I asked Brian Spaen from the Autzen Zoo what to expect from the might Oregon Ducks, who under Chip Kelly have been to two Rose Bowls and a National Championship in the last three years. Do they have high hopes of making it to the big one again? You bet.
1. Who are the most dangerous returning players on offense?
Without question, running backs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. Thomas is a dual threat on the ground and in the air. I expect Barner to take full control as running back to establish the ground game to open things up in the air.
2. Who are the most dangerous returning players on defense?
Defensive end Dion Jordan and linebacker Michael Clay. Jordan is already up for a ton of college football awards (such as defensive player of the year and best defensive end). Last season he had 42 tackles in all 14 games. Clay had 102 tackles in 11 games. Since both are seniors, expectations are high for them to lead the defense.
3. Which freshman player do you expect to make the most impact right out of the gate?
Quarterback Marcus Mariota or wide receiver Devon Blackmon. Both players are redshirts so they’ve had some experience with the team. Mariota is a contender for the starting role at quarterback and if he wins, could turn into the explosive mobile quarterback that Oregon wants. Blackmon has the ability to make a name for himself early with a generally weak position for the team.
4. Which player from last year will the team miss the most?
Quarterback Darron Thomas. He should have stayed for another season, and I believe that both him and Matt Barkley would have not only been the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but the best in the nation.
5. What is one major aspect of your team’s gameplan that you expect to be different from last year?
Establishing a go-to wide receiver. Lavasier Tuinei was the established veteran of the team last season; he received 48 catches while the next wide receiver (Josh Huff) caught 31. The tight end had 31 and Thomas had 46. It will be wide open and exciting to see who steps up.
6. What is your biggest concern heading in to the season?
Quarterback position. I’m afraid if a decision isn’t made on a starter then a dual-quarterback rotation will be made. That would be a mistake. With an offense that’s this fast-paced, they need to gel and everybody needs to be on the same page. Each quarterback has their own mannerisms on the field, it would be a catastrophe at the end of the game if Oregon sends a random quarterback on the field to try and win the game.
7.What game are you most excited about and why?
November 3rd against USC. The Ducks and Trojans are the class in the Pac-12, more than likely either of these teams will win the conference.
8. What is the overall expectation of how this team should finish?
National champions. There’s enough on this team to make either new quarterback comfortable and gel with the team. De’Anthony Thomas could be the best athlete in college football this year. Kenjon Barner has the ground game taken care of. I believe the passing game will establish itself and multiple wide receivers will make a name for themselves (Josh Huff and Rashaan Vaughn). All ran under a great head coach, there’s no reason to set their sights any lower than winning the whole thing.