If you are not a member of the Oregon football team, and therefore don't get to see the Ducks practice, the first inquiry on your mind anytime you cross paths with someone who is a member of the Oregon football team and gets to watch the Ducks practice is obvious: "Hey, who's going to win the quarterback competition, Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett?"
"I have no idea," Ducks safety John Boyett said. "I think they're both good. They throw the ball well and run the ball well and both are pretty athletic. It will be interesting to see who can separate themselves and who can stay the most consistent throughout fall camp."
Hey, it was worth a try.
There are other interesting competitions this preseason. For one: Who is the best safety in the Pac-12? While a lot of folks would say USC's T.J. McDonald, a lot of others would say Boyett. And, yes, Boyett is paying attention.
So, John, who's going to be the first-team All-Pac-12 safety in 2012? This gets a quick laugh from Boyett.
"That's a good question," he said. "Hopefully the best player does."
Truth is, it almost seems preordained that McDonald and Boyett will be side-by-side as first-team All-Pac-12. They, in fact, could be in the same position on the postseason All-American team.
Boyett and McDonald are connected as very good -- if very different -- safeties in the same conference. And they are also connected because many see the Ducks and Trojans, both preseason top-five teams, as inexorably headed for an epic clash on Nov. 3, with the Pac-12 title as well as, perhaps, a national title at stake for whoever prevails.
Further, it's not difficult to see the recent history here. From 2002 to 2008, USC ruled the conference. When the NCAA came a-calling at Heritage Hall, Oregon stepped into the void and has won three consecutive conference titles. It's easy to see the balance of power in the conference being at issue -- North vs. South, the Old School Power vs. the New School Upstart, Chip Kelly vs. Lane Kiffin, Boyett vs. McDonald.
And it's probably worth noting that Oregon has its own NCAA questions looming, though it's unlikely the Ducks will get hit even nearly as hard as USC was.
The interesting twist for the Ducks and Trojans in 2012 is USC is the sure-thing on offense, and Oregon looks like the sure-thing on defense. While Matt Barkley will quarterback a crew of potential All-Americans, the Ducks aren't too far behind on defense, with potential all-conference performers at all three levels.
Boyett isn't ready to crow about the Ducks defense just yet, but he's clearly excited about their prospects. And, yes, he has noticed that so-called pundits have started to show respect for the Ducks D.
"I think we've got a lot of very good players," Boyett said. "You can't really tell until you get to the games and see how guys are performing. But we've got a good group of guys, guys who want to win, guys who have that competitiveness, that desire to win. I think that's the biggest intangible that makes a defense great."
Oregon doesn't yet have certainty at several positions on offense, most notably quarterback. But Boyett and the defense should be able to hold things down during the early schedule as the offense tries to find itself.