Oregon has Stanford and Michigan State at home. They're ranked in the top five by everybody. Marcus Mariota is back and has a barn full of fast receivers. Running back Thomas Tyner is ready for his close-up.
It's all coming together, albeit delicately. The Ducks failed to strengthen their backup QB situation in the offseason. If any one of Mariota's joints twists badly, it's over.
But nobody's hurt yet. So now is the time to dream of the possibilities and be happy.
IT'S FOOTBALL SEASON!
A look at Oregon's opponents in no particular order, plus the two other league teams not on Oregon's schedule. . . . . .
USC made an all out national search for the best and most highly reputable coach worthy enough to come to LA and wear the crimson cap. But none of them wanted the job. So the Trojans had to settle for Steve Sarkisian. That was his big upside. He actually WANTED to coach them. Unfortunately they're not on the Ducks schedule this year.
Washington is continuing with their long hallowed tradition since Don James retired of hiring coaches on the downswing of their careers. Since 2009, Chris Peterson's record at Boise State had been 14-0, 12-1, 12-1, 11-2, and finally 8-4. We're done with our fingers. Now let's take off our shoes to count to eleven consecutive wins.
UCLA is hot. If this ends up being another year where the Ducks get one trip-up to knock them out of Title contention, it could very well be against the Bruins.
ASU is hotter. Oregon won't see them during the regular season, but despite getting picked to finish third in the South, I predict we'll see them playing for the Pac-12 title.
Cal's new coach Sonny Dykes was 1-11 last season. This season marks the second of his five-year plan to get fired.
Oregon State: After losing their home opener to the Eastern Washington Eagles last season, the Beavs say they are "not looking past Portland State" this year. Can't argue with that. OSU's QB Sean Mannion is considered by many as the second best in the league behind Mariota. The rest of their roster is noteworthy because they will be wearing the same color uniforms as Mannion.
Arizona was very proud of themselves for stunning Oregon last year, and deservedly so. Come up to Autzen, 'Zona. Try that again.
Washington State will not beat Oregon. But the Cougs could hurt Oregon. You know, like an over-sugared kid pushing Mom's shopping cart through a crowded store aisle . Like an old person confusing the gas pedal for the brake. Like Dick Cheney with a shotgun. Like Tony Stewart picking up a hitchhiker. I'm worried the Ducks could come out of Pullman with a win and a locker room full of injuries caused by so much "uber-hyped Cougar goonery" (Say that three times fast.).
Michigan State will be one of the biggest regular season games in the nation. Can Oregon beat the team that beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl? And they didn't just beat Stanford, they out-Stanforded Stanford, beating the Card at their own game of overwhelming the battle at the line. This game will affect the future of many teams through the remainder of the season.
Stanford isn't getting any respect and I don't get it. Nearly everyone is picking Oregon to finally topple Stanford to win the Pac-12 North. Sure, Mariota is back and this game is in Autzen. But in my mind, Stanford is still the king ONLY UNTIL the Ducks retake the crown.
Colorado is high.
Wyoming: What? . . . SHUT UP!
That brings us to Saturday night's opponent.
North Dakota was 3-8 last year in the Big Sky Conference. Their quarterback, Joe Mollberg, had seven starts last year. He was given the nod to start this year by new coach Bubba Schweigert after a tough fall camp battle for starter with . . . .
Oh I'm sorry. I just realized Oregon is actually playing the other one.
South Dakota was 4-8 last year in the Missouri Valley Conference. Their quarterback, Kevin Earl, is the returning starter from last year. Third year coach Joe Glen thinks that . . . . . . . Oh who cares?
A crappy team from a crappy league is going to serve as the opening season patsy that will give the Ducks a chance to blow the dust out of the carburetor.
Never mind the opponent. All eyes should be on Oregon and who their playmakers will be.
Mariota is a given. But what about his backup Jeff Lockie? Last year, he and the other backup Jake Rodriguez had lots of playing time as Mariota often sat down in the second half of many games after stretching the lead to a blowout. But all that PT failed to result in a trusted and capable backup.
Now Rodriguez is gone. He left in search of a team where he can start right away. The backup job is all Lockie's. Will he take advantage and step up?
During Spring drills in April, Bralon Addison was lost for the season with an injured knee. Concern was high, as he was considered Oregon's best receiver. But through fall camp, others have really shown up. We need to keep an eye out for Chance Allen, Darren Carrington, B.J. Kelley, Keanon Lowe, Dwayne Stanford, and especially the current NCAA 110 meter hurdle champion, redshirt freshman Devon Allen (#13)
|Sure, Devon Allen can be the best 110 meter hurdler |
in the nation. But can he do that while catching a
football? I wouldn't bet against him.
And then there is one more person to watch for -- a running back. Oregon apparently has a surprising Manhattan Project-like secret weapon on the roster. Duck fans were content to have Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall in the backfield to handle the ball carrying duties.
But along comes Royce Freeman. A true freshman rated at 6',0" and 229 pounds, although others say he's a little shorter, but every bit as brawny. He's been compared to former Duck powerhouse RB Jonathan Stewart, but with better footwork and juking skills. Coaches can't say enough about him. This is from Tyson Alger of the Oregonian . . . .
Freeman flat-out has something the other two guys don't: Size. At 6-foot, 229-pounds, Freeman has 14 pounds on Tyner and an additional 24 on Marshall. Add the fact that numerous coaches have said Freeman is way ahead of where most freshman begin, the question shifts from "Is Freeman going to redshirt?" to "How does this guy not start?"
He busts tackles and wears down defenses. They say he's got good hands; he's a good blocker. Smart. He's also a good receiver. I read somewhere, "Chuck Norris has a Royce Freeman tattoo." Look for him, #21.
Over these past few years Duck fans have learned to take these seasons one game at a time. Good things are expected to happen. Bad things can happen. The Ducks have a great shot this year. They know it, and they'll take it. For myself, I'm not planning to nut up and hold my breath until Oregon goes to the Natty. I'm just going to enjoy each game one at a time for what they are.
And be happy . . .
Oh hell. Who am I kidding?
ALL THE WAY.
STOMP THEM ALL
Gametime Saturday 7:30 Pacific on the PAC-12 Network.