Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 3 Oregon.
A few days ago, I wrote about how much Wisconsin would miss Melvin Gordon, and how all the fans in Madison should weep over the loss of their star running back. Now, it is with even more consideration to the fans in Eugene that I issue a courtesy warning prior to your reading of the following sentence: Marcus Mariota is gone, and he isn’t coming back.
Last year, Mariota scored 58 touchdowns. FIFTY EIGHT TOUCHDOWNS! This is one man! Sure, he was playing in a high-scoring offense, but still, 58 scores is ridiculous. In any other year, Melvin Gordon would have absolutely won the Heisman—he rushed for the second-most yards in a single season in Division I history. And yet despite Gordon’s mammoth year, Mariota was still the clear choice for the award because, and I can’t stress this enough, he scored 58 touchdowns.
But alas, Mariota has departed to Tennessee where he will presumably continue to be the do-gooding golden boy who scores a lot of touchdowns (“a lot” being relative to past Titans’ quarterbacks). Now, the Ducks will turn over their offense to an FCS-transfer quarterback, who will at least have a lot of weapons at his disposal.
Running back Royce Freeman is already one of the Pac-12’s premier backs, and is coming off a 2014 campaign in which he rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 scores. Although Oregon will be without fellow back Thomas Tyner, who was lost for the season due to shoulder surgery, Freeman should be able to handle the workload coming his way. It also helps that four of the starting offensive linemen are upperclassmen, with three of the five being seniors.
The Ducks boast a 1,000-yard receiver in Byron Marshall, who will get plenty of assistance in from Bralon Addison and Dwayne Stanford. Addison missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL, but he had 890 receiving yards in 2013 and will be an important addition to this year’s squad.
The defense will be headed by defensive end DeForest Buckner, who led the team last year with 12.5 tackles for loss. He will anchor a front seven that will trot out six capable seniors as well as all-everything freshman end Canton Kaumatule. The secondary will be something to keep an eye on, as it lost three players and replaces them with a trio of sophomores. But as it goes with Oregon, the defense only has to do enough to make sure the opponent doesn’t outpace an offense that scores 40 points per game, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned.
So, remember earlier when I was talking about all those touchdowns Marcus Mariota scored and how he was awesome and I miss him already? The guys the Ducks are replacing him with a guy who has actually put up similar numbers (cough) at Eastern Washington (cough).
In 2013, Vernon Adams led the Eagles to a win against then-No. 25 Oregon State. It’s not exactly App State beating Michigan at the Big House, but it was just the third time an FCS team had knocked off a ranked FBS team, so it means something. Also noteworthy is the fact that Adams threw four touchdowns and ran for two more in the upset. This was just the start of a monster year for Adams, who would throw for 55 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and add another four scores via the ground. He missed four games in 2014 with a broken foot, but still impressed, tossing 35 scores to eight interceptions and completing more than 65 percent of his passes for the second-straight year.
After tearing the Big Sky a new one for two consecutive years, Adams decided it was time to move on to the big leagues. With Mariota on the way out, Oregon swooped in and scooped him away from fellow Pac-12 suitor UCLA. Just like that, the Ducks’ hopes at transitioning into a post-Mariota era received a meaningful boost. A lot of Adams’s FCS success has to be taken with a grain of salt because the guy was playing against opponents that were mostly ass, but the numbers he put up aren’t a complete illusion, and he’s handled himself well in his games against FBS opponents.
They can, but the Ducks probably won’t.
Oregon can make the playoff because its offense is still going to be one of the most devastating units in all of college football—that’s just how this thing works. The real key will be whether Adams can be good enough to beat Michigan State, which has a nasty defense, in just his second start.
The Ducks, like all Pac-12 teams, have a rough schedule, and the contest with the Spartans will go a long way toward telling us just how good they are going to be. But then again, Virginia Tech beat Ohio State last year, and the Hokies suck. One loss certainly doesn’t put you out of the playoff, but two losses probably does, and with road trips to Arizona State and Stanford and Nov. 21 date with USC, Oregon’s chances at making it back to the playoff are pretty slim.
Mark Helfrich’s transition from offensive coordinator to head coach has been insanely successful, as he’s built on what Chip Kelly left behind and led the Ducks back to the national title in his second year at the helm. Helfrich kind of looks like Doug from House of Cards and I had/still have a gut feeling this man has buried bodies for his boss. But if that’s the case, he’s done a good job at covering tracks, because as of now, he is not a dick.
Oregon will be extremely entertaining and a very, very good team once again, but if last year’s team couldn’t Do It, this year’s squad isn’t getting it done. It’ll be a top-10 team and fun as hell to watch, so be sure to keep an eye on the Ducks.
Sept. 5: Eastern Washington
Sept. 12: @ Michigan State
Sept. 19: Georgia State
Sept. 26: Utah
Oct. 3: @ Colorado
Oct. 10: Washington State
Oct. 17: @ Washington
Oct. 29: @ Arizona State
Nov. 7: California
Nov. 14: @ Stanford
Nov. 21: USC
Nov. 28: Oregon State