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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||8||1st Down Rk||6|
|Q2 Rk||7||2nd Down Rk||5|
|Q3 Rk||4||3rd Down Rk||25|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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|
|Morgan Mahalak||6'3, 194||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
3. Oregon was ... pass-first?
The new basketball on grass
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 Hawkins. Leading 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.
|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%|
|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%|
|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)|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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)|
|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|
|Cameron Hunt||RG||6'4, 285||So.||4 stars (5.8)||7|
|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.)
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||52||1st Down Rk||27|
|Q2 Rk||33||2nd Down Rk||39|
|Q3 Rk||6||3rd Down Rk||13|
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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|DeForest Buckner||DE||6'7, 286||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||26.0||3.1%||3.5||2.5||0||1||1||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.
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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)|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Matt Wogan||6'2, 210||So.||100||61.9||22||7||22.0%|
|Matt Wogan||6'2, 210||So.||42-44||7-8||87.5%||0-1||0.0%|
|Bralon Addison||PR||5'10, 190||Jr.||20||14.1||2|
|Special Teams F/+||26|
|Field Goal Efficiency||96|
|Punt Return Efficiency||4|
|Kick Return Efficiency||5|
|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
|20-Sep||at Washington State||68|
|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|
|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
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.
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.
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.)
No bowl for MacIntyre's Buffs yet, but they should take another step forward.
The Bears will be better, but the league got awfully far ahead of them last year.