July 11, 2008

Coach: Mike Bellotti (106-52 in 13 seasons; 127-77-2 overall in 18 seasons). | Staff
In 2007: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10 (tied for fourth in league) | Highlights
Returning starters: Offense—5. Defense—7. Special teams—2. | Depth Chart
Key losses: Offense—QB Dennis Dixon, T Geoff Schwartz, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Garren Strong, G Josh Tshirgi. Defense— LB Kwame Agyeman, T David Faaeteete, T Jeremy Gibbs, FS Matthew Harper, LB A.J. Tuitele.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 18th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
2008 Breakdown: Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule | Depth Chart

OFFENSE

THE SCHEME: Under second-year coordinator Chip Kelly, Oregon runs a fast-paced spread offense. Neither of the Ducks' top two quarterback candidates have the running ability of Dennis Dixon, so the offense likely will be tweaked.

STAR POWER: The Pac-10 isn't short on quality centers. Along with California's Alex Mack, the Ducks' Max Unger leads the way. Unger has started 38 consecutive games, including the past 13 at center. It's no coincidence Oregon has led the Pac-10 in rushing the past two seasons.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Though Oregon lost first-round pick Jonathan Stewart, the Ducks feel good about their running back situation. One reason is the arrival of junior college transfer LeGarrette Blount; the Florida native topped 1,100 yards in each of his two seasons at East Mississippi Community College. At 6 feet 2 and 229 pounds, Blount will be the bruiser in the mix at running back, but he could surprise with his ability in space.

IT'S HIS TIME: Oregon has the numbers in the backfield to try a running back-by-committee approach, but senior Jeremiah Johnson could wind up leading the pack. He missed seven games last season with a torn ACL but should be ready this fall. Because of his speed and versatility, he's a good fit in Kelly's spread offense. Johnson has averaged 6.3 yards on 181 carries over the past three seasons.

STRONGEST AREA: Led by Unger, Oregon could have the finest line in the Pac-10. Unger is an All-America candidate, and left tackle Fenuki Tupou smothered USF star defensive end George Selvie in the Sun Bowl. Right guard Mark Lewis also returns. This promises to be an experienced group, as all five projected starters are seniors.

WEAKEST AREA: Receiver could turn into a strength if everything breaks right. Senior Jaison Williams has 2,073 receiving yards, but the numbers could be better if not for a penchant for dropped passes. He's the only proven receiver, though. USC transfer Jamere Holland has shown impressive speed as a member of the track team but hasn't played a football game since high school. Converted safety Jeff Maehl showed he could be a factor in the passing game in the final three games of the season.

OVERVIEW: Actually, the biggest void on the team could be at quarterback. Justin Roper's performance in the Sun Bowl salvaged an otherwise awful performance by Dixon's backups. The position is crowded – five guys are vying for the job, but they have combined to play just eight games. The race for the starting job likely will come down to Roper and sophomore Nate Costa. Junior college transfer Jeremiah Masoli also could be a factor. Costa has the edge even though he redshirted in 2007 and missed spring practice with torn knee ligaments. Costa has more mobility than Roper. Still, while Dixon and Stewart are huge losses, the Ducks have the personnel – and the coordinator – to find capable replacements.

33

That's the number of turnovers Oregon forced last season. Only Oregon State (34) forced more in the Pac-10.
GRADE: B.

DEFENSE

THE SCHEME: Coordinator Nick Aliotti prefers an aggressive style. Last season, the Ducks' ends and outside linebackers often stopped opponents behind the line of scrimmage. A ball-hawking secondary contributed to 20 interceptions. Still, opponents occasionally are able to take advantage of that aggressiveness for easy yardage.

STAR POWER: At 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds, Nick Reed doesn't look like a prototypical pass-rushing end. But his production says otherwise. Reed broke out last season with 12 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses on a defense that led the nation in the latter category.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Oregon has few holes on defense, but one place where a newcomer could make an impact is at tackle. Four-star prospect Justin Thompson arrives in the fall from junior college with hopes of securing a spot in the rotation. Both starting tackles from last season are gone.

IT'S HIS TIME: Sophomore Casey Matthews has all the makings of a franchise linebacker. His father, Clay, was a 19-year NFL veteran and an All-American at USC. Matthews, who is 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, had earned a starting assignment at the end of last season before a shoulder injury forced him to miss the final two games. He could overtake senior middle linebacker John Bacon sooner rather than later.

