As the Oregon faithful continue to claim glory while making excuses for their humiliating defeat to Auburn earlier this year, the upcoming 2011 football season looks to be a huge surprise in the making for our feathered friends to the south.
Oregon had a great season in 2010, but loyalists got a bit nuts by declaring the team had “the best offense in college football history” shortly before limping to a 15-13 nipping of California.
The team lost 23 seniors to graduation this year, including three starting offensive lineman and that many starting defensive lineman, plus three-year starting linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, corner Talmadge Jackson, who was the primary shutdown corner with 146 tackles and defensive back Marvin Johnson.
The offensive line was never that great to begin with, which is why Chip Kelly opted for that goofy no-huddle thing all season. But Duck weaknesses were stripped bare when Auburn and Nick Fairley destroyed Oregon protection and spent the evening camped out in the Duck backfield.
With the loss of defensive end Kenny Rowe and defensive tackles Brandon Bair and Zac Clark, it means frantically searching the bench for someone to step up in their shoes and doing it fast enough to keep from getting mutilated by LSU in the first game of the season.
Freshman usually don’t help successful college programs when it comes to linemen on either side of the ball, since most coaches immediately assign new recruits to the weight room to bulk up for a couple of years. Thus, there will be no help.
What does all this mean for the Ducks? Mainly that fans would be wise to tone down the expectations for 2011, because it is highly unlikely the upcoming season will look similar to the last.
Let’s just take this game by game, shall we?
On the opening weekend, the Duck team will waddle into Dallas Cowboy Stadium to take on a team with two national BCS championships earned over the past eight years.
You thought it was bad two years earlier against Boise State?
Unlike Oregon home games, this one will seat over 100,000 hostile fans, nearly twice the number that can fit in Autzen stadium.
First there's the obvious: LSU coach Les Miles has put up a 62-17 record over the past six years.
Secondly, LSU brings back nearly everyone from last year's 11-2 team other than three starters: conerback Patrick Peterson, middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, and tackle Drake Nevis. They are favored to win the SEC, and a great many feel this is the best team in college football on paper.
Especially with LSU’s offensive line averaging 6’6” and 320 pounds. For those keeping score at home, that’s a couple of inches and a couple of sacks of potatoes heavier per player, than the Duck counterpart, and consequently, this game could get ugly in a hurry with LSU dominating the line on both sides of the ball, much like Auburn did.
And lest Ducks claim their guys will be quicker, perhaps I should point out that each of the LSU defensive line put 40-yard sprint numbers that make your head spin, which is why SEC teams tend to run circles around other wanna-be conferences and won five straight national championships.
Prediction: LSU 48, Oregon 17 – record 0-1
Following what appears to be a near-certain slap-down in Louisiana, the Ducks return home to face a scrappy Nevada team still cocky from being the only team to knock off those guys from Boise with the florescent blue field late last season.
The Wolf Pack also pummeled the California Golden Bears 52-31 in 2010, which is 19 more points than the Ducks could manage.
But sadly this won’t be the same team that managed to gain a spot in the top-25 rankings for the first time since 1948.
Tyler Lantrip, who will likely take over the vaulted “pistol offense,” is a better passer than Kaepernick but not near as good of runner. The Wolf Pack has a stud core of wide receivers and a solid linebacker corp made of veterans, and they'll bring 3-star recruit Burton De Koning this time.
They also roped in all-state running back Kendall Brock from Fresno, California, who gained 2,313 yards and 40 touchdowns on his way to just missing the coveted California state Mr. Football award.
And although this game could easily end up being a second straight thumping of the Ducks, let’s let Oregon have it anyway. I'm not sure all those Autzen fans, hurling everything from urped up dinners to beer bottles, would be able to go on living if they lost this one!
Prediction: Oregon 32, Nevada 21 – record 1-1
If you’re going to play a bad 5-6 team from the hapless 1-A Missouri Valley Conference, why not just play a local high school team?
