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NCAA Football

Oregon Ducks

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mark helfrich

Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks came up short in their quest for the school’s first-ever national championship this season, running into the buzz-saw that was the Ohio State Buckeyes. Things move fast in college football and Oregon won’t get a lot of time to lick their wounds as they have to quickly turn things around for 2015 to defend their Pac-12 title and try and get back to the College Football Playoff. But despite all the talent returning in Eugene, the deck is stacked against the Ducks making a return to the CFP next season.

Many people are going to look at this Oregon roster and say that the reason for any drop-off in 2015 will be due to the loss of quarterback Marcus Mariota. While the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was a huge part of Oregon’s success this season and will be a very big piece of the offense to replace, his absence isn’t going to be what grounds the Ducks next fall.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, there are enough pieces coming back on the offensive side of the ball to cover up any possible deficiencies that will come from a new quarterback under center. The top three running backs return, led by Royce Freeman, with top five pass-catchers and three starters on the offensive line with four players with starting experience also in the mix. In addition, the team will welcome back Bralon Addison at receiver, Pharoah Brown at tight end, and Tyler Johnstone at tackle, making the offense possibly deeper next season than it was in 2014. No matter who takes over the quarterback job next season, they’ll have a supporting cast around them that should help them find success (even if it’s not Mariota-like success).

For Oregon, their offense should continue to churn at an elite level in 2015, piling up yards and points in bunches using their blur-offensive onslaught. Unfortunately, other factors will get in the way of Oregon’s return to the College Football Playoff next season.

In fact, when looking at the Oregon roster for next season, the bigger concern about players leaving the program should be on the defensive side of the ball. Under first-year coordinator Don Pellum, the Oregon defense looked shaky at times in 2014, finishing No. 8 in the Pac-12 in total defense. They made up for that, though, by finishing No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference and forcing 34 turnovers, the third most in the nation. While the yardage surrendered was unnerving, the defense made a habit of stepping up and making big plays to turn things around.

The concern heading into 2015, however, is that those playmakers who stepped up won’t be in Eugene next season. One of their top pass-rushers, defensive end Arik Armstead, will be taking his talents to the NFL this spring where his athleticism has him pegged as a possible first-round pick. At linebacker, Oregon will have to find a replacement for Tony Washington, a leader of the defense who finished second on the team this season with 11.5 tackles for loss.

But the biggest losses for this defense will be felt in the secondary. Three of four starters will be gone next season as seniors Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, and Troy Hill move on, leaving behind an inexperienced group of defensive backs to try and pick up the slack. The trio of Duck defenders combined for 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, and 33 pass breakups this season as staples of the Oregon defensive attack.

Without these stars in the lineup, Oregon’s propensity for creating turnovers and turning opposing teams away from the endzone might suffer. The challenge will be not only finding players to replace the starters they lost, but developing the defense to be a bit tougher between the 20’s to keep opponents from moving up and down the field. Last season, Oregon gave up 49 pass plays of at least 20 yards or more, 15th most in the country, and allowed 4.23 yards per carry to opponents, including 85 rushes of at least 10 yards (20th most in college football). If they don’t have players capable of creating turnovers again next season, they need to improve on being able to lock opposing offenses down.

The biggest hurdle facing the Ducks, however, might be their schedule. In 2014, Oregon faced their biggest non-conference challenger prior to the CFP at home (a 46-27 win over the then-No. 7 Michigan State Spartans), got the Stanford Cardinal at home, and they avoided Pac-12 South contenders like the USC Trojans and Arizona State Sun Devils in conference play. While there were no easy wins against the South Division outside of the Colorado Buffaloes, missing the Trojans and Sun Devils certainly made the road to the Pac-12 Championship a little bit easier.

It was a great mixture of beneficial scheduling that Oregon will not get to enjoy in 2015. While they avoid the Arizona Wildcats (winners of two of the last three against Oregon) and UCLA Bruins, they add at trip to Tempe to take on ASU and welcome the Trojans to Autzen late in the year. On top of that, they complete their home-and-home series with Michigan State early in the year with a trip to East Lansing and have to go to The Farm to face Stanford where they have won just once since 2009.

These are all challenges that the 2014 Oregon team did not have to deal with and they were considered by many to be one of the best teams that the Ducks have ever had. If the 2015 squad takes a step back in talent or execution, they will have a hard time clearing these hurdles, particularly if the weaknesses exposed on defense in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State do not get fixed this offseason.

Whether it be turnover of the roster or changes in scheduling, Mark Helfrich has his hands full trying to maintain the level of success this team achieved in 2014. There’s no doubt that Oregon entered the conversation as one of college football’s elite programs this season but their momentum won’t be enough to carry them back to the College Football Playoffs in 2015.

You can follow Tyler Brett on Twitter @ATylerBrett, on Facebook and on Google.