STRONGEST AREA: The secondary gets the job done. Strong safety Patrick Chung and cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III are set to begin their third season starting together. The physical Chung is the best of the bunch, but Byrd and Thurmond combined for 12 interceptions - more than half of the team's total.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Both starting tackles are gone, leaving seniors Cole Linehan and Ra'Shon Harris to take over inside. Both were backups last season and have battled injuries in their careers. Backup Tonio Celotto had an encouraging freshman season and will push for playing time. The tackles need to perform capably to help Oregon's linebackers and ends show their playmaking ability.

OVERVIEW: Oregon returns seven starters, including its top playmakers – Reed, Chung, Byrd and Thurmond. The Ducks' ability to force turnovers erased some of the mistakes that allowed teams to rack up yardage. The margin of error may be smaller this season if the offense isn't as productive as the unit led by Dixon and Stewart.

GRADE: B+.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Oregon is set with Groza Award semifinalist Matt Evensen at kicker and Josh Syria at punter. Stewart's departure leaves a void in the return game. Running back Andre Crenshaw will try to fill Stewart's shoes there. Oregon must improve its punt coverage and kickoff-return coverage; both were below-average last season.

GRADE: B.

COACHING

Bellotti was able to keep his staff intact following the '07 season. Bellotti's shrewd hire of Kelly away from Division I-AA New Hampshire has put Kelly on the same fast track as former Ducks coordinators Jeff Tedford and Dirk Koetter - as well as Bellotti himself. Before Kelly, Dixon was an average athletic quarterback. In one season, he became a possible Heisman Trophy winner before his injury. The coaching staff has seen its share of turnover in recent years, but Aliotti (at Oregon since 1999 and from 1988-93), running backs coach Gary Campbell (since 1983) and linebackers coach Don Pellum (since 1993) have been stalwarts in Eugene.

GRADE: B+

DATE OPPONENT
Aug. 30 Washington
Sept. 6 Utah State
Sept. 13 at Purdue
Sept. 20 Boise State
Sept. 27 at Washington State
Oct. 4 at USC
Oct. 11 UCLA
Oct. 25 at Arizona State
Nov. 1 at California
Nov. 8 Stanford
Nov. 15 Arizona
Nov. 29 at Oregon State

SCHEDULE

Autzen Stadium is considered one of the best home-field advantages in the Pac-10. The Autzen magic, though, won't get much use this season. Oregon plays six home games, against teams that were a combined 31-44. Boise State (10-3) is the only team with a winning record in 2007 playing in Autzen. The road schedule, on the other hand, is brutal: USC, Arizona State, Oregon State, California and Washington State. There's also a trip to Purdue. The opener against Washington is big for both teams and could be an instant barometer for their seasons.

OUTLOOK

Oregon fans got a taste of what life would be like without Dixon over the final four games of last season, and it wasn't pretty. Expect the result to be different with Bellotti and Kelly given an entire offseason to retool the offense. The Ducks have the personnel to compete in the Pac-10, but the road schedule is daunting. Asking for another run for the national title will be asking too much. A top-three finish in the Pac-10 is a legit goal.

OFFENSE
QB Nate Costa, 6-1/211, Soph.
Justin Roper, 6-6/205, Soph.
RB Jeremiah Johnson, 5-10/198, Sr.
LaGarrette Blount, 6-2/229, Jr.
WR Jaison Williams*, 6-5/240, Sr.
Terence Scott, 5-11/170, Sr.
WR Jeff Maehl, 6-1/178, Soph.
Aaron Pflugrad, 5-10/172, Soph.
WR Jamere Holland, 6-1/188, Soph.
Drew Davis, 6-1/202, Soph.
TE Ed Dickson*, 6-5/240, Jr.
Malachi Lewis, 6-3/218, Soph.
LT Fenuki Tupou*, 6-6/322, Sr.
C.E. Kaiser, 6-4/296, Soph.
LG Jeff Kendall, 6-4/297, Sr.
Jordan Holmes, 6-4/295, Soph.
C Max Unger*, 6-5/300, Sr.
Jeff Kendall, 6-4/297, Sr.
RG Mark Lewis*, 6-4/308, Sr.
Jon Teague, 6-2/301, Sr.
RT Jacob Hucko, 6-7/317, Sr.
Mark Asper, 6-7/323, R-Fr.
K Matt Evensen*, 6-1/194, Sr.
KR Andre Crenshaw, 5-11/195, Jr.
(NOTE: *--denotes returning starter; %--denotes returning starter who has changed positions.)

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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