By: Kelly McGillivray
Coming up a wrist and a field goal short of raising the BCS National Championship trophy last season, the 2011 Oregon Ducks have reloaded and have a return trip to a BCS bowl on their mind. Despite a clouded offseason that saw Ducks making headlines for off the field incidents, on the field the 2011 Ducks have solidified themselves as one of the elite programs in college football. Replacing the seniors who led the 2010 squad to the first ever 12-0 record in school history and the only team in Pac-10 history to go 9-0 in conference play will is a task that cannot be completed in one year, but the newcomers to Eugene look to be the most “field ready” group in recent years.
At the head of that group is Los Angeles native De’anthony Thomas, who has drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush with his exceptional elusiveness and speed at running back. Another freshman who should contribute on offense is receiver Devon Blackmon from Fontana, CA. A quarterback in high school, Blackmon is a speedy wideout who should fit well into Oregon’s high-powered, hyperfast offensive attack.
The Oregon offense looks the same as it did in 2010, with a backfield that got bigger and stronger. Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman finalist LaMichael James will once again be receiving handoffs from Darron Thomas. Kenjon Barner, the other feature back, has added significant muscle to his frame and gives the Ducks two legitimate #1 options at running back. Josh Huff, who was held out of a majority of fall camp due to an undisclosed injury, Lavasier Tuinei and Justin Hoffman will be the main passing targets for Thomas. David Paulson returns for his senior season at tight end, and next to him the Ducks have filled the three holes in the offensive line left by Bo Thran, Jordan Holmes, and CE Kaiser.
On defense, Terrence Mitchell is expected to fill in for Cliff Harris in the season opener as Harris is expected to be suspended following his much-publicized driving ticket for speeding 118 MPH, and line up opposite senior Anthony Gildon at the cornerback position. John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant round out the secondary, and Josh Kaddu, Michael Clay and Dewitt Stuckey will start the season at linebacker. Terrell Turner and Dion Jordan will line up at end, with Jordan playing the hybrid end position that Kenny Rowe gave opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli are the likely the interior lineman on defense, but with the rotation the Ducks defense has used in recent years expect to see Brandon Hanna, Issac Remington, Wade Keliikipi, Boseko Lokombo, and a wide variety of other secondary personnel.
Looking at the schedule, it doesn’t get tougher than a showcase game like the Cowboys Classic against LSU. Playing in a game that LSU turned down a home game for, 37,000 tickets were made available for LSU, making this season opener in Dallas, Texas a must win if the Ducks hope to be in contention for a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game. Home games against Cal, Arizona State, Washington State, USC, and Oregon State make this year’s home schedule certainly a favorable one if the Ducks hope to make the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game on December 2 a home affair. An early conference road challenge begins the season for the Ducks, who open Pac-12 play at Arizona, after two other non-conference matchups at Autzen with Nevada and Missouri State. Other road games include Colorado, the final game at Husky Stadium before its much needed renovation, followed by what should decide the Pac-12 North crown and home field for the Championship Game, in addition to a potential Natty contender elimination game, on November 12 on the farm against Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck and Stanford. (Two years ago the Jeremiah Masoli-led Ducks went into Stanford sky high after beating USC on Halloween a week earlier and found out just how hard playing on the Farm can be as Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck ripped through the Duck defense en route to a 51-42 Cardinal victory.)
With Chip Kelly at the helm, expect another season of Fast, Hard, Finish on both sides of the ball. The offense is full of speed and playmakers. The defense has added size to its speed and uses a rotation that allows them to go full speed every play. In addition, traditionally Chip has had a few tricks on special teams as well. Duck fans should expect a third straight trip to the BCS, the only question is…which one?