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Prelude to a Season: #16

16.) Oregon Ducks

OregonWhat You Need to Know
When it comes to the Pac 10, the media favorite is certainly not the team that plays their home games in Autzen Stadium. New head coach Chip Kelly is going to try his hardest to change that reputation and continue the strong, albeit relatively overlooked, program that former head coach and current athletic director Mike Bellotti built into a consistent winner. Kelly, while new to the head coach role, has been at Oregon as the offensive coordinator since 2007, where his offenses have been impressive to say the least. This year appears to be more of the same with talented skill position players, a darkhorse Heisman candidate, a serviceable defense, and a favorable, albeit tough, schedule.

Offensively, the Ducks return 4 starters, but in the case of senior RB LeGarrette Blount, 2008 backup to Jeremiah Johnson, he had a season most starters dream of. Despite a limited spring due to injury and a winter suspension, Blount looks to improve markedly on last season’s 1002 yards and 17 TDs. The most important position in Kelly’s spread attack is the quarterback , and Oregon has a talented one in junior Jeremiah Masoli. Catching balls from Masoli will be a talented group of inexperienced but very highly touted receivers. Junior Jeff Maehl is the leading returning receiver statistically, and senior TE Ed Dickson leads all pass catchers in returning yardage. The offensive line remains the biggest question mark for the Ducks, as they have lost 6 of their top 10 players on the offensive line including numerous selections to the All Pac 10 Teams with the lone returning starter junior RT Ce Kaiser. Those sorts of heavy losses up front may put a bit of a damper on the offense’s production and will almost certainly see a dip from last year’s record setting season.

Defensively, Chip Kelly returns 5 starters to a unit that gave up 389 yards per game (8th in the Pac 10) along with 28.2 points (7th in the Pac 10). The Ducks were stronger against the rush (2nd in conf.) than the pass (10th in conf.) but those numbers may not be the same this year. Among the losses are 3 of the front 4, including DE Nick Reed to the NFL. The lone returner on the D Line is senior DE Will Tukuafu, who used his 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss to be named to the 2008 2nd Team All Conference team. The secondary also took heavy losses as Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd no longer suit up. Those two combined for 175 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 6 interceptions and both received 1st Team All Pac 10 honors. Also of note for the Ducks is the loss of key special teams players like K Matt Evensen, P Josh Syria, and return man Jairus Byrd.

The schedule for the Ducks is daunting but manageable, in addition, their 9 conference games shake out favorably with 5 home games. Out of conference, the Ducks face Boise State, Utah, and Purdue, with BSU on the road to open the season. Despite the challenging schedule, Kelly’s first season as the head man in Autzen looks to be a continuation of success for a proud Oregon program.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Jeremiah Masoli: 136-239, 1744 yds, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 127 rush, 718 yds, 10 TDs
RB LeGarrette Blount: 137 att, 1002 yds, 17 TDs
TE Ed Dickson: 35 rec, 508 yds, 3 TDs

Game to Watch
For the Ducks, they start 2009 with a bang, traveling to Boise State on September 3rd. Two weeks later on September 19th the Utah Utes make the trip to Eugene. In conference, their most challenging games come against Cal (9/26), USC (10/31), and in-state rival Oregon State for the annual Civil War on December 3rd. All those games are at Autzen Stadium, a tremendous home field advantage for the Ducks.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the Ducks’ offensive and defensive lines overcome a lack of experience to perform at a level that allows the UO offense and defense to succeed. Football is certainly a game won in the trenches, and for the Ducks to be successful this season they’ll need to win more battles than they lose up front.

Season Outlook
For the Ducks, the talent is certainly there, even if the experience is not. Were it not for that, this would be a disaster season in Chip Kelly’s first at the helm. The UO attack on offense will not be as potent as last year off the bat, which may lead to early season losses, most notably their season opener at Boise. As the year progresses, Oregon will improve dramatically week to week as the lines gain experience and the schematics begin to click. Look for the Ducks to upset at least one of either USC or Cal. When all is said and done, Oregon will be on the outside looking in for the Pac 10, but a 9-3 record (7-2 in conference) with this schedule and this team is impressive.

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