Ducks’ Path to Pac-12 Dominance
Coming off of an impressive win over Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2012 Rose Bowl, the Oregon Ducks will be looking to claim their fourth straight Pac 10/12 Championship as well as vie for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
Ranked at No. 4 in many of the “way-too-early” preseason polls, the Ducks look to be one of the primary contenders in the Pac 12.
Despite losing star running-back LaMichael James as well as quarterback Darron Thomas, the Ducks have high expectations heading into 2012.
An easy out-of-conference schedule coupled with numerous early games at Autzen Stadium should get the Ducks off to a hot start.
However, teams such as Washington (preseason No. 21), USC (preseason No. 2), and Stanford (preseason No. 12) will be looking to knock the Ducks off of their Pac-12 throne, with USC being the current favorite to win the Pac-12 and make an appearance in the BCS National Championship.
Poised to maintain their top spot in the Pac-12 (and not let USC reclaim their throne), the Ducks must have these following things fall into place:
Quarterback Competition is Sorted Out Early
Darron Thomas‘ departure to the NFL surprised many people around the nation, including his own constituents.
Expected to once again be the starter and develop his set of skills further, Thomas opted out of his senior season at Oregon to chase NFL dreams that have unfortunately not panned out yet. His early departure left the Ducks in a little bit of a predicament.
While sophmore Bryan Bennett has been in the Oregon system for two years (one as a redshirt) and made appearances during the 2011 Rose Bowl season, the Oregon Duck quarterback competition has become very interesting with the emergence of freshman Marcus Mariota.
Kept under wraps for most of spring practices, rumors about Mariota’s talent began to swell as the Oregon spring football game approached. Up until this time, many believed Bennett had solidified the role of starting quarterback.
At the spring game, Mariota was revealed to the nation and lived up to the hype that was surrounding him. He demonstrated poise in the pocket as well as the ability to get out of dangerous situations with his legs.
Mariota’s impressive performance at the spring game only heightened the quarterback controversy that now surrounds the Duck football program.
Unfortunately for the fans, Chip Kelly has already stated that a starter would not be named until the week prior to their opener against Arkansas State. While this may worry many fans, the last time Chip did this (in 2010 with Nate Costa and Darron Thomas) the Ducks found themselves in the BCS National Championship.
While this formula has worked for Chip in the past, the Ducks must have a stable starting quarterback by week two if they want to be able to traverse their ways through the Pac-12 once again.
Ducks Take Advantage of Home Schedule
Autzen stadium is ruthless, relentless, and unforgiving to opposing teams.
Since the Chip Kelly era as head coach began at the University of Oregon, the Ducks have only lost one home game — to USC in 2011 after failing to convert a game-tying field goal.
With their most important game on the road this season (a November 3rd match-up against USC), the Ducks must take advantage of their seven home games this season.
The Ducks will also need a good start at home in order to establish momentum for their Pac-12 push. They begin with four straight home games that are essential in developing team cohesion and momentum.
Important and crucial home games against Washington (October 6th) and Stanford (November 17th) will determine whether or not the Ducks have the power to contend for a fourth straight Pac 10/12 Title.
If Not November 3rd, then the Pac 12 Championship
The ideal situation for Duck fans will be to beat USC twice: once at USC in Los Angeles on November 3rd and again in the Pac 12 Championship game.
With both teams predicted to face-off in the Pac 12 Championship game, however, the Ducks can afford to lose their game at USC if they lose no other contests.
Though losing this game surely would take a toll on Oregon’s confidence, a win in the Pac-12 Championship against no. 1/2 ranked USC should be enough to vault the Ducks back up the rankings as well as bring the Pac-12 crown back to Eugene.
However, as should be obvious, if the Ducks lose the Pac 12 Championship, their BCS dreams and four straight Pac 10/12 Title dreams will be crushed.
The Black Mamba Strikes Again
De’Anthony Thomas was one of the most, if not the most, exciting players in college football last season. Just a freshmen himself, Thomas used his electric speed and maneuverability to blow by any defender that attempted to lay hands on him.
With the departure of LaMichael James, Thomas will have to step up his play further as he will likely be sharing touches with Kenjon Barner. Though Barner is a versatile back and will probably get most of the carries in the offense, Thomas must continue to live up to the hype he has created if the Oregon offense wants to continue its national dominance.
If there is any player that fits the Oregon system perfectly, it is this young man. He plays fast, he plays hard, and he finishes. Every. Single. Game. With a year under his belt at the collegiate level, prepare to be astonished yet again by this sophomore phenom as he vies for a legitimate bid at the Heisman trophy.
Playing at the level that he did last season would not only increase overall offensive production, it would take the pressure off of the new starters that will appear in the Duck offense by focusing defensive attention on De’Anthony.
If Thomas is not able to produce at a high level once again, expect to see the Duck offense drop in production numbers as he is a player that can really not be replaced.
The Return of ‘Gang Green’
Although Oregon is known more for its high-powered and fast-acting offense, the defensive unit must step up once again this year in order to navigate through a few offensive powerhouses Oregon will face.
‘Gang Green’ is the term Oregon fans use in reference to one of their most dominant defensive units in program history. This 1994 unit was typified by its ferocity and athleticism that helped lead the Ducks to a Rose Bowl appearance.
Though the players from this unit are long gone, many Oregon fans are looking forward to 2012 as the Oregon defense is expected to do great things reminiscent of their precious ‘Gang Green’.
Should these players live up to their expectations and prior merits, the Ducks will have a much easier time claiming their fourth straight Pac 10/12 title.
Win The Day
Oregon’s football motto may be the most important key in establishing themselves as the dominant force in the Pac 12 once again.
“Win the Day” is the motto Chip Kelly has instilled in every single one of his players; a message that resonates throughout the University community and gives players the mentality that the only thing that matters is the moment they are currently in.
Especially in a season that has very high expectations, the Ducks must not overlook any opponent. All of their games feature teams that are dangerous in one way or another, and ignoring any one of them could result in the downfall of Pac 12 prominence.
For the fourth straight years, the Oregon Duck football program is looking to take home the Pac 12 Title.
With the return of previous Pac 12 dynasty USC, the Oregon Ducks will have to work harder than ever to bring coveted hardware back to Eugene, Oregon.
Should the Ducks accomplish all the goals listed above, their path to four straight Pac 12 Titles and possible BCS National Championship begin to change from chance to reality.