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College Football Preview: 5. Oregon Ducks

5. Oregon Ducks

It looked as though the Ducks were going back to the championship last year. Then, one late night Stanford and their dominant defense beat Oregon. Though with most of their offense returning it should be another BCS bowl year in Oregon, even without Chip Kelly. Though in order to get back to the championship Marcus Mariota must turn into a leader and De'Anthony Thomas must turn into an every-down back.

Backfield: Marcus Mariota did a great job as a freshman last year and should continue to improve. Very little people know Mariota actually had 30 touchdown passes last season. He is the perfect quarterback for the Ducks' system, being
De'Anthony Thomas
accurate and able to keep plays alive with his feet. He has a ton of talent, but like a lot of freshman he made bad decisions. With more games under his belt and a ton of talent surrounding him, that weakness should go away. Kenjon Barner graduated but Oregon is more than ready to replace him. De'Anthony Thomas is back for his junior season after being a situational player in 2012. He is as fast as a cheetah, constantly changing games with his explosiveness. Though it isn't proven that he can continue to be a game-changer when he gets the ball every down. If he does, a Heisman could be on the horizon for one of the most exciting players in the nation. Sophomore Byron Marhsall also returns after proving he can be explosive at times last year. Freshman Thomas Tyner should come and bring immediate help.

Receivers: Although Oregon doesn't rely on their passing game they have a ton of quality receivers. Senior Josh Huff is one of them. Huff may be small but like most of this Oregon team he is quick and agile and tough to tackle. Another small and quick receiver, Keanon Lowe, appears to be ready to make big plays after a strong sophomore appearance. Senior Darryle Hawkins should also be a quality target for Mariota. Tight end Colt Lyerla has maybe the best hands of this group and should be a big part of this offense.

Offensive Line: The Ducks must replace two guards on the line but it is still very strong. Sophomore tackle Tyler Johnstone has the size and strength to have a big year. His redshirt year earlier in Eugene should pay dividends for him later on in his career. On the other side junior Jake Fisher should also be a quality tackle for this year and in the near future. Center Hroniss Grasu really emerged in his sophomore year last season and could be on of the nation's best centers. Unless Oregon can find strong guards no matter how great Mariota or Thomas are they are going to have a tough time against strong defenses.

Defensive Line: Oregon may not have a lot of star power on their line but it is still very solid. Senior end Taylor Hart looks to have a big finale after producing in different ways as a junior. The team's other starting end figures to be junior Tony Washington who has the potential to have an incredible 2013-2014. He has the size and speed to constantly pressure opponents from the edge. Up the middle opponents shouldn't get any easy yards. The Ducks have two strong tackles in senior Wade Keliikipi and sophomore Arik Armstead. Armstead didn't get much downs last year and still has to prove he can live up to the hype he received after arriving in Eugene last year but he has a NFL body.

  • Ifo Ekpre-Olumu
Linebackers: Last year Oregon had one of the best group of linebackers in the nation. They had future top-10 pick Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay which made running the ball a tall order. Though all three are gone leaving the cupboard bare at those positions. Senior Boseko Lokombo appears to have a chance at being Oregon's leading tackler being, although he can also spend time in opponent's backfields. Sophomore Tyson Coleman should take on a big role as he is sure to be this team's starting middle linebacker. Coleman has some talent as he can cover the field, but is unproven.

Secondary: Many people may knock Oregon for having a weak defense but their secondary is very good. It is led by 2012 All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olumu who returns for his junior year. He is great at coverage and is a good tackler. Teams will fear throwing the ball anywhere near him. Also starting at cornerback there is another junior Terrance Mitchell who can be lockdown occasionally. As if trying to get past Mitchell and Ekpre-Olumu wasn't hard enough teams will also have to deal with Oregon's two great safeties, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson. Both are seniors and both should contribute to what could be a very stingy secondary.

Oregon once more has the talent to reach the Rose Bowl and beyond even with Mark Helfrich taking over the helm. If Mariota turns into a consistent quarterback and Thomas continues to be a game-changer the sky is the limit for the Ducks.

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