2013 Oregon football's 10 things to know: Just one question mark

USA TODAY Sports

All the pieces are in place. Can Oregon make a run at the national title with a new coach in charge? That's almost the only 2013 question for which the Ducks don't have an obvious, impressive answer. (Okay, we have some questions about their linebackers, too.) For more Oregon, visit Addicted to Quack.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. And now we roll the dice

With Chip Kelly as head coach, I would have absolutely, positively put this team at No. 2 in the country heading into the season. And with enough time and overthinking, I could have probably talked myself into considering No. 1. With each progressing year, Kelly's squad got deeper, faster, and simply better, and this might be the deepest, fastest, and best yet.

The Ducks' F/+ progression chart below looks like Hulk Hogan flexing. They return an emerging stud at quarterback, a player almost as perfect for his system as (former Oregon commit) Johnny Manziel is for Texas A&M's or A.J. McCarron is for Alabama's. They return De'Anthony Thomas, who redefines the term "all-purpose." They return their top six receiving targets and five offensive linemen with starting experience (including an all-conference center).

They return seven defensive linemen who logged at least 10 tackles last year. They return basically everybody in what might be the best secondary in the country. They bring in a few more four- and five-star athletes. They avoided serious NCAA sanctions*. With a schedule that features only two teams projected better than 30th in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, the landmines appear minimal. This looks like Chip Kelly's perfect team and perfect opportunity.

But Chip Kelly is in Philadelphia now.

No matter how well you plan, no matter what kind of succession plan you have in place, and no matter how seamless that plan seems on paper (and this one appears awfully seamless), you never, ever know what's going to happen when your transcendently successful coach hands the reins to somebody else. You could get Jim Harbaugh handing to David Shaw. You could get Tom Osborne handing to Frank Solich. You could get Rich Brooks handing to Joker Phillips. Coaching changes are a complete roll of the dice. By all accounts, new head coach (and former Kelly offensive coordinator) Mark Helfrich seems like he could be the Shaw to Kelly's Harbaugh, a person who understands the culture that made his school successful and can further it in almost seamless fashion. But you just never know for sure until he proves it.

Oregon still might be the second-best team in college football heading into the season. All of the evidence above, sans Kelly, still rings true. But there will be at least a little bit of uncertainty until the Ducks go out and prove themselves. (And with this schedule, they'll have to wait a while to do so.)

* Yes, I realize that if Kelly were still in charge and had still been given a show-cause penalty that might have prompted his firing, then that probably would have constituted "serious sanctions."

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 12-1 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 2
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep Arkansas State 57-34 W 40.1 - 31.6 W
8-Sep Fresno State 42-25 W 45.0 - 16.5 W
15-Sep Tennessee Tech 63-14 W 37.9 - 14.0 W
22-Sep Arizona 49-0 W 28.0 - 12.9 W
29-Sep at Washington State 51-26 W 32.3 - 27.7 W
6-Oct Washington 52-21 W 44.0 - 31.2 W
18-Oct at Arizona State 43-21 W 35.9 - 20.7 W
27-Oct Colorado 70-14 W 36.3 - 22.0 W
3-Nov at USC 62-51 W 58.5 - 35.9 W
10-Nov at California 59-17 W 39.2 - 30.5 W
17-Nov Stanford 14-17 L 33.2 - 27.4 W
24-Nov at Oregon State 48-24 W 43.5 - 26.9 W
3-Jan vs. Kansas State 35-17 W 29.5 - 15.8 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 49.6 2 21.6 25
Adj. Points Per Game 38.7 6 24.1 28

2. Just enough of a defensive fade

Oregon is the perfect example of the you-don't-get-to-pick-your-shots phenomenon. In college football, where (almost) every game matters, and where you need all sorts of breaks to reach the national title game, the 2011 and 2012 Oregon football squads were better on paper than the one that reached it in 2010. But a missed field goal in 2011 potentially ruined a return opportunity, and a missed field goal in 2012 definitely ruined a return opportunity.

