Oregon season preview

We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Oregon Ducks.


Coach: Mark Helfrich (first year)

2012 record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: RB Kenjon Barner, OLB Dion Jordan; LB Kiko Alonso, LB Michael Clay

Key returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, C Hroniss Grasu, TE Colt Lyerla, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DE Taylor Hart

Newcomer to watch: It's a good bet that freshman Matt Wogan will be Oregon's kicker this year. Wonder what might have happened if the Ducks had made field goals against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012?

Biggest games in 2013: The game of the year, as it has been of late in the Pac-12, is the Oregon-Stanford showdown. This year it's a Thursday night affair at Stanford on Nov. 7. The visit to remodeled Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 also is noteworthy as the Ducks don't want to stop dominating Washington. And, of course, with Oregon State back in the national picture, the season-ending Civil War with the Beavers should be meaningful. As far as nonconference games, the Ducks need to be impressive against Tennessee in Week 3 to keep SEC critics at bay.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There aren't many, but linebacker is a big one. It's not that there aren't potentially good players ready to step in, but replacing a troika like Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay isn't easy. The inside spots, in particular, seem to be up in the air thus far during preseason camp. Oh, by the way, it's also worth noting that Mr. Win the Day, Chip Kelly, is now coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, so first-time head coach Mark Helfrich is a question until he proves otherwise.

Forecast: Oregon is again loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and poised for a Pac-12 and national title run.

That starts on offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was brilliant as a redshirt freshman starter in 2012, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He's a top Heisman Trophy candidate, as is his best weapon, running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas.

All of the Ducks' top pass-catchers are back, so you might see the ball in the air more this season. Mariota has a live and accurate arm, and he's got a good pair of tackles protecting his flanks. Expect tight end Colt Lyerla to have a bigger role this fall. Both guard spots will feature new starters. Center Hroniss Grasu was first-team All-Pac-12 a year ago and is an All-American candidate.

While linebacker is a question, the defensive line and secondary are not. It's not just about the starters either. It's about outstanding depth. The Ducks' twos would start a lot of places. The line welcomes back just about the entire 2012 two-deep, a group that played well in 2012, despite numerous injuries. Expect true sophomores DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead to make significant jumps in production. The secondary? That crew, led by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, might be the best unit in the nation.

The schedule is favorable. A visit to Virginia and home match with Tennessee give the Ducks a chance to make statements against what should be overmatched foes from other AQ conferences. There are seven home games and well-positioned bye weekends on Sept. 21 and Nov. 2, which is the weekend before the visit to Stanford.

The Ducks have finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons. Their reasonable goal this fall is the spot at the very top.