dennis Dixon, then the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, who had injured his knee in the previous weeks win over ASU, slipped in the Arizona Turf, and tore his ACL, knocking him out for the season. Brady Leaf, Dixon's replacement, did not fare any better, spraining both of his ankles in the same game.
Remember that Oregon's offensive strategy relied on the spread option, and the triple threat running game of Dixon, Stewart, and Johnson. One more stab to the Duck's offense came during a practice in the early season, when third string quarterback Nate Costa tore his ACL during a scrimmage. It is also good to know that Costa was a dual threat quarterback. Had Costa been healthy, Oregon most likely would have won the rest of their games. The whole reason behind the success of the Oregon Offense, was the play action and triple option. Opposing Linebackers and Safeties were kept honest due to the fact that only the Duck offense knew who would be getting the ball.
Defenses were flabbergasted when they were fooled on two fake handoffs to Stewart and Johnson, only to see Dixon take the ball into the endzone himself. With the presence of a dual-threat quarterback lost, defenses could key in on Stewart or the quarterbacks (Leaf, Kempt, Roper) who were literally sitting-ducks in the pocket.
All of these misfortunes led to the three game slide after Dixon's injury, and the Ducks finished the season 9-4, after winning the Sun Bowl.
Now a new season is about to begin. Duck Fans nationwide know how the number one dual threat and overall quarterback recruit, Terrelle Pryor, was almost one of their own. The Ducks depth chart at quarterback now contains three dual threat quarterbacks, all unproven, Nate Costa, Chris Harper, and Darron Thomas. The only quarterback on the roster who has any credit to his name is Justin Roper, who overcame a shaky first game against UCLA, to put up an above average performance in the Ducks' loss to rival Oregon State, and a spectacular showcase performance in the Sun Bowl Victory against South Florida.
That's right Duck Fans, the hole vacated by Dennis Dixon, has been filled with unproven quarterbacks. What about Running Back? Johnson is returning for another year, hopefully fully recovered from his ACL injury last year. Junior College transfer LaGarratte Blount, has impressed many with his physical, run-the-opposing-defense-into the ground style of play, much to the style of departed first round draft pick Jonathan Stewart. Remene Alston also is returning. Running back seems solid though mostly untested.
The real question that baffles Duck Fans, is whether or not wide receiver Jaison Williams will live up to the potential and hype that surrounded him when he was a recruit. Williams has had multiple problems with catching the ball, most of them his fault; tailor made passes thrown by Dixon and Roper. If Williams has worked out all the bugs in his game, then the receiving corps should be solid.
The real highlight of the Ducks Football Team this year is the defense; anchored by two preseason All Americans: Senior Defensive Lineman Nick Reed, who led the Pac-10 in sacks last year, and Senior Safety Patrick Chung, who almost did not return to the team before taking his name out of the draft.
Will the Ducks exceed the expectations given to them by the Pac-10 and NCAA, will they meet them, or will they significantly under achieve, like years past (2006 slide and 2005 losing season)?
Only time will tell.