MSU is a school not even close to the top 120 recruiting schools. It's a bad team in a conference that barely moves the radar. It would have been a terrific game to warm up on, but having it as the third game in the season is a bit weird.
Nevertheless, it should bode well to keep the Ducks out of more preseason trouble, like in Boise two years ago (we all remember the LeGarrette Blount’s cheap shot against Byron Hout. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4444898 )
But in terms of doing anything to help with post-season seeding, this one is about as useless as a watch dog Chihuahua.
With offensive lineman averaging just under 300 pounds, it's not a matter of being smaller as much as it is slowness. Teams this caliber are just plain slow in comparison to the major conferences.
Look for Oregon's quickness to have this one over by the end of the first quarter.
Prediction: Oregon 68, Missouri State 10 – record 2-1
Last year, the game against Arizona was difficult, with the Wildcats holding a halftime lead of 19-14 while quarterback Nick Foles passed for a career-high 448 yards and three touchdowns. But Oregon bounced back starting with Josh Huff’s 85-yard TD run, and in the fourth quarter, the Ducks poured it on for a 48-29 win.
But this injured and banged-up squad wasn't the Arizona of earlier in the season. Oregon scored on three long runs in the second half to take a commanding lead, but took over the game on an Arizona fumble at their own 8 yard line.
The previous year in 2009, Oregon barely escaped the same Wildcat team on the road, pulling out a scant three point overtime win 44-41 after they had barely managed to tie the game at 24. Morgan Flint hit a line-drive field goal of 43 yards, that drilled the cross bar and bounced over favorably.
And after Arizona scored to make it 31-24, a late Oregon pick gave then-Duck QB Jeremiah Masoli an opportunity at an 80 yard drive, which he converted with just six seconds left. But it wasn't easy, and it almost didn't happen.
Next year the two teams return to Arizona, earlier in the season this time. Arizona should be in better health, but with the Wildcats recruiting only the 69th-best class in the nation in 2011, and losing good chunks of their defensive linebacker corps and lineman on both sides of the ball to graduation, look for the Ducks to pull this one out.
Prediction: Oregon 36, Arizona 22 – record 3-1
Last year, after spending the previous week with ridiculous claims about having “the best offense in college football history,” it took all four quarters and several advantageous referee calls for the Ducks to squeak past an injured and beaten up California team, 15-13.
Afterwards, we heard an eruption of Duck whining about how California players were faking injuries long enough to change defenses, in a rather effective method of countering Oregon’s equally gimmicky offensive hurry-up scheme.
Sympathy was not forthcoming.
In 2011, California will have lost six key players on offense, including QB Kevin Riley, tailback Shane Vereen, and all Pac-10 OT Mitchell Schwartz.
On defense, seven starters are gone, including All-Pac-10 outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Most of the damage will be to the linebacking and cornerbacks, with the defensive line nearly all returning.
California had the 17th best recruiting class this year according to Rivals.com, bringing in 10 four-star recruits, mostly defensive backs and linebackers, to replace those graduating. In 2010, Rivals had California rated as the 11th best class with two five-star and seven four-star recruits, but in 2009 they were rated only as only the 42nd best class, and 2008 they were 34th.
What I'm trying to say is that this is a young team that will get better, but they probably won't be ready to make a statement in 2011.
Nevertheless, there will still be plenty of bad blood lingering between these two schools after last year's game where California's strategy of slowing down the Ducks got Oregon fans all cranked off and still spewing hatred to this day.
Prediction: Oregon 28, Cal 14 – record 4-1
In spite of returning nearly the entire team from last year, the Sun Devils managed only 14 new recruits last year and lost out on all the top seven in-state blue chips.
Late last year, reserve quarterback Brock Osweiler took over for injured and career-ended Steven Threet, who had gotten his clocked cleaned so often he was forced to retire. But with the new quarterback, the Devils showed life and won their last two games of 2010, including an upset win over cross-state rival Arizona, to end the season.
The Sun Devils appeared to have resurrected a passing attack.
Against the Ducks last year, ASU gave Oregon fits throughout the first half but caved late in the game as Oregon pulled out a surprisingly close 42-31.
