2011 Record: 12-2 (8-1 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (34-6 at Oregon, 25-2 in Pac-12)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Rose Bowl: beat Wisconsin 45-30
Revenge: 11/3 at USC
Stats to Cheer: had 243 plays of 10 or more yards, 88 plays of 20 or more yards and 48 plays of 30 or more yards in 2011 (1st in Pac-12); had 45 sacks while allowing only 12
Stat to Fear: fumbled the ball 24 times in 2011 (lost 13), gave opponents 30 first downs via penalty (115th in Nation)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 5; Defense: 6; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DE Dion Jordan (42 tackles, 7.5 sacks), S John Boyett (108 tackles), LB Michael Clay (102 tackles, 2 INT, 3 sacks), DT Taylor Hart (44 tackles, 2.5 sacks), LB Kiko Alonso (46 tackles, 2 INT, 2.5 sacks), CB Terrance Mitchell (45 tackles, 2 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Kenjon Barner (939 yds rush, 11 TD, 17 rec), RB De’Anthony Thomas (595 yds rush, 7 rush TD, 46 rec, 9 rec TD), WR Josh Huff (31 rec), OG Carson York
What does Chip Kelly have to show for three years in Eugene? Just two Rose Bowls and a National Championship Game. Oh yeah, and a dominant 25-2 Pac-10/12 record. Kelly and his Ducks had won 19 straight before they fell the Trojans of USC last November. The Ducks are still heavy favorites to win their half of the Pac-12 but in order to remain the kingpins of the Pac-12 they will have to fight off the resurgent Trojans.
Kelly will have to replace his QB, top rusher and two of their leading receivers. Darron Thomas surprisingly moved on and it’s left the Ducks with sophomore Bryan Bennett (6 TDs vs 0 INTs last year in limited action) and red-shirt frosh Marcus Mariota. Kelly hasn’t decided his QB yet and with three non-conference games to start off the season he might just let game play be the deciding factor. The winner of the QB battle will have some toys to play with. LaMichael James and his 1870 yds rushing are gone but the Ducks return one of the top RB tandems in the Nation in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. As a true freshman, Thomas made significant contributions by rushing for over 500 yards, leading the team in receptions and returning two kicks for TDs. He won’t be a workhorse RB but he’s a weapon that should get utilized even more this year. Kenjon Barner will get a chance this year to prove himself after being in James’ shadow the last few years. Barner has increased his productivity each year and will no doubt do the same this season. WR won’t be a strength for the Ducks but I don’t think it will be a weakness either. An under the radar need might be a replacement for David Paulson. He wasn’t a dominant TE but he was dependable.
On defense, the Ducks tend to get a bad rap. Oregon’s offense ran the eleventh most plays in the Nation but they did it at such a break-neak speed that the defense was on the field for the second most plays in the Nation (right behind Oklahoma State, who also runs a fast-break offense). Oregon was also 101st in time of possession so that tells us that when they got the ball they weren’t looking to waste time. Oregon’s defense is at somewhat of a disadvantage because of their offense. Of course, this also has it’s benefits as it has helped Oregon build some depth. 15 players had sacks last year and 28 players had a tackle for a loss. Oregon looks pretty solid on all levels of the defense. They don’t have an overly dominant group but I would be surprised if this defense wasn’t one of the better ones that Kelly has had in Eugene.
The schedule sets up nicely for Oregon. Three out of conference games to start that Oregon has no business losing and then they start the conference slate with Arizona and Washington State. The first real test this team should face is week six against Washington. After that they are staring down USC and a November 3rd re-match that will decide the Pac-12 and if anybody from the Pac-12 will be a National Title contender this season. There is a lot of early season hype around USC but don’t discount the Ducks.
2012 Prediction: 11-1
Top 25 Countdown
#12 Michigan State
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
Previous 2012 Previews: