Championship or bust. That has to be Chip Kelly’s mantra for the Oregon Ducks this season.
What’s In Store For Oregon in 2011?
They did everything but win it all last season, taking every game except for the BCS title clash against Auburn. Unlike many of the other top contenders, Oregon has the privilege of returning most of its key offensive stars.
The opportunity to be national champs is very much alive – but the Ducks have to do it now.
College football’s top offense in 2011 has an excellent chance to duplicate its dominance this year. Tailback LaMichael James challenged for the Heisman Trophy last season, rushing for 1.731 yards and 21 touchdowns and catching three TD passes. The Ducks are riding him into the ground, which could hurt his NFL career, but he has enough left in the tank to be their bellcow again.
At least he’ll have support in the backfield from Kenjon Barber.
Is quarterback Darron Thomas among the nation’s elite alongside Andrew Luck, Landry Jones or Kellen Moore? Maybe not. He’s probably a tier below. He also lost receiver Jeff Maehl this offseason. However, Thomas flourishes in Kelly’s system. He threw 30 touchdown passes versus just nine picks last season.
The Ducks have to be encouraged to see him make so few mistakes despite playing in such a high-octane spread option offense.
On defense, the onus falls on cornerback Cliff Harris and safety John Boyett to keep the unit strong despite some big offseason losses. Five starters return, but the Ducks said goodbye to Casey Matthews, Talmadge Jackson and Spencer Paysinger. It still looks like Oregon will be above-average defensively, especially against the pass, but it will be interesting to see how this unit does against the run.
How terrifying is it for both the Ducks and their fans that their shot at returning to the BCS title game will be likely decided in Week 1? Gulp. It’s scary to even type it. But Oregon will play LSU in a battle featuring two of the top four teams in the NCAA preseason coaches’ poll.
This will be a very tough game to win. It’s at LSU.
The Tigers should be a strong defensive unit again, even without Patrick Peterson, and Oregon was kept in check against defensively sound Auburn last year, so the Ducks have their work cut out for them.
If Oregon gets past LSU, the next crucial matchup on the schedule will be November 12 against Stanford. In theory, beating LSU on the road would mean Oregon can handle Stanford by comparison.
The national title is there for the taking.
If Oregon can win in Week 1 and its “D” can hold up, we’ll see the Ducks playing a massive game in January for the second straight year.