The Oregon Ducks have been the gold standard of the Pac-12 conference for the past three seasons. Over that span, Oregon has amassed a record of 34-6, winning three Pac-12 championships and playing for a national championship in 2011.
The 2011 season, Oregon averaged 522.8 yards of total offense and 46.1 points per game. Oregon also scored twice as many touchdowns in 2011 as their opponents and outscored their opponents by 300 points.
As 2012 begins, Oregon will undergo a facelift on offense as both LaMichael James and Darron Thomas left school for the NFL Draft. James gained 1,800 yards rushing last season, and Thomas was efficient at quarterback, throwing 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Oregon Football Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR: Chip Kelly could not stop raving about Thomas at Pac-12 media day. And what's not to love about the sophomore playmaker from Crenshaw, California. Thomas did it all for the Ducks, racking up 595 rushing yards, 605 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns as a freshman. Thomas will have a bigger role this season with James gone, and he is so versatile that he will have impact in the passing game and the running game.
Terrance Mitchell, CB: Mitchell led the team with 10 pass break ups in 2011 and was third on the team in tackles with 45. The redshirt sophomore from Sacramento has good height for a cornerback at 6-0 and with the WR talent in the Pac-12, Mitchell will be challenged every week.
Kenjon Barner, RB: I know that most people around the conference know who Barner is, but he has lived in the shadow of LaMichael James for the past three seasons. Well now it is Barner's turn to break out as the senior averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2011 and gained over 900 yards splitting time with James. Barner does not have the speed of James but is very physical and can carry the load for Oregon in 2012. Even though he will have to share the load with Thomas and Oregon's other skill position player talent, expect Barner to be a national name by year's end.
Oregon loses its top rusher, receiver and passer from 2011 but do not worry Duck fans, as the cupboard is not totally bare for Oregon this season. Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas will be key cogs in the Oregon offense, but Oregon also returnsWR Josh Huff, who started 10 games a season for the Ducks. Rashaan Vaughn, Justin Hoffman and Devon Blackmon will also contribute for the Ducks this season.
The biggest question mark for Oregon has they head into 2012 is under center. Sophomore Bryan Bennett seems to have a leg up on the competition for the starting quarterback job after appearing in eight games in 2011. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota is still in the race as of now but most signs point to Bennett as the man under center for Oregon in 2012.
Oregon returns three starters on its offensive line including its center, Hroniss Grasu. Aside from LaMichaelJames and Darron Thomas, Oregon will have to replace the all-important left tackle position where Darrion Weems departs. Rght guard Mark Asper also leaves after starting every game in 2011.
Oregon returns a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Safety John Boyett returns after piling up 108 tackles in 2011, along with senior linebacker Michael Clay, who had 102 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last season.
Oregon returns both starting cornerbacks, in Troy Hill and Terrence Mitchell, which will prove to be valuable against the wide receiver talent in the Pac-12.
The front seven is led by defensive end Dion Jordan, a converted tight end from Chandler, Arizona, who led the Ducks with 13 tackles for loss and sacks with 7.5 in 2011. Oregon returns both starting defensive tackles from 2011, juniors Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi.
Oregon will breeze through the non-conference as they get Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech all in Eugene. Oregon then opens Pac-12 play with games against Arizona and Washington State. Arizona may be tough in 2011, but not in Eugene and not that early in the season.
Oregon's biggest challenge of the season will come on November 3rd with they travel to Los Angeles to face the USC Trojans. Even though I never count Oregon out of any game, it will be very hard to beat Pac-12 favorite Trojans on the road. Final season record: 11-1 and Pac-12 North Champions.
Up next in our Pac-12 team previews is the Utah Utes.