2006 Record: (7-6, 4-5)
Coach: Mike Bellotti (97-48 at Oregon, 118-73-2 overall) )
Starters Returning: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense, 0 specialists)
Offensive Starters Lost: WR Jordan Kent, TE Dante Rosario, OL Enoka Lucas, OL Palauni Ma Sun
Offensive Starters Returning: QB Dennis Dixon, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Brian Paysinger, WR Jaison Williams, OL Geoff Schwartz, OL Josh Tschirgi, OL Max Unger
Defensive Starters Lost: DT Matt Toeaina, DE Darius Sanders, LB Blair Phillips, S J.D. Nelson
Defensive Starters Returning: DT David Faaeteete, DE Nick Reed, LB Kwame Agyeman, LB A.J. Tuitele, CB Jairus Byrd, CB Walter Thurmond III, S Patrick Chung
Starting Specialists Lost: K Paul Martinez, P Aaron Knowles
Starting Specialists Returning: none
Oregon had a lot of talent in 2006, but failed to live up to their potential. The defense was decent, but gave up too many yards on the ground. The offense put up big numbers, topping the Pac-10 in total yards with 422.9 per game, but they turned the ball over way too much. With a ton of quality players returning on offense, the Ducks have the star power to beat some of the favorites, but the defense has to improve if they want more than the occasional upset.
The Ducks have two senior quarterbacks in Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf. Dixon completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and will remain the starting quarterback. The dual threat has the skills for a breakout senior campaign, but the 14 interceptions are a problem. The offense will spend more time working without a huddle and the coaching staff has been working with Dixon to decrease his turnovers, but he will still have to prove he can make better decisions on the field. If the interceptions are cut in half this year, Dixon may be the best quarterback in the Pac-10…the same Pac-10 with John David Booty. The return of wide receivers Jaison Williams and Brian Paysinger will make the passing attack that much more dangerous.
As good as the passing game will be, the running attack is even better. Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson may each top the 1,000 yard rushing mark this year. Stewart fell just 19 yards short as a junior, while Johnson added 644 yards. As upperclassmen, the duo should be even more involved in the offense and top their ten rushing touchdowns apiece. The line returns three starters and plenty of backups ready to take over. Tackle Max Unger is developing into a star and earned second-team All-Pac 10 honors as a sophomore.
The total defense was not bad. The unit actually ranked third in the conference with 322.1 yards per contest. Yet, the 26.5 points per game was not nearly as good. Part of that discrepancy is due to those 32 turnovers by the offense, resulting in putting the defense in a bad situation. The rushing defense was just awful at times and losing two starters off the line will not help. There is some experience at tackle with Jeremy Gibbs, David Faaeteete, Cole Linehan and Ra'Shon Harris, but they need to play bigger than they are. The ends return Nick Reed and 2005 starter Victor Filipe.
The linebackers return a couple starters, but it is still the unit that needs to improve the most. Blair Phillips recorded 105 tackles as a senior and will need to be replaced. Junior John Bacon is expected to take over his position, but the productivity will have to be replaced by the entire unit. For the second straight season, the pass defense has been superb. The maturation of three young starters should make it even better. Corners Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd did extremely well as freshmen and return to their starting roles. Rover Patrick Chung will be the leader of the secondary and will need to help out the rushing defense when possible.
The Bottom Line:
The Ducks are good. There are tons of weapons on offense and plenty of talent on defense. Dixon, and the rest of the offense, will need to keep the turnovers down and Coach Mike Bellotti will have to find a couple new kickers. The kicking game was not great by any means, but Oregon will have to depend on transfer Josh Syria for the punting and incoming freshman Daniel Padilla for the kicking.