The Oregon Ducks come in at No. 9 in the preseason rankings. Here are five things that matter heading into Ducks’ 2016 season.
The standard is a wee bit higher now
After going to two national title games in the last six seasons and being a perennial powerhouse in the Pac-12, winning nine games just isn’t going to cut it anymore in Eugene. The Ducks lost a Heisman-winning quarterback and weren’t quite as explosive, but they were still phenomenal.
This year’s team might be able to do the impossible and sneak up on everyone. There isn’t a killer team in the Pac-12 – Stanford loses just about everyone, and USC and UCLA aren’t back to form – but the league is just good enough to be tough each and every week. If the machine turns back on then look out, because this will be the best team in the conference.
Getting cute at quarterback
Bringing in Vernon Adams as a one-year rental from Eastern Washington seemed to make sense, but he was dinged up and there was a little too much inconsistency offensively. This year, the Ducks are doing it again, mining the FCS ranks for Montana State’s Dakota Prukop to go along with the other options in place. The offense is loaded with talent, but it’s all down to the triggerman if Oregon wants to get back to a national title level.
The explosion should be back
It’s not like Oregon’s offense fell off the map – they did score 40 points or more eight times – but it fell flat against Utah and couldn’t close in the bowl loss to TCU. While the quarterback situation is still a big concern, the receiving corps is loaded – it should be among the Pac-12’s best – while Royce Freeman is neck and neck with Christian McCaffrey as the conference’s best running back. There will be times when the whole thing just works and defenses won’t have any hope whatsoever.
It’s okay to play defense again
The offense was just fine, and it will be again. However, the defense can’t be the nightmare it was throughout last season. Enter Brady Hoke as defensive coordinator, and he’s inheriting plenty of experience with everyone back in the secondary along with a talented front seven for the 4-3.
What’s going to happen?
Pac-12 champion. The Ducks will get out to a roaring start, highlighted by a win at Nebraska and taking care of business at home against Washington, but they’ll lose on the road to USC and Utah in November. That’ll stink for College Football Playoff hopes, but the losses to the South won’t matter on the way to avenging the loss to the Trojans for the conference title on the way to the Rose Bowl.