With Oregon losing so many starters from last year, this game could be one of those sleepers that comes up and bites. But let's give it to Oregon anyways.
Prediction: Oregon 42, Arizona State 35 – record 5-1
Everything in this game is stacked in Colorado’s favor. Including thin air and an angry crowd, but especially a vastly over-confident Duck squad cheered by fans that by now, will have grown intolerable to the rest of the planet. (see last year's Duck fan comments for details)
The only thing that might save the Ducks is how terrible Colorado was last year midst the turmoil of the Dan Hawkins firing, following a blown 35-10 halftime lead against Kansas.
Clearly the Buffalos aren't a great team this year either, but just as clearly, they are better than last year's record.
In 2008, Rivals.com had Colorado's senior class rated as 27th, just four spots worse than Oregon at 23rd, and nine spots worse than Auburn at 19th. It means that at one time, this team was thought of in the same realm as Oregon.
Next year should prove to be more under control with the coaching and quarterback turmoil put to rest. But they did lose 10 starters to graduation, and on a team with fairly weak recruiting classes the past several years, the Ducks should be able to handle this one too.
Look for a Duck rout, even though it is in Colorado.
Prediction: Oregon 57, Colorado 13, – record 6-1
The last time WSU beat the Ducks was in 2007, when they upset #16 ranked Oregon 34-23. Since that game, the last four games have been 43-23, 52-6, 63-14 and 53-7. 2011 looks to be more of the same. Yes WSU landed a few recruits, but with a class rated 55th by Scout.com this year, it doesn’t appear there’s much help on the way.
On the other hand, according to Scout.com, TCU has the 28th best recruiting class, which is their best ever according to Scout.com, and yet Rivals has TCU as fan-rated #1 in the country preseason 2011. So how does that work?
Not much to discuss on this one. Oregon should win another laugher for their fifth in a row over the Cougars.
Prediction: Oregon 48, WSU 10, – record 7-1
And then the wheels come off, ruining what Duck fans expected would be another BCS season.
With Oregon Duck fans now convinced they are the best team ever assembled for college football, and the team thinking the same way in spite their drubbing at LSU earlier in the season, the time will be ripe for a little Husky pay-back.
And this one has been building, so there may be no stopping it now that Washington has reloaded with top talent recruiting.
Sadly for Duck fans, that day will come the first weekend in November in a dilapidated and soon-to-be-overhauled Husky Stadium in 2011.
Not that the Ducks don't deserve everything they have coming to them.
Face it Oregon fans: Husky faithful have been waiting for this one for five years now. There's pent up rage in Huskyville, and with a packed stadium drawfing the numbers at Autzen by 20,000, the noise will be enough to cause knee-knocks with any team.
With a still-inferior-feeling Duck team intimidated by the Husky hoards (and no, none of us in Seattle quite understand why Duck fans are still so sensitive given that they do own a seven game win streak), everything accomplished over the past decade will be immediately reversed with a Husky win.
Especially since Washington's wonder-coach Steve Sarkisian’s recruits are now starting to evolve into starting players with experience, in the mould of a Sark team that resembles USC in 2008, far more than it does the 0-12 Husky team.
Gone are scrapped together freshmen linemen in dire need of weith training. Also gone is Jake Locker’s erratic inconsistency, replaced by one of several blue chip QB’s than can actually hit a target.
The Huskies give up a ton of running threat from the QB position, but since Sark had been urging Locker to spend more time in the pocket and thus less time getting himself injured downfield, the Husky offense will undoubtedly pick it up a notch.
Especially with sensational returning RB Chris Polk, and the addition of highly-touted 5-star recruits, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver can't-miss 5-star Kasen Williams.
Count on the Huskies being somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-3 or 4-4 coming into this game, but still in a testy mood after that little episode in Oregon last year, where pinhead Duck coaches tacked on 21 points running hurryups in garbage time, in effort to make a very close game look more impressive.