Alejandro Maldonado's missed overtime field goal versus Stanford was the play most directly responsible for Oregon's lone loss, but a late-season defensive fade also hurt the Ducks' chances. Yes, they only allowed 17 points to Stanford, but the Cardinal scored touchdowns on drives of 93 yards (15 plays, seven minutes) and 78 yards (11 plays, five minutes), drives the early-season Ducks defense may not have allowed.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Oregon 37.4, Opponent 22.1 (plus-15.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Oregon 43.6, Opponent 30.2 (plus-13.4)

Throw in some ill-timed failures by the offense (turnovers on downs at the Stanford 7 and 38 in the first half, along with another missed field goal by Maldonado in the third quarter), and Oregon did just enough to lose. In all, the offense was simply gorgeous down the stretch, even as the defense slipped a bit, but one single loss defined the season as a whole.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 5 2 1 4
RUSHING 3 2 4 2
PASSING 73 4 3 9
Standard Downs 2 1 3
Passing Downs 9 38 7
Redzone 13 15 12
Q1 Rk 1 1st Down Rk 5
Q2 Rk 18 2nd Down Rk 6
Q3 Rk 40 3rd Down Rk 25
Q4 Rk 46

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Marcus Mariota 6'4, 211 So. *** (5.7) 230 336 2,677 68.5% 32 6 15 4.3% 7.3
Bryan Bennett


20 37 211 54.1% 3 3 2 5.1% 4.7
Jake Rodrigues 6'3, 218 RSFr. **** (5.8)







3. A nearly perfect debut

Sure, Marcus Mariota had his shaky moments. Against the fantastic Stanford defense, for instance, he completed just 57 percent of his passes at 4.9 yards per attempt (including sacks). Against an excellent Kansas State defense, he completed 50 percent of his passes at 6.5 yards per attempt. So, okay, he wasn't necessarily capable of dominating elite Ds. You'll have to forgive him for that, because he was otherwise about as good as a redshirt freshman quarterback could be.

Maybe that's an odd thing to say in a year that saw one win the Heisman for the first time, but Mariota's numbers were quite comparable to Johnny Manziel's.

  • Completion Rate: Mariota 68.5 percent, Manziel 68.0.
  • Yards Per Pass Attempt: Manziel 7.8, Mariota 7.3
  • TD-to-INT Ratio: Mariota 5.3, Manziel 2.9
  • Rushing Yards Per Carry (non-sacks): Mariota 9.4, Manziel 8.1
  • Highlight Yards Per Opportunity: Mariota 8.9, Manziel 8.2

That Manziel produced his numbers in the SEC gave him an edge, obviously. So did the fact that he's a little more flashy overall than the rather unassuming Mariota. After opponent adjustments, Texas A&M's offense did rank first in the country in Off. F/+, and Oregon ranked a mere fifth. But the fact that two of the country's five best offenses were run by freshmen is staggering. Manziel got all of the offseason attention, for better and for worse, but Mariota is obviously going to be well-positioned to post ridiculous numbers again this fall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Kenjon Barner RB 279 1,767 6.3 5.6 21 +34.8
De'Anthony Thomas ??? 5'9, 176 Jr. ***** (6.1) 92 693 7.5 8.4 11 +23.1
Marcus Mariota QB 6'4, 211 So. *** (5.7) 91 858 9.4 8.9 5 +36.2
Byron Marshall RB 5'10, 201 So. **** (5.8) 87 447 5.1 5.2 4 -0.2
Bryan Bennett QB 37 191 5.2 5.6 6 -1.4
Ayele Forde RB 5'7, 183 Jr. NR 27 139 5.1 4.5 0 +0.3
Kenny Bassett RB 5'9, 178 Jr. NR 16 40 2.5 0.9 0 -4.6
Colt Lyerla TE 6'5, 246 Jr. ***** (6.1) 13 77 5.9 4.1 1 +1.7
Bill Chimphalee RB 9 24 2.7 2.2 0 -2.9
Thomas Tyner RB 6'0, 200 Fr. ***** (6.1)





4. Celebrating EATBLACKMOMBA6, whatever he is

De'Anthony Thomas has perhaps the most likable Twitter presence of any athlete, college or pro. Here are some Tweets from just the last week:

Thomas is as enthusiastic off the field as on. He is fun and rather well-intentioned off the field, and he's twice as fun, with bad intentions, on it. In the absence of workhorse back Kenjon Barner (21.5 carries per game), Thomas will be asked to pick up the slack at least a bit, but how much? And what the hell is his position, anyway?

