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Oregon Ducks 2015 preview: Can Cal pull off the massive upset in Autzen?

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Is this the year the Bears finally break their Duck futility?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cal vs. Oregon Preview: Can Cal Conquer the Ducks?

  • He's the Pac 12 Career Leader in Total Touchdowns: 135
  • He was the 2014 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year
  • He was a Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team
  • He was a Walter Camp All-American
  • He won the Maxwell Award
  • He was the AP Player of the Year
  • He won the Heisman Trophy
  • He was the 2nd Overall Pick in the NFL Draft

He is Marcus Mariota. Fear not though, he is gone to the big leagues. The best player in the country has moved on. Don't sleep on Oregon though, they will still be ranked inside the top ten. Returning five starters on defense and seven on offense they are still loaded. Mark Helfrich certainly has his hands full without a clear leader at quarterback though. Coming off a loss in the National Championship the Ducks look hungry to get back there but a few position questions must be answered. Cal has found an all time great in Jared Goff as he continues to thrive as the Bears gunslinger and has solidified his 1st round status this year thus far.

Mark Helfrich is now entering his third year as the head coach of Oregon. He's had impressive early success with a combined record of 24-4 to go along with two bowl appearances. However this year should be his toughest without a Heisman Caliber quarterback and having to travel to East Lansing for a prime time game. Helfrich shouldn't have to worry about his job considering he signed a 5-year extension worth $17.5 million. However, Ducks fans do have high expectations considering the schools prior successes. The Ducks are not a clear favorite to come away with the north crown so this could be Helfrich's biggest test.

Offense

Oregon's high-octane offense looks set to have another record-breaking season as long as Vernon Adams can come in and play well. The FCS transfer should have plenty of success considering he lit up a respected Washington defense for 475 yards and 7 touchdowns last year. With Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner in the backfield (UPDATE: Tyner is out for the season, so expect a newcomer like Taj Griffin or Tony James to step into his role) for Helfrich the Ducks should feel pretty good about their offense coming into the 2015 season even if there are some questions to answer. Wide Receiver is another strength for the Ducks as they have some of the top speedsters in the country in their rotation. Bralen Addison can absolutely fly, along with Byron Marshall, and Devon Allen. However Allen is coming off an ACL injury so there is some uncertainty to how healthy he will be for this season.

Defense

Don Pellum is fresh off leading the Ducks to the 2nd best defense in the Pac-12. The Defensive Coordinator has lost a lot of talent from last year but is primed to make a return with the 3-4 defense of his. The Ducks are returning Deforest Buckner who should be one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Along with Buckner the Ducks have hard-hitting Alex Balducci at the nose, which could cause trouble for opposing offensive lines. The rest of Oregon's defense boasts experience with the return of four 5th year senior linebacker's and three experienced defensive backs. Overall the Ducks not only can compete with the whole Pac-12 but also could make another run at its first ever national championship.

Key Returners:

RB Royce Freeman. Although Marcus Mariota accounted for 64 percent of Oregon's Offense, Royce still racked up 1365 yards on the ground with 18 touchdowns. Not too bad for a true freshman. He averaged 5.4 YAC while averaging 17.7 carries per game. He should be a crucial part to this offense with the up-tempo speed they run.

RB/WR Byron Marshall. Marshall came into Oregon as a running back but has transitioned into a dual threat player who motions into the slot. He was the Ducks leading receiver last year with 1003 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 52 times for 392 yards and 1 TD. He should be an essential part for this offense and have a breakout senior campaign for whoever is the Ducks gunslinger.

OT Tyler Johnstone. He will be the key to this Ducks offensive line, which is losing three starters. Tyler was all set to be the starting tackle opposed to Jake Fischer last fall but in August tore his ACL. He'll play a critical role to this young Ducks O-line and if he can stay healthy he should have a breakout year.

DE DeForest Buckner. Decided to come back to Oregon for his senior season. The 23 game starter should be the anchor to this Oregon Defense. A 6"7 290 Defensive End he has a rare ability of strength and athleticism that could go a long way to becoming an All American and helping this Duck's team get back to the National Championship.

Key Losses:

QB Marcus Mariota. Obviously the three year starter and Heisman trophy winner is a big lost to the program. He holds the career record in the Pac-12 for total touchdowns. Even though the Ducks lose arguably the greatest player in program history they still have some depth at the quarterback position with Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams as the most likely starter along with Jeff Lockie, and Morgan Mahalak.

