2010 College Football Predictions: Oregon Ducks Reach Pac-10 Summit

k sContributor IAugust 13, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Chip Kelly of the Oregon Ducks stands on the sidelines during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the 96th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Pac-10 champs?

Heisman Trophy candidates?

National Championship challengers?

I don’t know about you but I am not used to so much preseason hype for the Oregon Ducks. Just five years ago the Ducks were a good home-field team that were better known for producing NFL flops (see Smith, Harrington).

Five years ago USC was atop the conference and pounding each and every one of their Pac-10 foes. USC was like Mike Tyson and the rest of the conference was the lowly Hector Mercedes. Suffice to say, USC had their way with the Pac-10

However, we now find ourselves in the year 2010 and the Pac-10 world has been turned upside-down. Oregon has somehow risen to the top and USC has become irrelevant due to NCAA violations. Strange, huh?

Oregon seemingly has all the tools, tricks and talent to win not only the conference but to challenge for the national title. Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James provides the star-power that elite teams must have in order to take the next step. A young receiving core lead by senior Jeff Maehl allows for development throughout the season. LT Bo Thran and the rest of the offensive line should continue their impressive play from a year ago. While eight starters return to the Pac-10’s top defense from a year ago including DE Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews and DT Brandon Bair.

Add all these factors up and you get a team that is expected to succeed. Anything less than a trip to the Rose Bowl or title game will amount to an unsuccessful season, which dumps a whole lot of unnecessary pressure on the Ducks.

Despite returning 17 starters from last year, the Ducks still have plenty of question marks. The biggest and most obvious problem for the Ducks is the lack of a clear-cut starting quarterback.

While some see the presence of two starter-quality quarterbacks on the roster as a positive, I don’t find it so comforting. Coach Kelly needs to pick one and pick one soon for the sake of the team and fans a like. Whether it is Costa or Thomas, one of them need to have the confidence and reps to become the quarterback that this team needs in order to become an elite squad like so many believe they can be.

Nate Costa, though, should be named the starter. Costa’s performance last season at UCLA in his only start of the season showed me everything I need to know about him. His inner grittiness, toughness and leadership came out in the Ducks 24-10 victory. Seeing Costa step up in a crucial road game really impressed me. Even though his statistics in that game were as unimpressive as they can get, Costa managed to get the win and keep Oregon’s promising season rolling.

Besides the QB conundrum, another obstacle that may impede the Ducks progress this season is the lack of a strong non-conference schedule. New Mexico? Portland State? Come on! Is this really the best that Oregon can do? I understand that the Tennessee match looms large for the Ducks, but playing two Podunk schools is only harmful to Oregon’s national perception and BCS hopes. 

In order for Oregon to reach the upper-echelon of college football programs the 2010 season is of particular importance. To keep and build the hype that surrounds the team a few things MUST happen.

First, Costa and/or Thomas’ play must be phenomenal. Without spectacular QB play the Ducks will go nowhere. The running game and defense can only get them so far; eventually Oregon will need to rely on the pass to keep defenses honest and keep safeties out of the box.

Secondly, Oregon must obliterate the gimmes. New Mexico, Portland State, Washington State, UCLA and Washington cannot stand in the way of the Ducks in any way, shape or form. If they do, Oregon may be exposed and a better team will be able to exploit those inefficiencies.

Lastly, the Ducks must stay humble. Coach Kelly seems to be a master of serving up pieces of humble pie, which may be the key to this season. If Kelly can keep his team modest, but also confident, the 2010 Ducks may go a long, long way.

I love to hear all kinds of perspectives on the Ducks, so I leave you with a few questions. What do you see as the key to the season? Do you like Costa or Thomas as the starting QB? Why? Are you loving or hating all the attention this group of Ducks is getting?