In a recent Grantland piece, Mark Helfrich gave Holly Anderson a quote that is pretty much perfect:

The spotlight will find these two players most frequently in the season ahead, particularly with the departure of Kenjon Barner, FBS's fourth-leading rusher, to the Carolina Panthers. Will we see Thomas, who hasn't been used as a workhorse back, in a more traditional tailback setting in 2013? "We'll see," said Helfrich. "I've said a bunch of times that you never wanna know the limit on carries your tailback can have, because that means they're hurt."

Thomas is 5'9, 176 pounds. He got about 11.3 intended touches (carries plus targets) per game and returned 29 kickoffs and punts (with brutal effectiveness -- he was a one-man field-position advantage). He doesn't take many hard hits and could almost certainly shoulder more of a load this fall. But it's hard to say how much.

Of course, this offense will in no way need to be a one-man show. Thomas is almost as terrifying as a decoy, and he will be complemented by a wealth of intriguing athletes, from four-star sophomore running back Byron Marshall, to five-star tight end-slash-fullback-slash-receiver Colt Lyerla, to senior deep threat Josh Huff, to slot receivers Bralon Addison and Daryle Hawkins, to any number of young four- or five-star options like running back Thomas Tyner, receivers Dwayne Stanford, Devon Allen, and Darren Carrington, and tight ends Pharoah Brown and Evan Baylis. Oregon has not turned into a recruiting factory at every position yet, but the skill positions are ridiculously well-stocked for what Helfrich plans to do (which is more or less what Kelly planned to do).

De'Anthony Thomas. Jonathan Ferrey, Getty.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
De'Anthony Thomas ??? 5'9, 176 Jr. ***** (6.1) 55 45 446 81.8% 8.1 15.4% 65.5% 8.1 61.9
Josh Huff WR 5'11, 205 Sr. **** (5.8) 49 32 493 65.3% 10.1 13.8% 69.4% 9.7 68.4
Bralon Addison SLOT 5'10, 189 So. **** (5.8) 36 22 243 61.1% 6.8 10.1% 55.6% 6.5 33.7
Colt Lyerla TE 6'5, 246 Jr. ***** (6.1) 35 25 392 71.4% 11.2 9.8% 74.3% 12.1 54.4
Daryle Hawkins SLOT 6'4, 202 Sr. ** (5.2) 35 25 202 71.4% 5.8 9.8% 77.1% 5.6 28.0
Keanon Lowe WR 5'9, 181 Jr. **** (5.8) 30 22 244 73.3% 8.1 8.4% 80.0% 7.3 33.8
Kenjon Barner RB 28 20 256 71.4% 9.1 7.9% 60.7% 9.1 35.5
Will Murphy WR 27 19 181 70.4% 6.7 7.6% 66.7% 7.0 25.1
Dwayne Stanford WR 6'5, 195 So. **** (5.8) 19 11 106 57.9% 5.6 5.3% 63.2% 5.7 14.7
Eric Dungy WR 6'1, 183 Jr. ** (5.4) 11 5 41 45.5% 3.7 3.1% 45.5% 3.7 5.7
Rahsaan Vaughn WR 8 7 75 87.5% 9.4 2.2% 37.5% 8.5 10.4
B.J. Kelley WR 6'2, 181 So. *** (5.6) 7 6 103 85.7% 14.7 2.0% 85.7% 15.7 14.3
Blake Stanton WR 5'11, 211 Jr. *** (5.6) 5 4 19 80.0% 3.8 1.4% 60.0% 3.7 2.6
Pharaoh Brown TE 6'6, 234 So. **** (5.8) 4 2 42 50.0% 10.5 1.1% 0.0% 5.5 5.8
Koa Ka'ai TE 6'4, 251 So. *** (5.6) 4 2 18 50.0% 4.5 1.1% 100.0% 2.7 2.5
Evan Baylis TE 6'6, 244 RSFr. **** (5.8)








Devon Allen WR 6'1, 190 Fr. **** (5.8)








