Oregon Ducks Fans: Don’t Expect A Repeat Of 2014


This Saturday, Vernon Adams will make his Oregon Ducks debut against his former team in what is likely the most intriguing FBS-FCS game that comes to mind. Only an Appalachian State-Michigan rematch could top this game. And while newly anointed quarterback Vernon Adams is still in the adjustment stage in Eugene, the expectations that await him remain the same. Adams is expected to take the torch from arguably the greatest player to ever don a Duck uniform, Marcus Mariota, and lead a team he joined in late August to a Pac-12 Championship and College Football Playoff.

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That is the status quo in Eugene. It’s the same one that looms over cities like Columbus, Tallahassee, and Tuscaloosa. Despite a dreamlike 2014 season, which featured a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, a Rose Bowl victory, and the schools’ first ever Heisman Trophy winner, one fact persists. Oregon is still chasing the elusive National Championship, and the Ducks’ fan base will remain restless until that changes. Still, Oregon is a team with too many flaws, in too competitive of a conference, with too high of expectations.

Coming into the season, Oregon’s running back depth was thought to be the strength of the team. It arguably still is but to a much lesser, more delicate degree. Following the news that Thomas Tyner would be out for the season due to shoulder surgery, the duo of Freeman-Tyner, which was supposed to be a two-headed ground-and-pound monster was lessened to a one-man show. Freeman is certainly one of the best-running backs in the country (a true sophomore, mind you), but how serviceable will his backups be? Furthermore, an injury to Royce Freeman would be an absolute death sentence to the Ducks’ season.

The strength of the offense moves to the receiving corps, where it’s regarded as arguably the best in the country. Bralon Addison returns after a torn ACL injury that kept him out of the entire 2014 season. He’ll be joined by Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson, and Darren Carrington (once his suspension for a failed drug test ends.) Tight end Evan Baylis also returns after a successful 2014 campaign. The offensive line returned two starters and key players from last season but lost Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher to the NFL, its two most crucial members.

On the defensive side of the ball, the situation is much more glum. Gone are Arik Armstead, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill, and Erick Dargan. All of whom were starters. In 2015, the defensive line is the lone bright spot. DeForest Buckner may be an NFL lottery prospect, but starting nose guard Alex Balducci also returns, and true freshman Canton Kaumatule is already being billed to be better than his predecessor Arik Armstead.

After watching Ezekiel Elliot run for 246 yards in the National Championship, it became apparent that the Ducks’ linebacker corps was likely sub-par at best all season long. The unit loses two of its starters from last season, which indicates it will likely be even worse this year. Despite this, the biggest weakness of the defense lies in the secondary, which is its most inexperienced position group. The Ducks will rely on sophomore Chris Seisay, who only saw time as a starter against Florida State and Ohio State, sophomore Arrion Springs, sophomore Tyree Robinson, and junior Reggie Daniels. How well this group develops will likely shape the fate of the Ducks’ season.

Oregon’s impending drop-off has less to do with concerns about its roster, and more so with the progression of the Pac-12 in recent years. It’s no longer just Oregon and Stanford atop the North competing for supremacy. Washington will be better, as will Cal. The strength of the conference has also shifted to the South, where USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, and Utah are all legitimate contenders to win the division and conference. Any given Saturday, Oregon can be toppled. It’s the sad realization that many Duck fans aren’t ready to face. On paper, Oregon is still more talented than the majority teams it faces off against, so there’s that. But to say that this year’s team resembles the great teams of the program’s past would be an absolute lie. Fortunately, the Ducks will have the sideline leadership of Jeff Lockie to lead them through potential dark days.