With less than 80 days until the Oregon football team’s spring game, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2014 season. Once again, the Ducks look poised to make another run at the Pac-12 title, and possibly a national title as well. In the past four seasons the Ducks have a record of 47-6, and have been one loss away from a potential national title berth for the past three seasons (losses to USC in 2011, Stanford in 2012, and Arizona in 2013). This season marks yet another shot to get back to the championship game.
Oregon returns 11 of the 12 offensive starters from their Alamo Bowl victory last season. Led by starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who decided to forgo the NFL draft and return to Eugene for his junior season, the Ducks are more experienced and more dangerous than last season. Mariota was a leading Heisman Trophy candidate until the Stanford game where the Ducks lost 20-26 and it was revealed that he had suffered a minor knee injury during the previous week. Mariota looks to be the top quarterback taken in the 2015 NFL draft if he remains healthy and continues his excellent play from last season.
The off time before the Alamo Bowl last season seemed to be a good sign that Mariota was healthy again. In the bowl game he rushed for a season best 133 yards on a knee that looked stable and explosive. Mariota will be healthy and ready to lead the dangerous Oregon offense again in 2014.
The skill positions for Oregon look as explosive as ever heading into 2014, even with the loss of De’Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff. Oregon returns key offensive weapons Byron Marshall, Bralon Addison, and Thomas Tyner, each looking to see increased roles and touches this coming up season.
While the Ducks’ backfield seems to be talented and deep, with the return of two starters (Marshall and Tyner) and the addition of two highly touted recruits (Royce Freeman and Tony James), the receiving corps has a few questions. Addison is the clear #1, and Keenan Lowe looks poised to take the #2 spot, but who will play the #3 and #4?
Oregon may look to move a tight end into that position to add some size. Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis seem to be good options to fill in the Ducks’ spread attack and both are athletic enough to play the slot position, leaving Pharaoh Brown to play the tight end position. Also, the Oregon receiving corps has good depth, with players such as B.J. Kelly, Dwayne Stanford, Eric Dungy, and incoming freshman Jalen Brown all looking to step up and make an impact. Which ever way the Ducks decide to go, they certainly have the weapons to produce big plays.
The Oregon offensive line returns all five starters from last season, including center Hroniss Grasu – all Pac-12 player and Rimington Trophy finalist. With the depth, experience, and talent returning on the offensive line for 2014, the Ducks might have the best line they have seen in recent years. Look for Oregon’s offensive line to be the driving force behind the Ducks fast paced offense.
Transitioning to the defensive side of the ball, many more question marks arise. The Oregon defense lost players from every position – lineman, linebacker, cornerback, and safety.
The Ducks’ defense is not their strongest asset, but it is a talented group. Last season the Oregon defense played well early and often, and on the season only gave up 30+ points three times. Looking to build off last season, the Ducks look once again to have talent capable of limiting opponents’ scoring, which gives the high-powered Oregon offense more chances to put up points and control the game.
Several newcomers stepped up in big ways last season, but the standout was linebacker Derrick Malone Jr. Malone Jr. accumulated double digit tackles in six games last season and was often in on almost every defensive stop, and he looks ready to lead a young linebacking corps in 2014.
The Ducks’ secondary has been the team’s strong suit on the defensive side of the ball, and having First Team All Pac-12 and Second Team All American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu back is huge for the defense. Ekpre-Olomu is a legit shut down corner and excellent overall defender, finishing second on the team in tackles. Again, the Oregon defense will look to a veteran starter to lead a position group filled with young players.
The defensive line returns both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, both played a large amount of snaps for the Ducks last season. However, the Ducks will have to fill the big holes left by Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, and Wade Keliikipi – all of whom started games for the Ducks last season.
The 2014 Oregon Ducks offense returns an abundance of talent, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota. However, the defense, coached by new defensive coordinator Dom Pellum (long time DC Nick Aliotti retired following the Alamo Bowl victory), will have to find some new contributors. The Ducks’ schedule plays out nicely for them with many of the key games at home; Michigan State, Stanford, Arizona, and Washington all have to travel to Autzen Stadium in 2014 – a stadium the Ducks went undefeated in last season. This upcoming season looks like another good shot for the Ducks to take back the Pac-12 title, receive a BCS bowl bid, and potentially another appearance in the BCS National Title Game.