Darren Carrington WR 6'2, 187 Fr. **** (5.8)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 122.9 3.55 3.69 47.4% 70.3% 19.1% 164.2 3.2% 4.1%
Rank 3 4 20 4 53 66 21 37 23
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Hroniss Grasu C 6'3, 294 Jr. *** (5.7) 27 career starts; 2012 1st All-Pac-12
Nick Cody RG 20 career starts
Tyler Johnstone LT 6'6, 292 So. **** (5.8) 13 career starts
Ryan Clanton RG 13 career starts
Jake Fisher RT 6'6, 294 Jr. *** (5.7) 11 career starts
Kyle Long LG 5 career starts
Everett Benyard III RG 6'7, 305 Sr. *** (5.6) 2 career starts
Mana Greig LG 5'11, 291 Sr. NR 2 career starts
Hamani Stevens RG 6'3, 298 Jr. **** (5.9)
Karrington Armstrong C 6'3, 290 Sr. *** (5.6)
James Euscher LT 6'7, 291 So. *** (5.5)
Andre Yruretagoyena LG 6'5, 288 So. **** (5.8)
Cameron Hunt OL 6'4, 267 Fr. **** (5.8)
Evan Voeller OL 6'4, 285 Fr. **** (5.8)

5. A thinned-out (but not THAT thinned-out) line

Oregon returns its best lineman (Hroniss Grasu) and both of last year's starting tackles from a line that entered 2012 quite inexperienced (two linemen with starting experience following Carson York's injury-induced retirement) and finished it as one of the best lines in the country. OL coach Steve Greatwood is still on the job in Eugene, so Oregon's line is probably going to be just fine. Still, the interior did get softened up a bit by graduation, and the depth here could be questionable unless at least one four-star freshman is ready to contribute.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 44 17 26 13
RUSHING 45 32 47 26
PASSING 57 13 21 11
Standard Downs 26 45 20
Passing Downs 2 2 3
Redzone 26 31 22
Q1 Rk 26 1st Down Rk 37
Q2 Rk 17 2nd Down Rk 32
Q3 Rk 24 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 76

6. The perfect complement

Perhaps the best possible news for Oregon fans following Kelly's departure wasn't that Helfrich was taking over; it was that Nick Aliotti was staying aboard to coach the defense. Aliotti crafted a defense that was a nearly perfect complement for what Chip Kelly wanted to do on the offensive side of the ball.

To compensate for the fact that Oregon's offense is going to run a lot of plays (and its opponent, therefore, probably will too), Oregon's defense played a ton of players -- nine linemen, seven linebackers, and eight defensive back recorded at least 10.0 tackles. And in terms of style, Oregon basically had the defensive equivalent to its offense: aggressive and absurdly athletic. Even without first-round draft pick Dion Jordan, Oregon still returns six former four-star recruits on the line and boasts size, depth, and impressive length (the top three returnees average 6'7, 279).

There are question marks at linebacker, but Oregon's depth up front is bolstered by its amazing depth in the back. Oregon returns its top nine defensive backs from last year; these nine combined for 268.0 tackles, 18 interceptions, 43 passes broken up, eight tackles for loss, a sack, seven forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries.

Oregon was uncanny in its ability to tighten the screws following a score. When Duck opponents began to feel pressure to keep up in the scoring department, it seemed that corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in particular would, within seconds, force a turnover. Oregon was so good at following a score with a big defensive play, and it turned tight games into blowouts very quickly.

