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The big 2014 Oregon football guide: Question marks and the league's best player

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Oregon has only one proven play-maker in its front seven and less experience at safety. And its go-to receiver is out for the season. The Ducks also have Marcus Mariota, a superb offensive line, and a navigable schedule. They'll be alright.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. An awfully high bar

When you never slip, any regression feels like a pretty large stumble. And when you never have an off week, even a single knockdown feels like a knockout.

The last time Oregon lost to a team that didn't win at least 10 games, a young Andrew Luck was throwing for 251 yards as Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart rushed for 223. The last time Oregon looked so completely lost, LeGarrette Blount was still a Heisman candidate.

So when the Ducks went to Tucson and got pummeled by Rich Rodriguez's Arizona Wildcats, it felt like a pretty big deal, a sign that the program was regressing, that Oregon was becoming mortal again, that Mark Helfrich isn't Chip Kelly.

It was also just one game, Oregon still won 11 of the other 12, finish fifth in the F/+ rankings, and finished ninth in the AP poll.

Until quarterback Marcus Mariota sprained his MCL, the UO offense was as potent as it had ever been. The defense absolutely regressed from years past, but with Kelly's defensive coordinator and Kelly's talent in place last fall, it's hard to say that was because of Helfrich.

In all, Oregon was just fine in 2013. But the Ducks did in fact regress in the F/+ ratings for the first time since 2008. (Seriously, 2008. They improved incrementally for four straight years under Kelly.) That makes a good season feel a bit hollow.

Questioning the first-year guy is nothing new, of course. Five years ago, Kelly's first season as Oregon head coach went through quite a few plot twists. His Ducks got completely shut down by Boise State (in a game made most noteworthy by what happened afterward) and barely got past a rather mediocre Purdue squad as columnists openly wondered if he was in over his head.

But after his Ducks lost three games in Year 1, they lost a total of just four in years Year 2 through 4. They reached the BCS Championship in 2010, won the Rose Bowl in 2011, and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2012.

Kelly inherited a good program from Mike Bellotti and made it great. He handed Helfrich a program that had almost nowhere to go but down, and for two-thirds of the season, it looked like the upward progression would continue. But it didn't, and Helfrich enters Year 2 with both high hopes (the Ducks are the favorites to win what might be the best conference in college football) and questions: what was the defense's problem last year? What happens if Mariota gets hurt again? Who, if anybody, steps up to fill a suddenly depleted receiving corps?

It almost goes without saying that Oregon is going to be excellent again this fall, but 2013 showed us just how high the bar is for Helfrich and the Ducks. There was almost nowhere to go for them but down last year, and now they try to see if they can find a way back up.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 5
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Nicholls State N/A 66-3 W 49.4 - 31.3 W
7-Sep at Virginia 79 59-10 W 50.8 - 19.8 W
14-Sep Tennessee 72 59-14 W 46.7 - 21.9 W
28-Sep California 103 55-16 W 20.1 - 15.8 W
5-Oct at Colorado 95 57-16 W 42.4 - 22.1 W 19.7
12-Oct at Washington 18 45-24 W 52.7 - 20.5 W 22.5
19-Oct Washington State 53 62-38 W 52.4 - 29.7 W 20.8
26-Oct UCLA 15 42-14 W 46.4 - 14.8 W 22.2
7-Nov at Stanford 3 20-26 L 33.9 - 23.3 W 23.4
16-Nov Utah 31 44-21 W 42.3 - 19.5 W 23.9
23-Nov at Arizona 25 16-42 L 41.4 - 31.8 W 19.4
29-Nov Oregon State 42 36-35 W 35.7 - 29.1 W 16.2
30-Dec vs. Texas 35 30-7 W 38.4 - 12.2 W 15.2
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +20.0% 6 +11.2% 22 +2.1% 26
Points Per Game 45.5 4 20.5 13
Adj. Points Per Game 42.5 5 22.5 20

2. As good as ever, until...

Through the first eight games of the season, Helfrich's Ducks were Kelly's Ducks, maybe better.

They averaged 8.6 yards per play and 59 points per game in wins over Virginia and Tennessee. They averaged 8.5 and 60, respectively, in wins over Colorado and Washington State. Against very good Washington and UCLA teams, they traded blows for a while before putting pedal to metal, finishing with a combined 1,186 yards and 87 points, and leaving both teams in the dust. Their only vulnerable moment on offense had come against California ... in a game in which they still scored 55 points.