Bulletin board material just perfect for amping up a young and enthusiastic Husky team that typically give tougher opponents fits,
There is absolutely nothing the Huskies would like better, than to send the Oregon home with wailing and agonized fans. Thus having an Oregon team roll into town while feeling invincible, it is a perfect pretext for a Dawg-whupping that will ruin their season and take weeks to recover from.
Prediction: Washington 42, Oregon 28 – record 7-2
Just when the Ducks thought it couldn’t get any worse after losing to the hated Huskies, then comes the second shoe to kick their posteriors into oblivion.
Stanford fans have about as much use for Oregon fans as do Husky fans, and after spending last season watching Oregon go to the BCS final while knowing Stanford was a far better team, count on the Cardinal to deal the Ducks the second ass-whupping in as many weeks.
Another ugly game for the Ducks, rendering the faithful into blathering panic as reality sets in.
Stanford returns almost everyone from last year's Orange Bowl champions, who demolished Virginia Tech 40-12 and appeared to be the best team in the country on January 11th. Gone is coach Harbaugh to the 49ers, but with the in-house promotion of David Shaw and all-world QB Andrew Luck returning, count on the Cardinal to wreak havoc at home.
The Cardinal (btw, perhaps the stupidest nick-name in all of college sports) lost eleven starters from last year, including Luck's two favorite receivers Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen. Five starters on defense are gone, but with safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas returning, Oregon won't be breaking any long plays.
Stud offensive tackle Jonathan artin also returns, and with a fairly easy schedule, count on Stanford to be as jacked up as Washington was the previous week, and count on the second sraight loss for the Ducks, who within two weeks plummet from the top five down to alsoranville.
Prediction: Stanford 52, Oregon 20 – record 7-3
As if the previous two weeks in this season of Pac-12 humility wasn’t bad enough, the depressed Ducks now must face the duanting task of fighting off a scrappy and hacked off USC Trojan team, still steaming about how last year's 53-32 thrashing.
USC's Trojans arrive in a downright nasty mood, and with Lane Kiffin on the hot seat after last year's mess with four straight top-10 recruiting classes, this game could be a blood bath.
The Trojans arrive with 15 five-star and an unheard of 43 four-star recruits, all foaming at the mouth at a chance to even the score with the Ducks. And with the team still paying with bowl bans and probation, this could be the biggest game of the year for USC.
The Trojans are convinced they are simply better than the Ducks, can play better that the Ducks, and WILL play better than the Ducks in mid-November slug-fest. And with the Ducks now suddenly suffering from a loss of confidence and testy disappointed fans, look for USC to waltz into Autzen stadium and slap the suddenly-hapless Ducks silly on way to a beating they may never forget.
Even the homer refs can’t bail Oregon out of this one!
Prediction: USC 28, Oregon 13 – record 7-4
Finally, after spending the previous several weeks all pouty and cranky for the ruined season, some relief for the uniform-challenged Ducks in the tiny little Autzen stadium.
Battered and humiliated, the Ducks fortunately get to finish the season at home against an equally battered and bruised mediocre team, the cross-town rivals. But this time the Beavers smell blood and join the rest of the league in a chance to for revenge.
Oregon, by now losing the will to go on, have nothing to counter the excited Beavers.
The game ends with Beaver fans storming the field and stomping on the Duck logo, and Oregon is thereby forced to edure the same kind of taunting that their own fans have been spewing for the past five years.
A very difficult November, a chance to either put up or shut up. Can the Ducks handle it? We shall see.
Prediction: Oregon State 34, Oregon 10 – final regular season record 7-5
By this point, the previous year’s accomplishment will be a distant memory. Indeed even Oregon fans will hardly remember that game in Glendale the previous year. Hence Oregon will be relegated to this (or another like it) bowl.
Gone will be the swagger, the pride and the arrogance, replaced by weeping, wailing and glow-in-the-dark golden sock teeth-gnashing.
It’s off to St. Petersburg to warm up, and yet, even that fails as the Tampa Bay area is hit with a surprising winter freeze.
Prediction: Nobody cares about this game or the Oregon Ducks.