2006 Look Ahead: Oregon

For months, there has been constant chatter about Stanford's season opener at Oregon, though primarily in the abstract. In the 12th installment our preview series of the Cardinal's 2006 opponents, we come to the end at the beginning. Here is a detailed look at the Ducks, who own loads of talent at all positions on offense... plus enough to hold their own on defense.

Oregon Ducks

First Down: Quick Hitters

Stanford @ Oregon – September 2

Last Meeting: Oregon 44, Stanford 20 ('05)

Side-by-Side Stats: (Oregon/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 7/10
2005 Yards Per Point: 12.7/12.9
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game: 134/92
2005 Yards Per Carry: 3.8/2.6
2005 Passing Yards Per Game: 305/224
2005 Pass Completion Rate: 62.9/61.4
Returning Defensive Starters: 6/6
2005 Yards Per Point Allowed: 15.4/14.4
2005 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 134/156
2005 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 3.9/4.0
2005 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 224/286
2005 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 56.9/60.8
2005 Record: 10-2/5-6

Second Down: Offense

Last year's starting quarterback, tailback and top two receivers all depart, but with the remaining talent and all five offensive line starters returning, this offense will contend with the units at USC and Arizona State for tops in the Pac-10.

Quarterback Kellen Clemens, the school's third-place career passer and second-round pick (New York Jets), tailback Terrence Whitehead, Oregon's third-place career rusher, and Demetrius Williams, the Ducks' fourth-place career and fourth-round pick (Baltimore Ravens) are gone.  Yet the offense could come close to the phenomenal numbers (34.5 points per game, 63% completion rate, 305 passing yards per game) of last season.

Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, now in his second season in Eugene and 24th of coaching, was a finalist for the Broyles Award last year and for good reason – he is one of college football's top offensive coordinators.  With no more talent than in 2004, he sparked the Oregon offense to gain 67 more passing yards per game and 10 more points per game in his 2005 debut season in Eugene.  With a year under his belt, defensive coordinators in the league need to watch out.

Junior quarterback Dennis Dixon completed 66% of his passes last year with six touchdowns in relief of Clemens, and he has looked strong in fall ball.  Dixon has the mobility to set up his arm with his legs, and should be able to exploit a conference that does not look exceptionally strong in the secondary this year.

True sophomore Jonathan Stewart was the number one running back recruit in the nation in 2004, and lived up to the hype in his true freshman season, leading the NCAA with an insane 34 yards per kickoff return and scoring a total of six touchdowns on returns and on the ground.  With a 4.34 40 and a 38.5 inch vertical, Stewart should challenge Cal's Marshawn Lynch for First Team All Pac-10 honors.

At receiver, Honorable Mention All Pac-10 senior James Finley and junior Cameron Colvin are returning starters, and sophomore Jaison Williams, junior Brian Paysinger and senior Kyle Weatherspoon will fill the hole left by Demetrius Williams.  Finley is known for his hands, Paysinger (4.34 40) for his speed, and Colvin (445 squat, best ever for a Duck receiver) and Williams (341 power clean, best ever for a Duck receiver) for their strength.  The numbers tell the story: this is a talented group.

And letting all the talent shine is a line that returns all five starters, to my knowledge the only line in the country that has that luxury.  With two seniors, including Second-Team All Pac-10 center Enoka Lucas, two juniors and the sole underclassman a gem (Honorable Mention All Pac-10 left tackle Max Unger played each and every snap last season), this unit should be the best in the conference, barring injury.  Stanford's defensive line better play to its utmost in the season-opener, otherwise defenders will have a long day of chasing Stewart and those receivers up and down the field.

Third Down: Defense

This year's defense is green, pun intended, but has the talent to be as good as any in the league, save for Cal's.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is in his 31st year of coaching, and while this will not be the strongest unit of his career, it should do enough to let the Ducks' offense whip the bottom half of the conference and compete for the league title.

The defensive line will leak, as First-Team All-American Haloti Ngata was the #12 overall pick in the NFL Draft to Baltimore, and sack master Devan Long is no longer holding down his end spot.  The only returner is senior end Matt Toeaina, so while there is plenty of talent in the unit, it is raw and this figures to be Oregon's weakest unit.

The Ducks line up in a 4-2-5, so the linebacking unit here is less important than at 4-3 or 3-4 schools.  Even so, the unit is as experienced as it has been in years, and 11 of the 16 Ducks with at least 12 tackles last year return this season.

Given the five-man unit, the secondary is the heart of this defense, and this year it engenders both great hope and uncertainty in Duck fans' hearts.  On the positive side, sophomore safety Jerome Boyd runs a 4.33 and is a second-stringer, in part because strong safety J.D. Nelson and rover Patrick Chung were both All Pac-10 last season.  Plus, corner Jackie Bates has 4.31 speed and looked solid in eight starts last year.

However, two All Pac-10 corners – Justin Phinisee, a seventh round draft pick (Tampa Bay), and Aaron Gipson both depart – as do their primary backups.  That leaves three redshirt freshmen behind the junior Bates in the cornerback depth chart.  Uh oh.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

- The most consistent Pac-10 program over the last 10 years?  I vote for Oregon.  Over the last eight years, they have had just one losing season in the Pac-10, a mark no school can match.  Since Bellotti arrived 11 years ago, they have had just one losing season (2004).  In fact, Bellotti is a phenomenal 90-42 over his career, giving him 23 more wins than current Pac-10 coach in second place, Ty Willingham.  All those streaks should continue this year.

- The schedule really screws Oregon this year.  The team is not USC-dominant where it could roll over any opponent at any location, but the Ducks are good enough that they could easily find themselves in Pasedena in January, but only with the right schedule.  This year, Oregon must visit Fresno State and Oklahoma out-of-conference, and draw each of the other prime Pac-10 title contenders – USC, California and Arizona State – on the road.  With, arguably, the fiercest home-field advantage this side of the Mississippi, and a home schedule of Stanford, Oklahoma, UCLA, Portland State, Washington and Arizona that pales in comparison to a road schedule of Fresno State, Arizona State, Cal, Washington State, USC and archrival Oregon State, Oregon will find itself in the Holiday, Sun or possibly Las Vegas Bowl, and not the Rose.

- All told, Oregon should be the archetypical Pac-10 team.  A potent offense will win them plenty of games and churn out enough highlights for Times Square billboards for years, and a mediocre defense will bring great speed and flashy playmaking, but will frequently give up the big play.

2006 Regular Season Prediction:

8-4, 6-3 Pac-10

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