FanHouse's 2010 College Football Poll -- No. 9 Oregon
After reaching the Rose Bowl last season for the first time in 15 years, could Pasadena actually be a bit of a letdown for the Oregon Ducks in 2010?
Oregon was looking and feeling like a true national title contender a few months ago. And then quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was arrested ... again. And then he was kicked off the team and suddenly the college football world seemed to think a little bit less of Chip Kelly's team.
Offensive firepower. Got it. Defensive experience. Got it. A star-caliber quarterback who is the face of your team as it embarks on a title run. Nope. At least not yet.
So, are the Ducks destined to settle for being USC's heir-apparent as the most dominant program in the Pac-10?
In a conference that looks as top-to-bottom strong as any time in recent memory, Oregon still looks like the the class of the league, particularly on offense where talent and experience abound.
Sophomore LaMichael James (who is suspended for the season opener against New Mexico) is probably the second-best tailback in the league behind Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers. He finished 2009 with the Pac-10 freshman rushing record of 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Ducks return an experienced group of receivers including Jeff Maehl, Drew Davis and Lavasier Tuinei. Freshman Diante Jackson may also figure prominently into the picture by season's end, should his academic issues be cleared up (though that isn't expected to happen). And all five starters return on the offensive line.
Is there a question mark? Absolutely, and it's a big one. Masoli, the young man who made the Ducks' spread-option go last season, is gone from the program, now trying to keep his head down and play at Mississippi.
He is going to be replaced by either fifth-year senior Nate Costa, who has the edge in experience but has three knee injuries on the down side, or sophomore Darron Thomas, the youngster with promise and three years of eligibility remaining. Kelly said he will announce his decision Saturday -- after the team's final scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday.
Defensively, the Ducks return eight starters, headlined by senior linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews. Cornerback Talmadge Jackson led the team with four interceptions last season, with sophomore Cliff Harris coming on strong on the other side.
THE BASICS: A season that began with a painful loss to Boise State and LaGarrette Blount's punch ended with a 10-3 record and the program's fourth trip to the Rose Bowl since 1917, its first since the 1994 season. It also ended with a 26-17 loss to Ohio State. But expectations for a return trip are high with 17 returning starters.
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: John Boyett, safety. On a team with so many offensive stars, Boyett -- a sophomore -- is the guy who was the Pac-10's second-leading tackler last season. He finished with 90 tackles and three interceptions. On the other hand, if your safety is your leading tackler, that might mean too many people are getting into your backfield.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: USC, Oct. 30. The Ducks want to go to the Rose Bowl. The Trojans can't go to the Rose Bowl. The Trojans might be able to keep the Ducks from the Rose Bowl.
DON'T MISS: The Civil War Game vs. Oregon State on Dec. 4. This game will be the biggest, most relevant rivalry game in the Pac-10 this year, just as it was last year when it was the launching pad for Oregon's trip to Pasadena.
FANHOUSE PREDICTION: 10-2. The Ducks want to use an open Pac-10 field and USC's NCAA knockdown to establish themselves as the new power team in the conference. Two straight Pac-10 titles and two straight Rose Bowl trips ought to about do it.
FanHouse's Oregon page with schedule