The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
Let's continue our Pac-12 preseason previews and take a look at the big dog, or make that big duck, of the conference, the University of Oregon. Rusty Ryan, is one of the staff writers at the fantastic Oregon SBN site, Addicted To Quack. Rusty was kind enough to share his time and insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at the Ducks, head over to Addicted to Quack and join in the conversation there.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Rusty: Oregon might be loaded on offense with more good receivers than we've had in school history and two running backs that are top quality but the key to this team will really be the two tackles: Tyrell Crosby and Tyler Johnstone. Johnstone missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL but is so so good. He will be playing the right tackle spot and opposite him will be Tyrell Crosby. Crosby stepped in last year as a true freshman and filled in when the line was a revolving door of players. Tyrell got significantly better as the season went on and surpassed expectations his freshman year. As sexy as our offense is (at times) it looks like a total mess with mediocre to poor offensive line play. The best example is against Washington State last season, which was a game that Oregon could've/should've lost if not for a lucky defensive play or for a non-pass interference call, depending on who you ask.
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Rusty: Chris Seisay is most likely going to be one of the prime cornerbacks on defense. He filled in when Ifo Ekpre-Olomu went down and played well against Florida State and Ohio State. With three new defensive backs starting for Oregon he's got to be able to play at a high level throughout the season and play up to his talent.
Then there's Joe Walker and Christian French on defense. Joe Walker went from a second-string and utility player to one of the cornerstone players of the defense. He's a great run stopper who was subbed off on passing downs but he'll need to be a complete linebacker this season. French was a team leader in sacks last season and Oregon is going to need a much better pass rush. Last year, the Oregon pass rush was decent but also struggled at the most inopportune times. I don't think I can remember a team at any level that gave up more third down conversions. French has to play opposite of Tyson Coleman and be a legitimate pass rusher to help the secondary.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Rusty: Michigan State. If Oregon loses the game at Michigan State they have to be perfect the rest of the season and look good doing it in order to make the playoffs. A win in East Lansing, which I've been to and is maybe the ugliest city ever, would give Oregon cushion throughout the conference slate. USC is obviously important but Oregon really needs to be undefeated when they hit November.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Rusty: Oh this is my least favorite question because I struggle to be objective but also know I'm going to be biased in favor of Oregon. So please, don't hold it against me.
Having to play at Michigan State and then have a four-week stretch that consists of at Arizona State, hosting Cal, at Stanford, and hosting USC will be extremely difficult. That doesn't even include UCLA, who I think will win the southern division, if Oregon makes it to the PAC-12 Championship Game. The homer in me wants to say, "We'll do fine without Mariota! Another trip to the national championship game!" I think there's a good chance Oregon loses one game. That's just a very difficult schedule to manage. Let's just say if I were Vegas I would set Oregon's regular season over/under at 10.
BN: The Ducks will start the season with Marcus Mariota for the first time in seemingly forever and the rest of the Pac-12 breathes a huge sigh of relief. Or should it? The Ducks return most of their skill position players, but will need to fill in some holes on the offensive line. What does Oregon need to do to maintain its renowned high tempo rhythm and offensive firepower?
Rusty: Mariota was a special player in that he made up for a lot of weaknesses and mistakes. He could extend plays and his potential threats made things easier for everyone else. So yes, everyone should breathe a sigh of relief. This year there are so many skill players back, so much so that there are good receivers and running backs that won't make the two deep, and the offensive line has three strong guys returning along with the Notre Dame transfer that the quarterback can do no less than good. The coaches and players around the quarterback won't let a quarterback fail. That being said I don't see, right now, the ceiling as potentially being high for the quarterback situation this year. Neither of them are as dangerous as Mariota was. They won't be able to take a game over and if the Oregon offense has as many injuries as they did last year this year's quarterback will not be able to pick them up. The line is not a big concern, it could be better, but it's in a good spot. But the line will determine how far this offense goes. Our running backs will look average if the line is average. Our receivers can't create a downfield threat if the quarterback doesn't have time. The line is always the key to the Oregon offense and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. (Amen to that, - gbruin)
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich, 3rd year
2014 Record: 13-2, 8-1 (conf), 1st in Pac12 North
2014 Bowl: Lost 42-20 to Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship game.
Key returnees: RB Royce Freeman (So), WR Byron Marshall (Sr), WR Bralon Addison (Jr), DE DeForrest Buckner (Sr)
Key losses: RB Thomas Tyner (injury), QB Marcus Mariota, OL Jake Fisher, OL Hroniss Grasu, DL Arik Armstead, DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, S Erick Dargan
For all the details on Oregon's depth chart and season prospects, check out the latest previews at AtQ.
AP Preseason Rank: 7
Matchup with UCLA: none