Today, the 800 pound gorilla: Oregon. Cal has had some success in recent years, playing Oregon tougher than most. They've also had a lot of non-success, insomuch as they haven't beaten Oregon since 2008. It used to be that Oregon and Cal were essentially the same sort of middle of the pack team. But in the last several years, Oregon has sky rocketed to elite college football status. They aren't quite blue bloods, but they have earned a significant amount of respect.
Now, can they win their 4th Pac-12 in a row? To find out, we decided to talk with Addicted To Quack and JTLight over at the SBNation Oregon site "AddictedToQuack." They have all the info on the happenings on Oregon in this post-spring camp world. Their answers to our questions after the jump. Many thanks to ATQ and GO BEARS!
AddictedToQuack: We have questions, but we didn’t expect any of them to be answered by Spring Practice. There are two reasons for that. One is that practices were closed to everyone, including media, so we don’t really know how anybody did. The other is that its simply not Chip Kelly’s MO to hand out jobs in the spring.
JTLight: I think that the two big questions were QB and WR. I wouldn't say that those questions got answered, but I think that a lot of Duck fans are feeling good that they'll be answered during fall camp or over the first few weeks of the season.
At QB, in the spring game, we saw Marcus Mariota play at a phenomenal level, and we know that Bryan Bennett can play at a high level as well from when he stepped in for an injured Darron Thomas last season.
At WR, it's less easy to tell because Oregon closed every practice, but there were some bright spots in the spring game, and as long as the group can develop some continuity, they should be productive.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
AddictedToQuack: No major changes. The only thing I see is that the two quarterback candidates, Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett, are both much better running quarterbacks than Darron Thomas was, so expect the zone read to be a bigger part of the offense next seson.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
AddictedToQuack: Hard to say, because the only thing we saw was the spring game. Mariota, who was a mystery man, had a phenomenal spring game, hitting 13/15 passes, and also rushing for two touchdowns, including an 80 yarder in which he looked a lot like Dennis Dixon. Daryle Hawkins and Rahsaan Vaughn looked good at the WR position, which was terrible last year and is a huge question mark.
JTLight: On offense, Marcus Mariota wowed Oregon fans during the spring game. He had been talked about as being a very good player since he was recruited out of Hawaii. But few Duck fans expected the performance that he gave. Yes, it was the spring game, but he showed complete command of the offense, avoided pressure well, made good throws, and had some very nice runs.
It's also tougher to evaluate, but word is that Oregon's young, talented offensive linemen developed over the spring. James Euscher was mentioned by the coaching staff multiple times as someone who was making big strides.
On defense, Dion Jordan looks to be an absolute force this coming season. It took him a few games last year to really settle into the drop end roll, and he did very well last year. But he is working to take that to the next level, and drawing comparisons to players like Terrell Suggs. Duck fans have very, very high hopes for him.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
AddictedToQuack: People expect me to say quarterback when they ask me this question, but I've learned not to worry about QBs under Chip Kelly, especially QBs of this caliber. One major question is running back depth. Due to the transfer of Tra Carson, Oregon had only two scholarship RBs in spring ball in Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas. 4* Byron Marshall comes in the fall. Now, all three of those guys are awesome, but we are only an injury away from having to give meaningful carries to a walk-on.
JTLight: That the wide receiving corp never really gets itself sorted out. Oregon has a lot of talent at the position, but a lot of inexperience. The Ducks have been hoping for the young, talented receivers to step up since Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis left, but it just hasn't happened. Injuries played a big part with that last season, but the Ducks need the position to get into a rhythm, and it sure would be nice for the position to be better than merely competent.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
AddictedToQuack: We expect a fourth consecutive conference championship.
JTLight: Contender. With the early schedule, 8-0 going into November is expected. After that it gets significantly tougher, but not going to the Pac-12 Championship game would be a disappointing season.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
AddictedToQuack: Arik Armstead is the obvious answer, but our defensive line is so loaded that I’m not sure he’s going to play a ton. Marshall is the biggest potential impact guy for this season.
JTLight: On defense, Arik Armstead is already on campus and has shown his physical talent from time to time. He has the chance to earn playing time right away, so getting him a month of practice already will be important for him seeing early playing time.
On offense, I'm particularly excited for Bralon Addison, an ATH out of Texas that can play just about anywhere on offense. Josh Huff (as a true freshman) provided a great spark for Oregon in 2010, and Addison has the talent to fill a similar role this season.