DE Arik Armstead. The now Niner, Arik is a freak. With a similar frame to DeForest Buckner the 6"8 290 Defensive End had a rare ability of size and athleticism. He was the leader of the Ducks line last year and they are sure to miss him. Having a knack for showing up in big games his career high nine tackles against Ohio State in the national championship game was a showing of the upside he can bring to the NFL.

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Was primed to be a first rounder in the NFL draft but tore his ACL in a December practice causing him to fall to the seventh round. He was First Team all Pac-12 his sophomore, junior, and senior season helping lead the Ducks to a 35-5 record over that span. Ifo had 244 tackles along with 9 interceptions in his Duck career.

Key Matchups:

Considering Cal and Oregon are both up-tempo and high scoring this game should lean towards the winner having to score over 40.

Jared Goff vs. Oregon's Secondary

The Heisman sleeper and the leader of Cal's offense is vital to the Bear's chances to pull off the upset. Last year he threw for 360 yards and 2 touchdowns at home but this year the game is up in Eugene. The first and only time Jared has been up to Oregon wasn't pretty. Rain was pouring down and it was prevalent as Jared only threw 6 passes completing 3 of them for 11 yards before being replaced by Zach Kline. However the Ducks Secondary are all experienced players as they have only lost Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. They return their two starting safeties Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson along with starting corner Chris Seisay. The key here is Jared making his progressions and finding the open man without having to deal with pressure.

Cal's Offensive line vs. DeForest Buckner

Cal's Offensive line is the biggest question on the offensive side coming into the season with the loss of the captain Chris Adcock. However we are returning a NFL prospect in Jordan Rigsbee who should be the leader of our Line. If we can contain DeForest, a 6"7 animal who can get to the quarterback quicker than anyone else in the Pac then we have a shot. Protecting Goff not only is the key to this season but specifically in this game where the Ducks have an explosive line.

Cal's Secondary vs. Vernon Adams

Vernon Adams who is Oregon's most likely starter coming into the season transferred from Eastern Washington this past year. He threw for over 3400 yards along with 35 touchdowns while missing 4 games with a broken foot. The dual threat quarterback also ran for 285 yards and 6 touchdowns. Cal lost starter Avery Sebastian to Notre Dame in the offseason so a replacement needs to step up. Griffin Piatt? Cameron Walker? Or possibly Luke Rubenzer? Cal's secondary is coming off 2 historically bad seasons and is going to need a big year out of Stefan McClure to propel this defense. The four star recruit hasn't lived up to his potential after battling with injuries and inexperienced teammates, McClure has one last chance to impress Scouts and putting on a show against a national contender he could do just that. Having to slow down Vernon along with all the Oregon receivers is an almost impossible task for this Bear's secondary so there main focus is to limit the Ducks. Holding the Ducks to under 300 yards in the air and 35 points would give the Bears a strong chance to shock the Duckies and the college football world.

Special Teams

This is where either team could take a clear advantage in the game. If either team is to break one out it could have a major impact in this game considering both teams can score on offense in a hurry. Cal lost James Langford so their looking to find a new kicker in a wide open race between Matt Anderson, Noah Beito, Robbie McInerney and Dylan Klumph who is the 6th best kicker coming out of high school. While the Ducks kicking was split last year between Aidan Schneider and Matt Wogan. Look for either teams kicker to make an impact, as red zone stops could be a crucial. Cal has Trevor Davis returning Kicks as he took 2 back against Washington State and was awarded Pac-12 special teams player of the week. For the Ducks they have a couple of options with Devon Allen, Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison.

Predictions/ Conclusion

The Bears stay in the game through a tremendous performance from Jared Goff who shreds the Oregon D throwing for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Daniel Lasco is shut down for only 50 yards on 20 carries. However Oregon is too much as Vernon Adams continues his Heisman Campaign! What? Yes, Vernon Adams is a Heisman contender this year. He throws for 350 and 3 touchdowns with another rushing touchdown. Royce Freeman Runs over our linebackers with a solid game of 110 and 2 touchdowns. The Ducks win 49-41 in a heartbreaker. Griffin Piatt is awarded player of the game as he records 10 tackles and a 40 yard pick six, But a late fumble from Trevor Davis loses the game for the Bears as Oregon survives the scare. The Bears fall to 5-4 and Oregon improves to 8-1.


What are your thoughts? Predictions? And, Who plays better Adams or Goff?