Boyett, injury news worrisome for Oregon

Oregon is not a quiet program. It's flashy and loud. Further, its fans have been a bit chippy about all the attention USC is getting.

Yet the Ducks' season has started quietly, in large part due to a weak early schedule. While the Pac-12 was piling up impressive nonconference victories Saturday, the Ducks were piddling along with a middling performance -- at least in the second half -- against overmatched Fresno State.

But a story that gathered force late Saturday broke on Sunday: Safety John Boyett's season is over due to a knee injury.

Boyett isn't just a senior starter, his 36 career starts make him the dean of the Ducks' defense. He has 278 career tackles and 10 interceptions. He might be the best safety in the nation.

Further, his loss makes the Ducks' secondary seem a lot younger. The top four cornerbacks are sophomores.

It's likely Boyett will be replaced by junior Avery Patterson. The good news is he's played a lot of football. He was the Ducks' fifth-leading tackler in 2011 -- 55 stops -- and started a game at free safety and at rover. But when you factor in new strong safety Brian Jackson, who replaced Eddie Pleasant, things feel a bit greener in the back half.

And, of course, the reason being green in the back half is a concern is Nov. 3. A road trip to face USC QB Matt Barkley and his All-American receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, just got more challenging.

Boyett has played against Barkley three previous times. He knows Woods and Lee. His absence will hurt in general, but on that day it could prove huge.

But Boyett isn't the only injury concern.

  • The Ducks' offensive line is banged up. For one, Carson York, like Boyett, a potential four-year starter, apparently reinjured the knee he blew out in the Rose Bowl. Rob Moseley also reported that "senior Kyle Long did not play at all on the offensive line [against Fresno State], and Carson York, Jake Fisher and Ryan Clanton all were sidelined by game’s end."

  • Wide receiver Josh Huff was on the sideline using crutches Saturday due to an apparent knee injury of unknown severity. Senior Rahsaan Vaughn is Huff's most likely replacement.

  • DE/DT Jared Ebert didn't play against Fresno State, also because of an apparent knee injury. His absence likely will mean more playing time for true freshmen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

The Ducks are deep and play a lot of guys. So the replacements for any injured players probably aren't going to be guys seeing their first action.

Still, losing veterans like Boyett and York can't be written off. You can do the ol', "Next guy in," as coach Chip Kelly did with reporters, but it will feel a bit like "coach speak." Boyett and York are the most battle-tested players on the team. Their role on the team is more than just doing their job on Saturday.

(That said: Boyett did replace senior T.J. Ward as a freshman in 2009. He played well and the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl.)

Injuries are the worst part of college football. There are no trades or free agency, so each injury inexorably chips away at the quality of a team. There is no other way to describe it: Oregon is worse without Boyett and, potentially, York and these other guys.

Oregon is not just trying to get to a bowl game or win eight or nine games. Those days are done in Eugene. It's aiming for another Pac-12 title and a national championship. Anything else would represent a disappointment for the three-time defending conference champions.

And those high goals have a razor-thin margin for error.

Perhaps Boyett will be the only major casualty when the Ducks arrive in L.A. on Nov. 3. Few teams get through the season without at least one major injury, even elite contenders. Heck, USC might have lost center Khaled Holmes, its best offensive lineman, to an ankle injury.

After the first weekend, Oregon seemed to take a step forward in terms of what the 2012 team might accomplish due to the impressive performance of new starting QB Marcus Mariota. The feeling was a major question was answered.

Now another has been posed.