CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 7 Oregon

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2011 record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in North)

2011 postseason: Pac-12 title game (49-31 win over UCLA); Rose Bowl (45-38 win over Wisconsin)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 4/No. 4

Head coach: Chip Kelly (34-6 in three seasons at Oregon)

Offensive coordinator: Mark Helfrich (fourth season at Oregon, fourth as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (299.2 ypg); 68th passing offense (223.6 ppg); 4th total offense (522.8 ypg); 3rd scoring offense (46.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: five

Defensive coordinator: Nick Aliotti (13th season at Oregon, 13th as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 54th rushing defense (142.8 ypg); 88th passing defense (247.3 ypg); 67th total defense (390.1 ypg); 52nd scoring defense (24.6 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Eugene, Ore.

Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The defense returns six starters from a unit that’s one of the speediest and most athletic in the country, an imperative in the wide-open Pac-12.  The schedule is full of cupcake goodness, from three non-conference pastries to home Pac-12 games against Arizona, Washington and Stanford.  Add in plenty of talent and the experience gleaned from three straight conference titles, and the Ducks are solidly in the mix for a fourth in a row.  Well, except for…

The Bad
Losing its starting quarterback  (Darron Thomas, who inexplicably gave up his final season of eligibility for the NFL), leading rusher (LaMichael James, who led the country the past two seasons in rushing yards per game) and leading receiver (Lavasier Tuinei) will leave a mark on the Ducks offensively.  While the schedule sets up nicely, the toughest test of the season will come on the road versus USC.

The Unknown
Hands down the biggest unknown for the Ducks in 2012 will be who will replace Thomas under center — and on the edges — and how effective the replacement will be.  While Thomas’ decision-making ability was questioned this offseason — he ended up an undrafted free agent — there was no questioning his abilities in running Kelly’s offense.  The task of replacing such a talent will come down to sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, with the latter exiting spring as the decided favorite to win the job heading into summer camp.  Regardless of which player ultimately emerges, how well they can manage to replace Thomas’ production will go a long way in determining whether the Ducks will have a spot on both the conference and national stage

Make-or-break game: at USC, Nov. 3
As noted in the USC preview, both of these teams should enter this game with spotless 8-0 records and rankings that would likely be a matchup of Top 5 squads.  As noted up above, however, the Ducks will have to travel to Los Angeles this year.  Oregon came away from its last trip to the Coliseum with a win, although this year’s Trojans are a much different team than the 2010 edition.  The only certainty in this game is that the winner will emerge as one of the front-runners for a spot in the BcS title game with three-quarters of the regular season in the books.

Heisman hopeful: running back Kenjon Barner
Playing in the immense shadow cast by one of the top running backs (LaMichael James) in the country over the past couple of years, Barner has still managed to rush for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.  With James off to the NFL, Barner will be expected to pick up a sizable chunk of the production lost.  The bad news for Barner’s Heisman chances?  Electrifying true sophomore DeAnthony Thomas is expected to play a bigger role in the offense than he did as a freshman last year, which could dampen any stiff-armed hopes Barner may be entertaining entering the season.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Kyle Whittingham confirms Darren Carrington is at Utah, not yet a Ute

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Former Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington‘s father confirmed his son of the same name was headed to Utah on Wednesday, and the head coach of the team in question has now double confirmed it.

But just because Carrington is at the University of Utah does not make him a Ute. Not yet.

Speaking at Pac-12 media days, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Carrington is in school but has hurdles to clear to join the team.

“Not just yet. There’s a process that has to occur, some things that have to transpire and we’ve just got to wait for all that to kind of take place,” Whittingham said, via Deseret News.

It’s not sure what “things” have to transpire and when that is expected to happen; Whittingham couldn’t be sure Carrington would be with the team when camp opens Friday.

“Right now I don’t have a good answer because everything’s being sorted through right now,” Whittingham said.

Carrington will be immediately eligible to play as a graduate transfer. He caught 43 passes for a team-leading 606 yards and six touchdowns last season. Utah’s leading returning receiver, junior Raelon Singleton, nabbed 27 passes for 464 yards and four scores a year ago.

Clay Helton: O.J. not welcome back at USC

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OJ Simpson is one of the greatest Trojans of all-time. A unanimous two-time All-American, Simpson won the 1968 Heisman Trophy and was a member of USC’s 1967 national championship team.

OJ Simpson will also soon be a free man.

Granted parole from his felony armed robbery conviction last week, Simpson will be free on Oct. 1. The question, then, if you’re a reporter at Pac-12 media days is whether or not USC will welcome back one of its most accomplished — if not favorite — sons.

The answer? Uh, no.

To be clear, Simpson has not indicated he wanted to be part of USC football again. The 70-year-old indicated to the parole board he would return to Florida if granted his freedom.

USC has distanced itself from Simpson ever since his 1994 double-murder trial, but his Heisman Trophy remains on display at Heritage Hall.

4-star QB explains why he picked Princeton over Power 5 offers

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The NCAA likes to remind us that it represents thousands of athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports. Most of those athletes consciously know that, yet their college decisions are usually based on what school will help them go pro in sports.

Not Brevin White.

The Lancaster, Ca., quarterback is a 4-star prospect in 247Sports‘s 2018 rankings, with reported offers from Tennessee, Washington, Auburn, North Carolina and others. He’s going to Princeton. White committed to the Tigers on Wednesday, making him Princeton’s highest-rated recruit since Woodrow Wilson.

On Thursday, White appeared on The Dan Patrick Show to talk through why he turned down the SEC for the Ivy League.

Nevada names ‘Bama transfer as starting QB, but doesn’t say he’ll start opener

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David Cornwell, an Alabama transfer, will be Nevada’s starting quarterback — until he isn’t.

Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell said at Pac-12 media days that Cornwell will enter fall camp, which begins Monday, as the starter but that doesn’t mean Cornwell will actually start Nevada’s opener at Northwestern.

“David’s the starting quarterback right now and he’ll have to compete and earn that spot throughout training camp and if there’s reason for him not to be (the starting quarterback) we’ll address,” Norvell said, via the Reno Gazette-Journal. “Until we see that, we won’t make any changes at that position.”

A junior from Jones, Okla., Cornwell did not throw a pass with the Crimson Tide. He started Nevada’s spring game and completed 22-of-33 throws for 302 yards with two touchdowns.

“David fits those qualities and demonstrated those strengths the best out of all of our quarterbacks in the spring, and that’s why he was the starting quarterback,” said Norvell. “And the way he played in the spring game gave us even more evidence of that.”

Cornwell’s competition for the starting spot will be incumbent Ty Gangi, also a junior. Gangi appeared in 10 games last season, nailing 99-of-172 throws for 1,301 yards with eight touchdowns against six interceptions whilst rushing 49 times for 217 yards and three scores.