2010 record: 12-1, 9-0 (1st Pac-10)
2010 bowl: 22-19 loss to Auburn in the BcS championship game
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: third/third
Coach: Chip Kelly, third year; 22-4 overall, 17-1 conference
Offensive coordinator: Mark Helfrich, third year
2010 offensive rankings: first, scoring offense (47 ppg); first, total offense (530.7 ypg); fourth, rushing offense (286.2 ypg); 39th, passing offense (244.5 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Nick Aliotti, third year
2010 defensive rankings: 12th, scoring defense (18.7 ppg); 34th, total defense (346 ypg); 27th, rushing defense (128.1 ypg); 56th, passing defense (217.9 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Returning defensive starters: 5
Location: Eugene, Ore.
Stadium: Autzen Stadium (FieldTurf; 54,000 capacity)
Last league title: 2010
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: Coming off a close three-point loss in the BCS title game, perhaps I have the Ducks rated a little bit lower in the preseason poll than they should be or where others will likely slot them.
Then again, Oregon returns just half of its offensive/defensive starters from last year’s 12-win team, one of the lowest totals in the country. The offensive line alone will feature at least three new starters and could be a cause for concern early on, especially with a neutral-field game with LSU and their outstanding front seven looming in the opener. Lavasier Tunei is the lone returning starter at wide receiver, so there are some depth and experience concerns at that position as well.
That said, there’s almost no chance the Ducks won’t once again get off the bus scoring points, although it might be too tough of a challenge to replicate the 47 points per game they scored a year ago. Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, one of the most explosive and entertaining quarterback-running back combos in the country, return for another season, which means the offense will once again be in good hands despite some question marks at other positions. Largely overshadowed by that prolific offense, the Ducks possess a surprisingly good and very athletic, very quick defense, but that unit was hit hard by attrition and returns half their starters from a year ago. Additionally, All-American cornerback Cliff Harris will miss at least the first game of the season, costing the Ducks arguably their best and most important defensive player for the critical opener against the Tigers.
Given their schedule– they also play at Stanford and will host a vastly improved USC team — it will be tough for the Ducks to duplicate the first undefeated regular season in the modern history of the school. Certainly, though, a repeat is far from impossible.
Make-or-break game: Nov. 12 at Stanford
If all goes to plan, this game will likely decide which school will represent the North in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game almost a month later. Last season’s game in Eugene saw the Cardinal jumping out to a 21-3 first-quarter lead, and even led early in the third quarter, before the Ducks ran away with a 21-point win. This time around, the Ducks will have to travel to Palo Alto for a game that will determine not only the division frontrunner but the top conference dog as a whole as well.
Heisman hopeful: James
After finishing last season third in the Heisman balloting, there’s little doubt James will be one of the preseason favorites on every major watch list published between now and the start of the season. There’s a very good reason for that, of course, as James rushed for more than 1,700 yards — averaging 5.9 yards per carry — to lead the country, and also added 21 touchdowns on the ground; that total was No. 2 in the nation. There’s nothing to suggest — well, a significantly revamped line could be a concern — that his production will not be at/near/above that 2010 level, meaning the junior will once again be in the thick of the Heisman hunt.
Postseason projection: Alamo Bowl