And if we're taking the time to celebrate De'Anthony Thomas, we should certainly do the same for his defensive equivalent. Ekpre-Olomu isn't quite as fast as Thomas (no one is), and he certainly isn't as outgoing on Twitter, but he might be the best, most exciting cornerback in the country in 2013. That a trio of quality safeties has his back makes him even more aggressive and effective; and in Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill, and Dior Mathis, Oregon has three solid corners to line up opposite Ekpre-Olomu.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.1 2.98 3.07 40.3% 56.9% 18.1% 105.7 4.6% 7.9%
Rank 46 71 45 79 6 84 52 66 42
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dion Jordan DE 12 35.0 4.4% 10.5 5 0 1 3 0
Taylor Hart DE 6'6, 292 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 30.0 3.8% 11 8 0 3 1 1
DeForest Buckner DE 6'7, 265 So. **** (5.8) 13 22.0 2.8% 2.5 1 0 0 0 0
Arik Amstead DT 6'8, 280 So. **** (6.0) 13 18.5 2.3% 2 0.5 0 0 0 0
Isaac Remington DT 11 17.5 2.2% 4 1 0 1 0 0
Tony Washington DE 6'3, 244 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 16.0 2.0% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Wade Keliikipi NT 6'3, 295 Sr. ** (5.4) 10 15.0 1.9% 4 2 0 1 0 0
Ricky Havili-Heimuli DT 6'4, 305 Sr. **** (5.9) 12 12.0 1.5% 1.5 1 0 0 0 0
Christian French DE 6'5, 242 So. **** (5.8) 9 10.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
David Kafovalu DE 6'3, 240 Jr. *** (5.5) 6 5.5 0.7% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Hagen DT 6'3, 285 Sr. NR 6 3.0 0.4% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Sam Kamp DE 6'4, 251 So. *** (5.6) 8 2.5 0.3% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Balducci NT 6'4, 290 So. **** (5.9)
Torrodney Prevot DE 6'3, 201 Fr. **** (5.8)







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Clay WLB 12 82.0 10.4% 10 3 0 1 1 1
Kiko Alonso MLB 12 69.5 8.8% 14 1 4 3 2 2
Boseko Lokombo SLB 6'3, 233 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 32.5 4.1% 1.5 2 2 4 1 0
Derrick Malone WLB 6'2, 219 Jr. *** (5.7) 12 31.5 4.0% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Tyson Coleman MLB 6'1, 222 So. *** (5.7) 13 26.0 3.3% 3.5 1.5 0 2 0 0
Rahim Cassell WLB 6'0, 215 So. *** (5.6) 13 13.5 1.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Rodney Hardrick LB 6'1, 230 Jr. *** (5.6) 9 10.0 1.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Isaac Ava LB 5'11, 240 Jr. NR 12 3.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Grant Thompson LB 5'11, 220 Jr. NR 5 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Walker MLB 6'2, 225 So. ** (5.4)
Brett Bafaro LB 6'2, 225 RSFr. **** (5.8)







7. Wanted: New playmakers up front

In last week's Stanford preview, I dropped a casual "best defense in the West" reference in the intro. It certainly bears mentioning, however, that Oregon's defense ranked higher last year in Def. F/+. The Ducks are going to give up more yards and points than Stanford because of the nature of the teams' respective offenses, but Oregon's D was one of the most effective in the country, and with Aliotti and all of this line and secondary talent, it could be again. But the Ducks' chance to either improve or at least avoid slippage on defense could depend on their ability to replace the playmaking talent of Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso.

Oregon has not recruited quite as well at linebacker as it has at other positions, and the duo's combined 24 tackles for loss and eight passes defensed were quite impressive and useful. Boseko Lokombo is strong in pass coverage, and sophomore Tyson Coleman showed some play-making ability in minimal opportunities. But Clay and Alonso were just about as integral to Oregon's rise to fourth in Def. F/+ as Ekpre-Olomu, Dion Jordan, or anybody else.

In fact, if you look at Oregon's line stats, you see a team that must have been near perfect in the back seven to land in the Def. F/+ top five. Regression at linebacker could mean regression for the defense as a whole.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB 5'10, 190 Jr. **** (5.8) 13 53.5 6.8% 0 0 4 16 6 1
Brian Jackson S 5'10, 205 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 52.5 6.6% 1 1 2 7 0 2
Erick Dargan S 5'11, 205 Jr. **** (5.8) 13 43.5 5.5% 3 0 5 2 0 2
Avery Patterson S 5'10, 185 Sr. *** (5.7) 10 33.0 4.2% 1.5 0 3 3 0 1
Terrance Mitchell CB 6'0, 189 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 31.0 3.9% 0 0 0 8 0 0
Troy Hill CB 5'11, 180 Jr. *** (5.7) 10 24.0 3.0% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Dior Mathis CB 5'9, 182 Jr. **** (5.8) 10 13.0 1.6% 1.5 0 2 3 0 0
Issac Dixon DB 5'11, 195 So. *** (5.6) 7 10.5 1.3% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Ben Butterfield S 6'0, 197 Sr. NR 12 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 1 1
James Scales S 7 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Tyrell Robinson DB 6'4, 185 Fr. **** (5.9)