So yeah, things were going just fine. But then Oregon traveled to Palo Alto, and the season took on a different feel. Stanford eased out to a 26-0 lead before a late Duck charge made it 26-20, and Marcus Mariota re-aggravated a sprained knee in the process. Granted, the Ducks still averaged 6.8 yards per play and 32 points over the last four games of the season, but regression was noticeable down the stretch.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Oregon 45.1, Opponent 22.0 (plus-23.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Oregon 38.3, Opponent 23.2 (plus-15.1)

Meanwhile, the defense was mostly fine, aside from basically three games. Washington State, Arizona, and Oregon State combined to average 5.8 yards per play and 38.3 points against Oregon; everybody else averaged 4.2 and 15.1, respectively.

So the offense struggled when the quarterback was limping, and the defense had three iffy games and 10 pretty good ones*. Regression? Yes, technically. But still really good.

* We overreacted to the Stanford game. The Cardinal averaged just 4.8 yards per play and won with a no-margin-for-error recipe. Tyler Gaffney was huge in short-yardage situations, and Stanford clicked in the first half, grinding out two 96-yard drives. But the Cardinal also gained just 139 yards (3.9 per play) in the second half, and if Oregon hadn't lost two fumbles inside the Stanford 30 and turned the ball over on downs at the Stanford 4, the Ducks probably would have won. Stanford earned the win, but we spent a little too much time criticizing the Oregon defense.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.38 4 IsoPPP+ 117.1 5
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 51.1% 4 Succ. Rt. + 124.7 4
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.0 53 Def. FP+ 100.4 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 10 Redzone S&P+ 118.7 14
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.6 ACTUAL 18 -4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 2 5 4 5
RUSHING 9 3 6 8
PASSING 21 7 4 19
Standard Downs 6 2 18
Passing Downs 5 6 5
Q1 Rk 8 1st Down Rk 6
Q2 Rk 7 2nd Down Rk 5
Q3 Rk 4 3rd Down Rk 25
Q4 Rk 2

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Marcus Mariota 6'4, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 245 386 3665 31 4 63.5% 18 4.5% 8.7
Jeff Lockie 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 8 13 57 0 1 61.5% 0 0.0% 4.4
Jake Rodrigues 3 6 67 1 1 50.0% 0 0.0% 11.2
Morgan Mahalak 6'3, 194 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

3. Oregon was ... pass-first?

The new basketball on grass

At first glance, Oregon's offensive totals made perfect sense. A trio of running backs (Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner, De'Anthony Thomas) combined for 2,330 rushing yards, and Mariota threw in 856 more, not including sacks. Mariota threw efficiently when he needed to, but Oregon's patented run-first spread was still in effect until Helfrich. Right?

Not necessarily. Oregon actually ran only 56.5 percent of the time on standard downs in 2013; the national average was 59.6 percent. Helfrich tweaked the Oregon system to fit the strengths of Mariota, offering him easy passes on standard downs and rollouts and run opportunities on passing downs, and it worked out quite well. Mariota completed 64 percent of his passes, averaged a robust 8.7 yards per pass attempt with a sack rate under five percent (quite good for a dual-threat guy), and he didn't throw an interception until the 11th game of the season. His absurd efficiency earned him more pass attempts, and he made the most of them.

I'm curious what happens in 2014, however. With Mariota healthy, Oregon might have the best quarterback in the country, but there are serious questions to answer in the receiving corps.

Josh Huff, one of 2013's most underrated players, is gone, as are Thomas and No. 4 wideout Daryle HawkinsLeading receiver Bralon Addison tore his ACL this spring and is likely out for 2014. That leaves Keanon Lowe (easily the least consistent of Mariota's top five options last year), tight end Johnny Mundt, and a big batch of unknowns. Sure, there are plenty of young options -- four-star redshirt freshmen Darren Carrington and Devon Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, a load of four-star tight ends -- but Oregon will need some of these candidates to become No. 2 or No. 3 (or, hell, No. 1) targets immediately.

Meanwhile, Marshall and Tyner are back, Mariota's still a hell of a runner, and two more four-star prospects -- Royce Freeman and Tony James -- join the mix this fall.

