Throughout August, we will be counting down the top 25 teams (as listed here) going into the 2009 season. Today, I will be insufferable and go into way too much detail about the Oregon Ducks. Our uniforms are bright, our mascot picks fights, and our cheerleaders are better looking than yours. See, I’m insufferable already. 

First Impressions

It seems that Oregon is in that perennial “Who Can Challenge USC?” position with Cal, and for good reason. The Ducks have an explosive offense, are well-coached, and have distinctive home field advantage at Autzen Stadium. 

That said, 2009 is a transition year, but has the possibility to be much more. Chip Kelly, the Ducks’ offensive coordinator the past two years, takes over for the former Dean of the Pac-10©, Mike Bellotti. There’s always concern with a regime change, but since the hire was from within, and nearly all of the staff was retained, the transitions have and should be minimal. 

The schedule is devoid of non-conference cupcake games, but a weird year in the Pac-10 should provide for a number of interesting opportunities for the Ducks to vie for a conference title. 

Last Year

In what turned out to be Mike Bellotti’s final season, the Ducks had an uneven start, in no small part due to what has become an Oregon trademark – quarterback issues. 

After beating two terrible teams in Washington and Utah State, the Ducks needed double overtime to win in West Lafayette over Purdue. The following week saw a Boise State cheap shot take down Jeremiah Masoli early on in his first start, which came as a part of a 37-32 loss. The supposedly-dominant secondary got burned by play action all day. 

Including the expected loss at USC, the Ducks won their next three of four, due in large part to the emergence of JC transfer LeGarrette Blount at running back and the steady rushing of senior RB Jeremiah Johnson. 

A sloppy game (from both sides) led to a sloppy loss at Cal, but was followed by a close win at home against Stanford, another close one in Eugene in a shootout over Arizona, and the most satisfying game of the season, the deconstruction of both Oregon State and their Rose Bowl hopes in Corvallis, OR. 

In what always seems like a good, high scoring game, the Ducks outmuscled Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl to send Coach Bellotti into retirement in style. Despite the expected losses in personnel going into 2009, momentum is present. 

People

The Duck losses in personnel are significant and can’t be overstated: S Patrick Chung, RB Jeremiah Johnson, CB Jairus Byrd, DE Nick Reed and both starting defensive tackles, C Max Unger and two other OL starters, plus the talented, but inconsistent WR Jaison WIlliams were all lost to the draft or graduation. 

In addition, the turnover in regime led to some expected transfers: QB Justin Roper, WRs Chris Harper and Aaron Pflugrad, and a rotation defensive tackle all decided to transfer after the spring. 

Beyond alllllll of that, the Ducks return a number of playmakers and important pieces. SI cover boy Jeremiah Masoli finished the year stronger than any QB in the country, LeGarrette Blount is joined by LaMichael James in the backfield to form the best-named RB duo in the Pac-10, if not the country. 

The offensive line is being rebuilt, but the group up front has been stocked well in recruiting. Defensively, the rebuilding process of the defensive line is more troubling because of the number of top notch RBs in the conference (Rodgers, Best, Gerhart, Grigsby, and 12 different USC guys). The younger, quick LBs are the strength of the D, while the secondary could go either way. It always helps that four year lockdown CB Walter Thurmond III returns, though. 

This Year

The question/story of the tear is if the Ducks can develop up front on both sides of the ball. If the offense can open up holes and give Masoli enough time in the pocket, Duck running backs should maintain their recent level of productivity and Masoli should sit atop the conference as its best quarterback. If the defensive line can hold their ground, Oregon’s linebacking corps should similarly be among the best in the conference. 

The schedule is a bit tricky, but the conference portion is ideal. September without a down week (@Boise St, Purdue, Utah, Cal) makes for a tough first month, but every key Pac-10 game (USC, Cal, OSU) will be played in Eugene, with the possible exception of Arizona in late November. If the Ducks come out of September unscathed, they’ll be a top 8 team. One loss is more realistic and frankly, as a fan, I’ll take it. 

UCLA is improving, but they’re not there yet, the Washington schools will continue to be freebies (thanks Ty Willingham!), and USC is as vulnerable as they’ll ever be. Once again, it all rests on the defensive line. 

The Ducks always seem to have trouble in Arizona, but if they’re still healthy come week 11, the Ducks should have the firepower to finish the year strong against the Wildcats and then an Oregon State team in Eugene that has significant losses on both sides of the ball. 

Conclusion

I’ve never been great at predicting an Oregon football season. They’ve had more line turnover than they’ve had to deal with in quite some time (as if that needed to be repeated). Nine wins isn’t unreasonable, ten would be a really good season, eleven is probably a best case scenario, with twelve only in the discussion if weird, fluky circumstances in the Pac-10 are coupled with unexpectedly dominant play from the Ducks. See? I promised insufferable and biased, and I delivered. 

Prediction

10-2. I’ll go on the record today and say Boise won’t even be close. Ducks by at least 17. 

Game Highlights Set to Unfortunate Music

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDU_jAcmkS8&feature=related

-Dan