Also, RB Byron Marshall will be very important this season, as he will likely be the #3 running back immediately upon stepping foot on campus.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
AddictedToQuack: That LaMichael James guy was pretty good, but Kenjon Barner isn’t exactly a huge step back. Rover Eddie Pleasant was outstanding last year, and is probably the tougher guy to replace. Several players are fighting for that job, though junior Brian Jackson appears to be the favorite.
JTLight: LaMichael James. I don't care how good Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are, you don't just replace the best back in school history without losing something. Both have a ton of talent and I don't doubt that production will still be very high, but both will need to be able to carry the load for an entire season, without the benefit of much depth behind them. Right now, the #3 running back is a true freshman that isn't even on campus, followed by two walk-ons. Barner and Thomas will need to replace James, while still staying healthy.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
AddictedToQuack: Oregon vs. Washington State. Chip Kelly vs. Mike Leach. I’m not sure the stadium will be able to contain all of the awesomeness.
JTLight: The USC game will be an absolutely ridiculously hyped game, and having Stanford and Washington in Autzen will be fun. But I'm really excited to play Cal in the new Memorial Stadium. Cal has played Oregon as tough as any team in the conference over the past couple years, and that game will not be easy, especially it being a week after the Oregon/USC showdown.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
AddictedToQuack: Oregon’s most experienced receiver, Josh Huff, missed spring ball with some leg injuries, but they aren’t considered major and he probably would have played had it been the regular season. The major concern is offensive lineman Carson York, who tore his patella in the Rose Bowl.
JTLight: Josh Huff missed most of the spring continuing to heal from a stress fracture in his leg. This injury bothered him since the end of 2010, and he played through it most of last season. This hampered him significantly through much of the year, and the Ducks saw Huff at 75% for most of the season. This was a big reason Oregon's receiving corp struggled for much of last year. A healthy Huff would be a big lift for a young offense.
Since practices were closed, we don't have much more injury information than that. There are rumors that FS John Boyett and TE Colt Lyerla missed most of the spring, but there is little reason to think that these players will miss any playing time from those injuries this fall.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
AddictedToQuack: Again, its hard to say because we didn't get to see any practices, but the coaches had good things to say about WR Daryle Hawkins all spring long, and he delivered in the spring game. If he can emerge as a go to wideout, that is a very good thing for Oregon.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
AddictedToQuack: Ryan Appleby. Always.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
AddictedToQuack: Snoop Dogg gave DeAnthony Thomas the Black Mamba nickname when he was in sixth grade. If Snoop Dogg gives you your nickname, I think that qualifies as the best.
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
AddictedToQuack: Nobody’s really on the hot seat. This staff has been together longer than any in the country. Many of them have been on the Oregon staff since the early ‘80s. Nobody’s getting fired. But WR coach Scott Frost has recruited a lot of star rankings, without much production to show for it. Here in year four, he needs to show he can develop a go to receiver.
JTLight: Oregon has one of the most stable assistant staffs in the country. There hasn't been a coaching chance since Chip Kelly took over in 2009, so no coach is anywhere near a hot seat. But if there's one coach that has anything to prove, it's receivers coach Scott Frost. He has been huge on the recruiting trail, bringing in a lot of highly rated receivers, and has received national attention. But this is the year where he proves that his recruits can produce.
14. How concerned are you regarding this weed situation?
AddictedToQuack: College kids smoked weed? Yawn.
JTLight: On a scale of 1-10, probably a 2. I have no personal objections to marijuana use, so the only worry is that players could be suspended for weed use. But the way that the rules are set up, the chances of this are pretty low. I'm far more concerned about alcohol use among football players than I am about weed use.
15. Iffy wide receivers and a new QB - how concerned are you about the Duck passing attack in 2012?
AddictedToQuack: I’m not really worried about it at all, if for no other reason than it can’t possibly be worse than it was last season.
JTLight: I'm marginally concerned. At this point, I think we have seen enough from Chip Kelly to know that he'll churn out productive offensive units with whatever talent he has. But there is a big difference between a top 25 offensive unit, and a top 10 offensive unit. You can win a conference title with a top 25 unit, you can't win a national title with a top 25 unit, and Oregon's aspirations are a national title. Even more importantly, the offense will need to develop consistency. I'm dreading that our new offense channels its inner Masoli, and is wildly erratic. Darron Thomas brought stability and consistency to the offense, and I think that will be the most important trait for the new QB.