Oregon Ducks Football 2011: 10 Reasons to Be Optimistic & Pessimistic
The offseason for the Oregon Ducks has been a roller coaster ride with many highs and lows. Luckily for the team, opening kickoff is just a few weeks away.
Coming off a National Championship loss to the Auburn Tigers, the Ducks should be primed to make another run at the title with so many key players back. On the other hand, the current NCAA investigation could prove to be too big a distraction to keep Oregon on track.
Here are 10 reasons to be optimistic or pessimistic about the 2011 season for the Oregon Ducks.
Pessimism No. 5: Where’s the Pass Rush?
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The 2010 Oregon defense got a lot of attention last year for their ability to create turnovers. A big reason for that was the ability of the defensive line to put pressure on the quarterbacks of opposing teams.
Although the Ducks rotated a lot of bodies on the defensive line, they lost three starters from a season ago; most notably Kenny Rowe and Brandon Bair.
The reserves from last season have the size and experience to succeed this season in the Pac-12, but it will be interesting to see how the loss of a few defensive linemen affect the rest of the defense.
Optimism No. 5: The 2011 Recruiting Class
Oregon’s freshmen class this year is arguably the most talented group to step foot on campus. The recruiting class was ranked ninth best in the country by Rivals and is loaded from top to bottom.
What stands out most in the 2011 class is their speed. Devon Blackmon, De’Anthony Thomas, Tacoi Sumler and Rahsaan Vaughn have all clocked 40-yard dash times of 4.4 seconds or better and should each push for playing time this season.
The Ducks also bulked up with additions to their offensive line and linebacking corps. Oregon fans should get used to the names Colt Lyerla and Anthony Wallace because they are the next great Duck linebackers.
The key here is that the Ducks scored many players who will fill positions of need down the road. Thanks to Chip Kelly, Oregon has reached the point where they no longer rebuild—they reload.
Pessimism No. 4: Inexperienced Receivers
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The No. 5 reason for optimism is also the No. 4 reason for pessimism. Quarterback Darron Thomas is going to be without his favorite targets in 2011 with the graduation of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.
Last year for the Ducks, Maehl had the best season of his career with more than 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. This season the Ducks will have to rely on Lavasier Tuinei, Josh Huff and their talented tight ends to catch a bulk of the passes early on.
Oregon expects to have a few newcomers step up and get playing time early, but no one knows how they will fare against the Pac-12. I would bet on JC transfer Rahsaan Vaughn and true freshman Devon Blackmon to get the most snaps of the new receivers
Optimism No. 4: Chip Kelly Is Still the Head Coach
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As talented as the Oregon Ducks roster is, Head Coach Chip Kelly may be the team's most dangerous weapon. Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football today and has done nothing but win in Eugene.
Kelly has gone 22-4 since taking over for Mike Bellotti in 2009. The offense he runs is one of the most innovative in the country and continues to evolve season after season.
Despite the looming NCAA investigation into Oregon's recruiting practices, the Ducks seem ready for the beginning of the 2011 season. They are the favorites to win the first-ever Pac-12 North this season, and Kelly is a big reason why.
Pessimism No. 3: New Faces on the Offensive Line
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If you watched the Oregon Spring Game back in April, this should not come as a surprise. Oregon graduated three starting offensive linemen from last year’s team, which does not bode well for Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James.
The Ducks are fairly deep on the offensive line, but most potential starters lack experience. For Oregon to win the Pac-12 this year, their offensive line will need to become a cohesive unit that can dominate the trenches and give the Duck’s athletes room to run.
Optimism No. 3: Darron Thomas—The Leader
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The Ducks graduated a lot of leadership from last year's team which has given younger guys the opportunity to step up into that role. One of those players is quarterback Darron Thomas.
Thomas had a very good 2010 in his first year as a starter and he hopes to build on that success in 2011. As he enters his second year as a starter, he has become more of a vocal leader for the Ducks, which Chip Kelly loves. Thomas has been working extremely hard all offseason and his teammates have followed his lead.
Oregon wants to improve on last season’s record which is not an easy task, but Thomas welcomes the challenge and should be more than ready come Fall.
Pessimism No. 2: Cliff Harris’s Suspension
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The one thing we know about Cliff Harris's indefinite suspension from the Oregon football team is that it means he will not suit up against LSU. After that there is a great deal of uncertainty.
Coach Chip Kelly has said that it is up to Cliff to show that he deserves the opportunity before he will reinstate him. Although the Ducks have a couple easier games after LSU, Oregon fans do not want to see Harris on the sideline long.
Harris has continued to practice with the team but the status of his return is still very much unknown. My guess is that Cliff's first game of the season will come on the road against Arizona on September 24th.
Optimism No. 2: The Schedule
I would not categorize the Oregon Ducks' schedule as easy but it does set them up pretty well for winning the first ever Pac-12 Championship. The Ducks open the season at Dallas Cowboys Stadium against LSU and although a loss there would affect the team's hope of a National Championship it wouldn't hurt there chances in the Pac-12.
Other than LSU the Ducks have a very manageable out of conference schedule with opponents like Nevada and Missouri State. Once conference play begins, Oregon will see most of their toughest opponents at home in Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks will have to play at Arizona and Stanford but neither has much of a home field advantage. Oregon will host Cal, USC, Arizona State, and Oregon State in Eugene among others.
With the Pac-12 Championship Game taking place in the home stadium of the division winner with the best conference record, it is crucial that to Ducks take care of business against their Pac-12 opponents.
Pessimism No. 1: NCAA Investigation
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Before Jim Tressel was in hot water at Ohio State, the Ducks were being investigated by the NCAA for their recruitment practices. More specifically, looking at the payment of trainer/scout Will Lyles in relation to Oregon’s recruitment in Texas.
Although other teams have taken the spotlight off the Ducks with their own NCAA investigations, Oregon is not out of hot water yet. It is quite possible that the Ducks could face NCAA sanctions and either loss scholarships or bowl eligibility.
Oregon seems to have been conducting business the same as every other school in the country, but it is up for debate about whether that is the right way.
Optimism No. 1: LaMichael James Is Back
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Simply put, there are not many football players in the country that are more talented than LaMichael James. He is the best running back in college football and is poised for another great season with the Ducks.
Despite his size, James may not only be the fastest player on the team but also the strongest. The 2010 season was a breakout one for James, and after being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy he wants to put up even better numbers this year.
Oregon fans are lucky to be able to watch this talented back for another season in a Duck uniform. Hopefully he can bring home some hardware to Eugene at the end of the season.