So ... does Oregon lean on the run more heavily then? Does Helfrich just say, "Screw it, Mariota's still our quarterback, and he'll be efficient even with freshman receivers"? It's easier to replace efficiency than explosiveness, and aside from Huff and sometimes Addison, Oregon's passing game was more efficiency-based anyway. Maybe nothing changes, but the returning talent does skew more toward the ground game.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Byron Marshall RB 5'10, 201 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 168 1038 14 6.2 5.6 46.4%
Thomas Tyner RB 5'11, 215 So. 5 stars (6.1) 115 698 9 6.1 6.3 43.5%
De'Anthony Thomas RB 96 594 8 6.2 4.5 53.1%
Marcus Mariota QB 6'4, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 78 856 9 11.0 9.4 66.7%
Ayele Forde RB 5'7, 181 Sr. NR 35 218 0 6.2 6.2 45.7%
Kenny Bassett RB 5'9, 182 Sr. NR 16 33 0 2.1 1.3 18.8%
Lane Roseberry RB 6'1, 233 So. NR 15 40 0 2.7 3.3 20.0%
Josh Huff WR 6 28 0 4.7 3.1 50.0%
Jeff Lockie QB 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 5 22 1 4.4 2.4 60.0%
Kani Benoit RB 6'0, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Royce Freeman RB 6'0, 227 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Tony James RB 5'9, 179 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Bralon Addison WR 5'10, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 103 61 890 59.2% 26.3% 62.1% 8.6 119 8.9 150.1
Josh Huff WR 90 62 1140 68.9% 23.0% 65.4% 12.7 414 12.9 192.3
Keanon Lowe WR 5'9, 186 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 33 18 233 54.5% 8.4% 69.2% 7.1 -5 6.3 39.3
De'Anthony Thomas RB 32 22 246 68.8% 8.2% 46.4% 7.7 -12 7.5 41.5
Daryle Hawkins WR 30 23 347 76.7% 7.7% 65.0% 11.6 91 12.3 58.5
Byron Marshall RB 5'10, 201 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 20 13 155 65.0% 5.1% 40.0% 7.8 -2 7.5 26.1
Johnny Mundt TE 6'4, 252 So. 3 stars (5.7) 20 16 281 80.0% 5.1% 76.5% 14.1 106 11.3 47.4
Dwayne Stanford (2012) WR 6'5, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 19 11 106 57.9% 5.3% 63.2% 5.6 N/A 5.7 14.7
Pharaoh Brown TE 6'6, 255 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 17 10 123 58.8% 4.3% 46.7% 7.2 -4 6.1 20.7
Thomas Tyner RB 5'11, 215 So. 5 stars (6.1) 17 14 134 82.4% 4.3% 63.6% 7.9 -17 11.0 22.6
Chance Allen WR 6'2, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 6 5 98 83.3% 1.5% 0.0% 16.3 44 8.9 16.5
Colt Lyerla TE 6 2 26 33.3% 1.5% 0.0% 4.3 -10 2.9 4.4
Evan Baylis TE 6'6, 252 So. 4 stars (5.8) 6 4 71 66.7% 1.5% 66.7% 11.8 23 14.2 12.0
Blake Stanton WR 5 2 11 40.0% 1.3% N/A 2.2 -21 0.0 1.9
B.J. Kelley WR 6'2, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 3 1 13 33.3% 0.8% 100.0% 4.3 -5 3.6 2.2
Darren Carrington WR 6'2, 192 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Devon Allen WR 6'0, 190 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jalen Brown WR 6'1, 187 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

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 3.65 3.65 49.0% 64.7% 15.1% 109.7 4.4% 6.9%
Rank 4 5 32 4 83 12 56 59 68
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Hroniss Grasu C 6'3, 297 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 40 All-American, 1st All-Pac-12
Tyler Johnstone LT 6'6, 283 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 26
Jake Fisher RT 6'6, 299 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 22
Hamani Stevens LG 6'3, 307 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 13
Mana Greig LG 10
Cameron Hunt RG 6'4, 285 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7
Everett Benyard RT 2
Karrington Armstrong C 0
Andre Yruretagoyena LT 6'5, 284 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Matt Pierson RT 6'6, 280 Jr. NR 0
Evan Voeller RT 6'5, 295 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Doug Brenner C 6'2, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Elijah George LT 6'5, 272 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Jake Pisarcik RG 6'2, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Haniteli Lousi LG 6'5, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tyrell Crosby OL 6'5, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

4. A killer line

Another reason to run more: the line will be one of the best in the country, especially in run-blocking. The Ducks ranked fourth in Adj. Line Yards, fourth in Opportunity Rate (percentage of carries going at least five yards), and perhaps most important for such an efficient machine, 12th in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line). When you do all of that, then return five players with starting experience (108 career starts, 40 from All-American center Hroniss Grasu), big things are expected.

