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

Pac-12 preview, vote

Neal Brown completes Troy staff with FCS co-DC

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For the most recent addition to his Troy coaching staff, Neal Brown has dipped into the Football Championship Series.

The Sun Belt Conference program confirmed Tuesday that Brandon Hall has been hired by Brown as his new linebackers coach.  Hall had spent the past four seasons as the co-defensive coordinator at FCS Jacksonville State.

“Brandon is an outstanding defensive coach and has experience coaching at a lot of different levels,” a statement from Brown. “He is relentless on the recruiting trail and already has developed strong relationships in the areas that we believe are key. Looking at his track record, it comes as no surprise that Brandon helped build one of the top defenses in the FCS at Jacksonville State over the last four years.”

Prior to JSU, Hall had spent time at Arkansas State, Auburn and Oklahoma.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to join this program and coaching staff,” Hall said in his statement. “You can’t help but get excited as a coach when you look at what Coach Brown and the rest of this staff has done over the past three years with the Troy program. My family and I are looking forward to becoming part of the Trojan Family and continuing the strong tradition of Troy football.”

Longtime UCLA staffer Angus McClure’s hire one of two announced by Nevada

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The departure of a longtime UCLA staffer has officially been confirmed.

Late last week, reports surfaced that Angus McClure was leaving UCLA for a position at Nevada.  Tuesday, the Mountain West Conference football program confirmed that McClure has been hired as Jay Norvell‘s new offensive line coach.

McClure had been with the Bruins since 2007, serving at various times as position coach for both sides of UCLA’s lines as well as special teams.  Most recently, McClure had served as recruiting coordinator for the Pac-12 school.

McClure and Norvell have a prior working relationship as they were both on the same staffs at Nebraska and UCLA.

In addition to McClure, David Lockwood was announced as Nevada’s new safeties coach.  Lockwood was on the UNLV staff last season after spending the previous three years as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona.

“I think we made our staff stronger with these two veteran hires,” Norvell said in a statement. “I’m excited about the experience and expertise that we have added to the Wolf Pack coaching staff.”

Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey dies at 84

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Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey died on Saturday night at the age of 84.

A Texas native, Dickey played quarterback at Houston in the 1950’s and started his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater. From there he took assistant jobs at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas and North Carolina before landing the K-State job ahead of the 1978 season. He went 25-53-2 in seven-plus seasons on the job, which doesn’t look like much at first blush until one takes stock of where the Wildcat football program was at the time.

Dickey took Kansas State to the Independence Bowl in 1982, a 14-3 loss to Wisconsin, which was the first bowl appearance in program history. He was named the Big 8’s Coach of the Year for that season.

After back-to-back 3-win seasons in 1983 and ’84, he was let go after an 0-2 start to the 1985 campaign. The program would remain historically down until future College Football Hall of Famer Bill Snyder built the program up in the 1990’s.

Dickey finished out his career as an assistant on the pre-Steve Spurrier Florida teams before retiring in 1989. He lived at a rest home in Houston at the time of his passing, according to the Manhattan Mercury. Dickey’s son, Darrell Dickey, is the former head coach at North Texas and currently the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Mario Cristobal reportedly reuniting with former assistant in Eugene

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The Oregon coaching staff is going to have a specific South Florida flavor to it. Head coach Mario Cristobal is a Miami native, a former Hurricanes player and assistant, and the former head coach at Florida International. On Tuesday, Cristobal moved to bring a fellow South Floridian with him to the Pacific Northwest.

According to Grant Traylor of the Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch, Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is leaving the staff to reunite with Cristobal in Eugene.

Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman added Mirabal will work under Cristobal, who will handle the offensive line.

Mirabal is also a native of Miami and a Florida International graduate. He spent the first decade-plus of his career working in Miami’s high school ranks before joining Cristobal’s FIU staff as tight ends and later offensive line coach from 2007-12. He landed at Marshall in 2013 after Cristobal was forced out at FIU, where he remained until Tuesday.

Under Mirabal’s guidance, Marshall finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed at just 0.85 per game. Oregon finished 54th nationally in that same metric.