What to expect in Eugene.
The Oregon Ducks are coming off their third straight Pac-12 title, and with Chip Kelly leading the way again next year, the 2012 season could be a special one for the team from Eugene.
For a fan base that has become BCS obsessed over the past three seasons, there’s only one result that could exemplify a perfect outcome in Eugene next year.
A BCS National Championship.
The Ducks have been to three straight BCS bowl games, and with a compilation of top-notch talent and incredible leadership, this team is primed to make some serious noise in college football next season.
LaMichael James is gone, but Kenjon Barner was arguably the best backup in the nation last year and should step right in and make his presence felt from the inaugural kickoff Sept. 1.
Darron Thomas is also gone, but with two dual-threat quarterbacks competing for the starting spot next year, the team should be in good hands regardless of whom Kelly chooses in the next two weeks.
The Ducks are a top-5 team heading into the new season.
An easy non-conference schedule isn’t going to impress anybody, but when it matters late in the year, Oregon could very well grab headlines and prove that they deserve such a high ranking by the end of the season.
The No. 1 obstacle that stands in the Ducks’ way? The USC Trojans.
Oregon travels to USC this season, and following last year’s disappointing loss, the team will be looking for revenge.
The Trojans received a higher ranking in both major preseason polls, but if the Ducks can beat the Trojans not just once, but twice next season, they could be Florida bound for their second-ever BCS National Championship appearance.
There are two major issues that could prevent the Ducks from reaching their goals next season: a new quarterback and a shallow running core.
Both players have potential, and they both fit Oregon’s system well, but a young quarterback could experience growing pains, especially late in the season when the team is truly tested.
LaMichael James has also left for the NFL—less surprisingly—and along with the transfer of running back Tra Carson, the Ducks’ running core is unexpectedly thin.
Simply put, an injury to one of Oregon’s tailbacks could be catastrophic.
While the Ducks’ success is heavily predicated on the success of their ground game, establishing a go-to wide receiver will also be important when it comes to getting a new quarterback a solid target.
The Ducks don’t have the toughest schedule in college football by a long shot, but there are a handful of teams in the conference that will challenge the Ducks next year.
Two losses to the USC Trojans is a very real possibility, the Washington Huskiescould be due for a breakout season and the Stanford Cardinal just might be better than some think despite the departure of Andrew Luck.
If everything goes wrong and the team never truly clicks, Oregon will still be a very good football team, but three or four losses could keep them out of a BCS bowl game for the first time in coach Kelly’s three-year career.
The Ducks have a very real chance at competing for a BCS title next year, but the most reasonable scenario places the team atop the Pac-12, and back in the Rose Bowl for the 2012 season.
It’s true that the running core is shallower than it’s been in recent years, but understand one thing: shallow does not mean lacking talent.
Kenjon Barner is going to step in and have a great senior season, De’Anthony Thomas is a flat-out superstar as both a tail back, and a receiver, and true freshman Byron Marshall could prove to be an impact player if given the opportunity early in his career.
The question of whether or not Barner can carry the load is reasonable, but as long as he and De’Anthony Thomas stay healthy next season, the running game should be just fine.
But what everybody keeps coming back to it seems, is that next season ultimately comes down to how well the team can compete against the USC Trojans.
If the Ducks do make it to the Pac-12 championship and manage to drop the game against the Trojans (assuming USC steamrolls the South Division), they could still be eligible for a BCS bid and face off against another top program in one of the country’s top bowl games.
There’s a number of questions heading into next season, but there’s no denying that this team is in a BCS-or-bust mode.
If Oregon can get it done early and finish strong late, it will be another successful season for Kelly and the Ducks, and the BCS should be calling their names when the season concludes at the end of 2012.