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Football: Predictions — No. 1 Oregon

No. 1: Oregon. That a team can lose a Heisman candidate quarterback and still be picked to win the conference says more about the wide-open nature of the Pac-10 than anything else. There’s no question the Ducks are going to miss oustsed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was a perfect fit for Oregon’s spread offense. But the Ducks have so much talent and experience in other areas that they still are the favorite to return to the Rose Bowl this season.

Whether it’s Nate Costa or Darron Thomas under center, the Ducks will provide a nice security blanket with what’s on the field on the rest of the offense. LaMichael James will have to sit out the season-opener against New Mexico after getting into a fight with his girlfriend, but when  he returns he gives Oregon arguably the second-best tailback in the conference behind Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers. James is the Pac-10′s leading returning rusher after gaining 1,546 yards and rushing for 14 touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman. The Ducks’ offensive line, which Cal saw first-hand last season how effective it can be, returns all five starters. Oregon also returns all three top wide receivers, but must replace dynamic tight end Ed Dickson, who was a NFL third-round draft pick.

The Ducks had one of the fastest and most athletic defenses in the Pac-10 last season, and eight starters return to that unit. Defensive end Kenny Rowe exploded onto the scene last season and led the conference with 11 1/2 sacks. Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews form quite one-two punch at linebacker. John Boyett, the Pac-10′s second-leading tackler last season, returns at one safety. Speedster Eddie Pleasant will move from linebacker to the other safety spot.

Costa does have some limited experience for the Ducks. Oregon doesn’t need Costa or Thomas to be as good as Masoli. They just need them to get a good enough grasp of Oregon’s spread option to make the right passes while otherwise handing the ball off to James. With what should be another effective defense, the Ducks are in position to be Pac-10 champs again.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • http://leaderofthepac.wordpress.com/ Tedfordium

    I don’t think having your safety be the team leader in tackles is a good thing. It shows that opposing offenses can get into the next level of their defense regularly and in Oregon’s case it’s probably from their over aggressive style.

  • Dan

    It’s a bummer to read about these Oregon players who Cal wanted (Kenny Rowe, John Boyette from Napa) be studs at Oregon.

  • charlie

    I think the Ducks are in for a disappointing season. A lot of things went “right” for them last year; chances are that all things won’t go “right” again this year.

    Masoli made their offense go – hence his Heisman hype. Dismissing his departure as ludicrous.

  • Forest Peter

    Jonathan: I wouldn’t pick any team #1 with an unproven quarterback. Oregon will do o.k. but my ballot is still out on their current coach.

  • Fair Weather Fan

    Oregon will not win the Pac-10. They play 5 conference road games this year, including Cal, USC and OSU. I think they lose 2 of those 3 games. Definitely a top 4 team, probably a top 3. Not #1 though.

  • Pac 12

    Oregon’s Chip Kelly is not unproven as he has led the ducks to one of the nation’s leading offenses the last 3 years. His system is tremendous and kids from all over the nation are going to Oregon to play in the most exciting offense available. Just look at the 2 incoming freshman running backs that come from Texas! Be careful about writing them off because of the QB. Their defense will probably be better than last years as well.

  • Tince

    Charlie,

    Things went “right” for Oregon last year?

    Blount getting suspended for 10 games.
    TJ Ward missed half the season.
    Their best defensive player, Walter Thermond III was knocked out for the entire season in September.
    They lost two more members of their secondary.
    Masoli missed games due to injury.

    Sure they managed to win games, but I’m not sure that means things went “right” for them. I think they overcame a lot of the things that went wrong.

  • davis

    Either one of the two QBs ready to start for the Ducks are better passers and ball handlers than Masoli; they’re not as tuff but not error prone.
    Wait until you see Costa throw the football; it is art at its highest form. And he’s a tough son-of-a-gun, too. Just not as tuff as Masoli.
    If he goes down, Thomas’ ball isn’t as pretty but he’s accurate and smart.
    Good pick, Jonathon

  • joseph

    JO, do you realize that Oregon’s offense more than any other in the PAC10 or maybe even the country is critically dependent on their QB?

    That whole offensive system runs through the QB. You’re dead wrong on Oregon being #1 in Pac10 this year without Masoli.

  • DuckNelson

    Unless you have ridiculous talent all over the field, there is always an element of luck in winning any conference, including the Pac 10. The Ducks did a great job last year and won the Pac 10, but that is not an easy feat to repeat.
    Don’t forget that the Oregon defense was the best in the Pac 10. That is likely to continue this year whether the Ducks find a replacement for Masoli or not.