2011 College Football AP Top 25: Breaking Down Why Oregon Is Ranked 3rd

Michael PleshaCorrespondent IIIAugust 23, 2011

2011 College Football AP Top 25: Breaking Down Why Oregon Is Ranked 3rd

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    Following a terrific 2010 season, the Oregon Ducks have momentum as we approach the new season. Recently, the Associated Press released their Preseason Top 25, and the Ducks came in third behind Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively.

    The Ducks do have their fair share question marks on and off the field but have enough returning talent to make another run at the BCS National Championship.

    Oregon has their sights set high in 2011, and returning stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas are ready to avenge last season's championship game loss.

    Here are the reasons why Oregon is fair at number three in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll.

8. Speed

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    It is no secret that the Oregon Ducks have one of the fastest teams in college football, but very few fans know how fast they really are. The offensive stars like LaMichael James get most of the praise. But in 2011, the speedy defense should get more well-deserved recognition.

    In 2010, the Oregon Ducks had one of the best defenses in the country that no one was talking about. They were widely overshadowed by the speedy offense the Ducks run, but the defense had some speed of its own. Although they lost several seniors following the season, the 2011 Oregon defense will be faster than last season’s. 

    Each year, Oregon is bringing in better and better recruiting classes, and it is showing on the field.  Despite some inexperience in the front seven, the Ducks will not change their aggressive style and will be very tough for their opponents to prepare for.

7. Only One Returning Starter on the D-Line

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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.

6. New Talent

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    The Oregon Ducks' 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. Currently, Blackmon and Vaughn are the most likely to see the field in Oregon's first games.

    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.

5. Uncertainty on the Offensive Line

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    It is no secret that the Ducks have holes on the offensive line heading into the 2011 season. 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.

    After a great run last season, the Ducks may have been able to grab the top spot in the preseason poll had the offensive line been more stable.

4. Darron Thomas

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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 the start of the season. There is no reason that Darron Thomas can't become one of the elite quarterbacks in college football this season.

3. The Schedule

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    The Oregon Ducks' schedule is not 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 their chances in the Pac-12.

    Other than LSU, the Ducks have a 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.

2. Running Back Depth

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    Around the country, LaMichael James is known as the face of the Oregon backfield, but he is just one of many talented backs. His main “backup” is Kenjon Barner, who possesses much of the same speed and agility James does.

    Last season, Barner missed several games because of a severe concussion he suffered returning a kickoff against Washington State. His carries were limited following his return. 

    Despite that, he still averaged six yards a carry for the second season in a row. James and Barner will likely be on the field at the same time a lot this season, which should scare defenses.

    The Ducks are also likely to feature true freshman DeAnthony Thomas, who's breakaway speed has been impressive in fall camp.

1. Chip Kelly

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    As talented as the Oregon Ducks roster is, Head Coach Chip Kelly may be the most dangerous weapon the team has. Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football today and has done nothing but win since coming to Eugene.

    Kelly has gone 22-4 since taking over for Mike Bellotti as head coach of the Ducks 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 on Oregon's recruiting practices, the Ducks seem ready for the 2011 season. They are the favorites to win the first-ever Pac-12 this season, and Kelly is a big reason why.