We don't know who will be catching passes for Oregon in 2014, but when you've got Marcus Mariota and a great line, you're going to move the ball regardless. (And with a great line, you're at least slightly more likely to keep Mariota healthy. That's good, as the backup QB situation is not inspiring.)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.04 13 IsoPPP+ 108.5 26
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.3% 25 Succ. Rt. + 106.1 36
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.1 44 Off. FP+ 101.5 44
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.7 18 Redzone S&P+ 97.5 68
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 27.8 ACTUAL 29.0 +1.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 37 36 36 22
RUSHING 66 50 41 64
PASSING 21 39 38 9
Standard Downs 41 37 56
Passing Downs 35 42 5
Q1 Rk 52 1st Down Rk 27
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 39
Q3 Rk 6 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 60

5. Bend (too much) don't break

Each year from 2010-12, Oregon's defense ranked in the top 12 in Def. F/+. It was one of the most underrated units in the country, perfectly complementing a high-octane offense even while its raw stats were suffering because of the high-octane offense. Oregon was going to give up yards, but the Ducks were fantastic at swarming, preventing big plays, and creating opportunities for turnovers and easy scores.

In 2013, the plan was mostly the same as it had been in years past. Oregon was willing to risk getting pushed around to get speed onto the field; in 2012, the Ducks ranked fourth in Def. F/+ while ranking just 46th in Adj. Line Yards and 32nd in Rushing S&P+. It was worth the trade-off of being a little bendy on standard downs to dominate on passing downs.

But when they had a problem in 2013, it came because they were a little too bendy: 75th in Adj. Line Yards, 50th in Rushing S&P+. Plus, while they were second in Passing Downs S&P+ in 2012, they were 35th in 2013, still preventing big plays but allowing a few more open passes underneath the coverage. The loss of big-play linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso (combined: 20 non-sack tackles for loss in 2012) crippled Oregon's ability to stiffen against the run, and while the Ducks had a strong pass rusher in Tony Washington, he was just about the only pass rusher.

The front-seven talent just wasn't there in the same abundance in 2013, and there will still be depth issues to account for in 2014.

There's also a new defensive coordinator. Longtime D.C. Nick Allioti retired after 2013, and Helfrich replaced him with linebackers coach (and ace recruiter) Don Pellum. One assumes Oregon's defensive mindset won't change much, and that's fine, but the lack of play-makers in the front seven is still a concern.

Injuries might be an issue this year, as well. Last year, the defense regressed despite extreme continuity -- only one of the line's top six tacklers missed a game, and none of the top six linebackers or top for defensive backs did. You don't usually get that lucky two years in a row.

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 96.4 3.06 3.16 34.0% 80.0% 13.3% 119.2 6.5% 5.8%
Rank 75 79 49 19 115 123 30 24 88
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Taylor Hart DT 13 59.0 7.1% 6.0 3.5 0 5 3 0
DeForest Buckner DE 6'7, 286 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 26.0 3.1% 3.5 2.5 0 1 1 0
Wade Keliikipi DT 13 23.0 2.8% 5.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Ricky Havili-Heimuli DT 12 19.5 2.4% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Alex Balducci DT 6'4, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 13 14.0 1.7% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Arik Armstead DT 6'8, 296 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 13 10.5 1.3% 3.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Sam Kamp DT 6'4, 287 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 7.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Stetzon Bair DT 6'9, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
T.J. Daniel DE 6'6, 275 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Jonathan Kenion DT 6'2, 275 RSFr. NR
Tui Talia DT 6'5, 270 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Henry Mondeaux DE 6'5, 255 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)







6. A scary lack of tackles

Tony Washington is back at rush end, and lord knows there are some athletic marvels involved here -- Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner each go at least 6'7 and 285, and longtime project Stetzon Bair goes 6'9, 290. This would be one hell of a frontcourt rotation in basketball.