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NCAA Football

Oregon Ducks

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mark helfrich

Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks came up short in their quest for the school’s first-ever national championship this season, running into the buzz-saw that was the Ohio State Buckeyes. Things move fast in college football and Oregon won’t get a lot of time to lick their wounds as they have to quickly turn things around for 2015 to defend their Pac-12 title and try and get back to the College Football Playoff. But despite all the talent returning in Eugene, the deck is stacked against the Ducks making a return to the CFP next season.

Many people are going to look at this Oregon roster and say that the reason for any drop-off in 2015 will be due to the loss of quarterback Marcus Mariota. While the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was a huge part of Oregon’s success this season and will be a very big piece of the offense to replace, his absence isn’t going to be what grounds the Ducks next fall.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, there are enough pieces coming back on the offensive side of the ball to cover up any possible deficiencies that will come from a new quarterback under center. The top three running backs return, led by Royce Freeman, with top five pass-catchers and three starters on the offensive line with four players with starting experience also in the mix. In addition, the team will welcome back Bralon Addison at receiver, Pharoah Brown at tight end, and Tyler Johnstone at tackle, making the offense possibly deeper next season than it was in 2014. No matter who takes over the quarterback job next season, they’ll have a supporting cast around them that should help them find success (even if it’s not Mariota-like success).

For Oregon, their offense should continue to churn at an elite level in 2015, piling up yards and points in bunches using their blur-offensive onslaught. Unfortunately, other factors will get in the way of Oregon’s return to the College Football Playoff next season.

In fact, when looking at the Oregon roster for next season, the bigger concern about players leaving the program should be on the defensive side of the ball. Under first-year coordinator Don Pellum, the Oregon defense looked shaky at times in 2014, finishing No. 8 in the Pac-12 in total defense. They made up for that, though, by finishing No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference and forcing 34 turnovers, the third most in the nation. While the yardage surrendered was unnerving, the defense made a habit of stepping up and making big plays to turn things around.

The concern heading into 2015, however, is that those playmakers who stepped up won’t be in Eugene next season. One of their top pass-rushers, defensive end Arik Armstead, will be taking his talents to the NFL this spring where his athleticism has him pegged as a possible first-round pick. At linebacker, Oregon will have to find a replacement for Tony Washington, a leader of the defense who finished second on the team this season with 11.5 tackles for loss.

But the biggest losses for this defense will be felt in the secondary. Three of four starters will be gone next season as seniors Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, and Troy Hill move on, leaving behind an inexperienced group of defensive backs to try and pick up the slack. The trio of Duck defenders combined for 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, and 33 pass breakups this season as staples of the Oregon defensive attack.

Without these stars in the lineup, Oregon’s propensity for creating turnovers and turning opposing teams away from the endzone might suffer. The challenge will be not only finding players to replace the starters they lost, but developing the defense to be a bit tougher between the 20’s to keep opponents from moving up and down the field. Last season, Oregon gave up 49 pass plays of at least 20 yards or more, 15th most in the country, and allowed 4.23 yards per carry to opponents, including 85 rushes of at least 10 yards (20th most in college football). If they don’t have players capable of creating turnovers again next season, they need to improve on being able to lock opposing offenses down.

The biggest hurdle facing the Ducks, however, might be their schedule. In 2014, Oregon faced their biggest non-conference challenger prior to the CFP at home (a 46-27 win over the then-No. 7 Michigan State Spartans), got the Stanford Cardinal at home, and they avoided Pac-12 South contenders like the USC Trojans and Arizona State Sun Devils in conference play. While there were no easy wins against the South Division outside of the Colorado Buffaloes, missing the Trojans and Sun Devils certainly made the road to the Pac-12 Championship a little bit easier.

It was a great mixture of beneficial scheduling that Oregon will not get to enjoy in 2015. While they avoid the Arizona Wildcats (winners of two of the last three against Oregon) and UCLA Bruins, they add at trip to Tempe to take on ASU and welcome the Trojans to Autzen late in the year. On top of that, they complete their home-and-home series with Michigan State early in the year with a trip to East Lansing and have to go to The Farm to face Stanford where they have won just once since 2009.

These are all challenges that the 2014 Oregon team did not have to deal with and they were considered by many to be one of the best teams that the Ducks have ever had. If the 2015 squad takes a step back in talent or execution, they will have a hard time clearing these hurdles, particularly if the weaknesses exposed on defense in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State do not get fixed this offseason.

Whether it be turnover of the roster or changes in scheduling, Mark Helfrich has his hands full trying to maintain the level of success this team achieved in 2014. There’s no doubt that Oregon entered the conversation as one of college football’s elite programs this season but their momentum won’t be enough to carry them back to the College Football Playoffs in 2015.

You can follow Tyler Brett on Twitter @ATylerBrett, on Facebook and on Google.


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