Five reasons why Oregon is primed to win national title in 2014
The Oregon Ducks begin spring practice on Tuesday, which means they can flush 2013 in which they snapped the program’s streak of four consecutive BCS bowls. After losing to Stanford and Arizona, the Ducks finished the season in the Alamo Bowl instead of playing for a national title. But 2014 is set up to be different. Why? Here are five reasons why Oregon is in great position to play for a national title in 2014.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
5. Marcus Mariota's return
Marcus Mariota might have been the first quarterback chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft had he left school, and his return to Oregon gives the Ducks perhaps the nation’s best QB. Even in a season in which Mariota battled a left-knee injury and was picked apart by critics, he led the nation in adjusted QBR at 89.5 while America fell in love with Jameis Winston. A healthy Mariota in 2014 gives Oregon the Pac-12’s best player and an immediate advantage.
Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
4. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu spurns the NFL, too
Like Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu would have been a premium pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but the cornerback is back in Eugene for his senior season. Ekpre-Olomu is a huge piece of the Oregon pass defense that ranked third in the nation in 2013 with 5.5 yards per pass allowed. His presence largely eliminates one side of the field and takes care of the opponent’s best receiving target each week, which will make life easier on this next guy.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
3. Aliotti to Pellum won't be a drop-off
Longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti announced his retirement after the 2013 season, and now Don Pellum takes over a unit that needs to plug holes on the defensive line and at safety. The good news? Pellum has been with Oregon for more than two decades and has spent the past 15 years under Aliotti. He’ll maintain Oregon’s 3-4 scheme that utilizes the strengths of its linebackers (which Pellum coached), and there should be very little disruption in the defense overall.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
2. No DAT or Huff = no problem
The Ducks suffer some losses on offense this season, losing running back De’Anthony Thomas and leading receiver Josh Huff, among others. But Oregon is still in great shape. Running backs Byron Marshall (who led Oregon with 1,038 yards and 14 TDs last year) and Thomas Tyner (6.2 yards/carry and nine TDs) return, and receiver Bralon Addison (890 yards, seven TDs) gives Mariota a superb weapon for stretching the field. In case you were worried, the Ducks will still score plenty of points this season.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
1. The schedule gods took care of the Ducks
On the whole, Oregon has a challenging schedule in 2014, but here’s the reality: With the new playoff format, there’s not quite as much pressure for going undefeated. What’s crucial is winning your league. So Oregon could lose to Michigan State at home on Sept. 6, and there’s no way Oregon as a one-loss Pac-12 champion would be held out of the playoff. So what does the league slate look like? At UCLA on Oct. 11 is the toughest game by far. Stanford, Washington and Arizona all come to Eugene, and Oregon doesn’t play USC or Arizona State in the regular season. That’s a very manageable path to a playoff, putting Oregon in great position to win a title.
Getty ImagesStephen Dunn
Readers: Let your voice be heard
Think someone else in the Pac-12 is a better national title threat than Oregon? Cool. Make your case in the comments and let us know who you like.