But even with these players available last year, Oregon's run defense struggled. The Ducks had almost no presence in the backfield (88th in passing downs sack rate, 123rd in stuff rate), and despite all of this height, they didn't bat many passes down either. The whole did not seem to add up to the sum of the parts, and that was with tackles Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, and Ricky Havili-Heimuli. Now all three are gone.

Armstead will spend more time on the interior, and four-star JUCO transfer Tui Talia joins the mix. But aside from Washington's pass rushing, there are almost no proven play-makers in the mix here, and Oregon's m.o. is making plays.

This was still a good enough defense to do its job most of the year. And in simply standing up blockers and allowing a strong secondary to make plays, the defense will once again be good enough to lead Oregon to 10-12 wins. But if the Ducks are to be treated as national title contenders, the front seven is going to have to make more plays than it did last year. I'm not sure it will.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Derrick Malone WLB 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 76.0 9.2% 2.5 2.0 2 3 1 0
Rodney Hardrick MLB 6'1, 231 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 49.5 6.0% 3.0 0.0 1 3 1 0
Boseko Lokombo SLB 13 47.5 5.7% 7.0 3.0 1 1 1 0
Tony Washington RUSH 6'3, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 46.5 5.6% 12.0 7.5 0 0 4 0
Joe Walker MLB 6'2, 237 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 31.0 3.7% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Rahim Cassell MLB 13 22.5 2.7% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 1
Tyson Coleman SLB 6'1, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 15.0 1.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Torrodney Prevot SLB 6'3, 220 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 11.0 1.3% 2.5 2.5 0 2 1 0
Tyrell Robinson MLB 9 9.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Oshay Dunmore LB 11 6.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christian French RUSH 6'5, 244 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 11 6.0 0.7% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Isaac Ava MLB 5'10, 255 Sr. NR 7 5.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Grant Thompson WLB 5'11, 224 Sr. NR 6 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cody Carriger RUSH 6'6, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 6 2.0 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Danny Mattingly WLB 6'5, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Jimmie Swain LB 6'3, 229 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB 5'10, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 69.0 8.3% 5 0 3 6 1 0
Avery Patterson FS 13 61.5 7.4% 6 0 3 6 0 0
Brian Jackson SS 13 54.0 6.5% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Terrance Mitchell CB 13 48.5 5.9% 0 0 5 7 1 0
Troy Hill CB 5'11, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 25.0 3.0% 0.5 0 0 4 1 0
Erick Dargan FS 5'11, 212 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 18.0 2.2% 0 0 1 4 1 0
Dior Mathis CB 5'9, 175 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 14.5 1.8% 1.5 0 1 2 0 0
Issac Dixon FS 5'11, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 7 8.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ben Butterfield DB 13 6.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reggie Daniels SS 6'1, 205 So. 3 stars (5.7) 9 4.5 0.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Stephen Amoako CB 5'11, 197 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Tyree Robinson SS 6'4, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9)
Chris Seisay DB 6'1, 180 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Juwaan Williams FS 6'0, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Dominique Harrison CB 5'11, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Arrion Springs DB 5'11, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Matt McGraw DB 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

7. Still got Ifo

The secondary, meanwhile, also undergoes quite a bit of turnover. Safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson were instrumental in Oregon's ability to avoid big plays and force opponents to drive the length of the field. Patterson was also a major weapon near the line of scrimmage; his six tackles for loss were third-most on the team, which is rare for a safety. This was one of the nation's best safety duos.

Still, it's hard to worry too much about the Oregon secondary. Senior Erick Dargan is still around in the secondary, and recruiting speed has certainly never been too much of an issue for the Ducks. Plus, they've still got Ifo. In a down year by his standards, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu still defensed nine passes (with three picks) and logged five tackles for loss. That paled in comparison to his 2012 stats (no TFLs, but 20 passes defensed and six forced fumbles), but that's more of an indication of how amazing he was in 2012. He's joined by two experienced pieces in seniors Troy Hill and Dior Mathis, and JUCO transfer Dominique Harrison could figure in the rotation as well.

If Dargan and the safeties are able to play solid ball in the back, the corners will be just fine.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alejandro Maldonado 42 39.9 0 19 13 76.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Matt Wogan 6'2, 210 So. 100 61.9 22 7 22.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Matt Wogan 6'2, 210 So. 42-44 7-8 87.5% 0-1 0.0%
Alejandro Maldonado 29-30 3-5 60.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
De'Anthony Thomas KR 21 24.4 1
Josh Huff KR 11 22.9 0
Bralon Addison PR 5'10, 190 Jr. 20 14.1 2
Chad Delaney PR 2 2.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 26
Field Goal Efficiency 96
Punt Return Efficiency 4
Kick Return Efficiency 5
Punt Efficiency 97
Kickoff Efficiency 73
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 85

8. Better legs a must

Oregon's return game was as dangerous as ever in 2013, but the legs let down the Ducks. They ranked 73rd in Kickoff Efficiency, 96th in Field Goal Efficiency, and 97th in Punt Efficiency. Matt Wogan solved some of Alejandro Maldonado's place-kicking issues, but he wasn't very deep on kickoffs, and at the very least, Maldonado was solid at forcing fair catches in the punting game.

Safe to say, without De'Anthony Thomas returning kicks and Bralon Addison returning punts, Oregon's going to need some extra field position help from its kicking games this year, and there's no reason to assume that will happen.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug South Dakota NR
6-Sep Michigan State 13
13-Sep Wyoming 105
20-Sep at Washington State 68
2-Oct Arizona 36
11-Oct at UCLA 20
18-Oct Washington 28
24-Oct vs. California 82
1-Nov Stanford 6
8-Nov at Utah 45
22-Nov Colorado 99
29-Nov at Oregon State 43
Five-Year F/+ Rk 30.4% (2)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 20
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 11 / 5.1
TO Luck/Game +2.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (9, 5)

9. A navigable slate

Oregon really does have some questions to answer, and it comes mostly from the standpoint of talent and play-making, not necessarily Mark Helfrich's coaching ability. Oregon enters 2014 without a go-to receiver, with one proven play-maker in the front seven, without both killer return men, and without two outstanding safeties. The Ducks still have Ifo, they still have an incredible offensive line, and they still have Marcus Mariota, but I have more questions about Oregon's overall two-deep than I have for quite a while.

The schedule, however, does cooperate. Oregon plays only three projected top-20 teams -- they miss both USC and Arizona State from the South -- and two of the three (Michigan State, Stanford) come to Eugene, as does a potentially underrated (at 28th) Washington squad. Meanwhile, Stanford has to go to Washington, Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA. In the Pac-12 race, Oregon probably gets a game advantage just because of that, and that's likely to make the difference.

Oregon is almost certainly a top-10 team again, but because of the questions, I'm struggling to consider Helfrich's Ducks a serious national title contender. With a green receiving corps and what I'll call a flexible defense, Mariota's going to have to be amazing for the Ducks to make a serious run.

Then again, he really might be amazing.

10. Pac-12 balance of power

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.

Tier 1
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. UCLA
4. USC
5. Washington

I try not to spend too much time thinking about the order of teams within each tier; overthinking doesn't tend to get me anywhere. But damned if I didn't agonize over how to rank the top tier here. One can make a case for all five teams.

Oregon has the league's best player, and even with last year's defensive issues, the Ducks ranked fifth in F/+. Stanford is the back-to-back champion, and while the losses were heavy in the trenches, David Shaw and company have recruited quite well there. UCLA has possibly the league's second-best player (Brett Hundley), solid lines and a potentially outstanding secondary. USC has the league's best defense and a quarterback who looked really, really good over the last half of the season. Washington has supremely experienced lines, depth in the skill positions, and a wildcard of a new head coach. This is really a potential 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, and 1e.

Because of schedules, I think the most likely Pac-12 title game is probably Oregon-USC, followed by Oregon-UCLA. But in terms of pure balance of power, I'm throwing my hands up and going with the most obvious pick. I am a superb hedger of bets.

Tier 2
6. Arizona
7. Utah
8. Arizona State
9. Oregon State
10. Washington State

There's almost a six-way tie for sixth, as well. But I didn't spend as much time agonizing over Oregon State vs. Washington State. (Yes, Arizona and Utah over Arizona State.)

Tier 3
11. Colorado

No bowl for MacIntyre's Buffs yet, but they should take another step forward.

Tier 4
12. California

The Bears will be better, but the league got awfully far ahead of them last year.