Tyree Robinson DB 6'4, 180 Fr. **** (5.9)






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jackson Rice 51 40.0 4 19 14 64.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Alejandro Maldonado 5'10, 185 Sr. 98 59.4 13 13.3%
Rob Beard 11 58.7 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Rob Beard 63-64 3-5 60.0% 1-3 33.3%
Alejandro Maldonado 5'10, 185 Sr. 18-19 3-4 75.0% 0-2 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
De'Anthony Thomas KR 5'9, 176 Jr. 16 24.3 1
Keanon Lowe KR 5'9, 181 Jr. 11 22.7 0
De'Anthony Thomas PR 5'9, 176 Jr. 13 17.1 1
Bralon Addison PR 5'10, 189 So. 4 4.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 18
Net Punting 50
Net Kickoffs 117
Touchback Pct 119
Field Goal Pct 121
Kick Returns Avg 99
Punt Returns Avg 13

8. Find a kicker

Poor Alejandro Maldonado. He really isn't asked to do that much; Chip Kelly went for it a lot on fourth downs, and there's no immediate reason to think Helfrich will be any different. Oregon kickers attempted just 14 field goals last season, and for his part, Maldonado was 21-for-23 on PATs and kicks of under 40 yards.

But he missed kicks of 41 and 42 yards against Stanford, and he missed a 37-yarder that would have sent the 2011 USC game to overtime. In two of Oregon's three losses in the last two years, Maldonado's missed kicks made a huge difference.

Oregon's schedule is pretty easy, but at some point you have to figure the Ducks are going to need someone to make a kick. Can Maldonado be trusted to do so? Is there somebody else on the roster more trust-worthy? Oregon's special teams unit was good because of Thomas' super-human punt returns and some decent (and rare) punting, but you have to have a place-kicker. Oregon might not.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Nicholls State NR
7-Sep at Virginia 71
14-Sep Tennessee 46
28-Sep California 73
5-Oct at Colorado 108
12-Oct at Washington 49
19-Oct Washington State 109
26-Oct UCLA 45
7-Nov at Stanford 3
16-Nov Utah 47
23-Nov at Arizona 30
29-Nov Oregon State 22
Five-Year F/+ Rk 5
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 17
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +21 / +9.5
TO Luck/Game +4.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** -6.5

9. What changes?

The key components, both in the coaching staff and on the roster, return in 2013. The faces are familiar. The pace will remain ludicrous. Things feel just about the same in Eugene. Can Mark Helfrich keep Oregon on this same, steep upward trajectory? That's really the only question for which the Ducks don't already have an answer. We certainly can't say he won't -- we just don't know that he will yet.

10. Pac-12 balance of power

With every Pac-12 preview in the books, let's take a look at how I see the Pac-12's different tiers taking shape. (As always, this isn't based on predicted finish so much as pure quality on July 16.)

Tier 1
1. Stanford
2. Oregon

I love the Stanford defense, Oregon's got a new coach, and if nothing else, the Ducks-Cardinal game is in Palo Alto. If I have to choose between these two teams, that's the only way I can separate them. But really, this is about as close to 1A and 1B as imaginable.

Tier 2
3. USC
4. Arizona State
5. Washington
6. UCLA
7. Oregon State
8. Arizona

USC could obviously bump into Tier 1 if the new pieces work out; meanwhile, I could be underselling the rebuilding job Rich Rodriguez has in his second year at Arizona. But teams No. 4 to 7 are almost as indistinguishable as Stanford and Oregon. There are so many good to very good teams in this league this year. Can't wait.

Tier 3
9. California
10. Utah
11. Washington State

Of these three, I feel the most confident in Cal's ability to make the leap into Tier 2. I like the receiving corps Sonny Dykes inherits, and I think the defense could be decent. But they still have more to prove than anybody in Tier 2.

Tier 4
12. Colorado

I really, really like Mike MacIntyre. But he's going to need a year.

More from SB Nation:

Loads of SEC Media Days coverage, live from Hoover

Projecting every 2013 college football conference race

Tons of top recruit interviews from SB Nation at The Opening

Bill Connelly’s Pac-12 team preview series is underway

National recruiting coverage

Today’s college football news headlines

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