Head Coach: Mark Helfrich
2015 record: 9-4 overall, 7-2 Pac 12 North
2015 Postseason results: Lost to TCU 47-41 (3OT) in Alamo Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 48/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: +570
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 North Division: +290
Regular season wins: under 8 1/2 -140 / over 8 1/2 +110
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The Oregon Ducks entered last season coming off an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship game. Any thoughts of returning to the playoff were quickly dashed with a 3-3 start. The Ducks would rebound with six straight wins to close out the regular season. Oregon led 31-0 at halftime against TCU in the Alamo Bowl, but the Horned Frogs would rally to stun the Ducks 47-41 in triple overtime.
The expectations for the Ducks are not as they have been in recent seasons entering 2016. Oregon is the third favorite in the Pac 12 North behind Washington and Stanford. Coach Mark Helfrich gets 11 starters back as the Ducks look to potentially rebound this season. Here is a more in depth look at the Ducks on offense, defense, special teams and the schedule.
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Oregon averaged 538 yards per game on offense last year including 280 rushing yards a game. The Ducks scored 43 points per game. Oregon was #5 nationally in all three categories. Six starters are back for new coordinator Matt Lubick. He had previously served as the wide receivers coach. Previous coordinator Scott Frost left to become the head coach at Central Florida.
For the second straight year, Oregon will turn to an FCS graduate transfer at quarterback. Last year, Vernon Adams, Jr. transferred from Eastern Washington and used his last year of eligibility to play for the Ducks, and this year Dakota Prukop does the same from Montana State. Adams overcame some early season injuries to throw for 2,643 yards with 26 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and rushed for 147 yards with 2 touchdowns. Last year at Montana State, the dual threat Prukop passed for over 3,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and rushed for 797 yards with 11 touchdowns. He was locked in a tight battle with redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen for the starting job but Prukop has pulled ahead. Jeff Lockie played in four games last year and passed for 580 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He is still around in case of emergency.
Junior running back Royce Freeman is also back after rushing for 1,836 yards on 283 carries with 17 touchdowns, and he made 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 touchdowns. He could be a Heisman contender if everything shakes out well. Taj Griffin had 77 carries for 570 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus he made 10 catches including a touchdown. Kani Benoit had 52 carries for 364 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with a touchdown catch. Tony Brooks-James also had 3 rushing touchdowns last year. Griffin and Brooks-James are both sophomores, while Benoit is a junior. Adams had 83 carries last year, but Prukop is a much more dangerous runner and will get more carries than Adams did last year.
Receiver Bralon Addison was drafted by the Denver Broncos. He had 63 catches for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns, and also rushed for two touchdowns and even threw a touchdown pass. Charles Nelson could take over as the #1 receiver after he had 17 catches for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown too. He started at safety late in 2015 but will play offense full time in 2016. Darren Carrington II is also back after making 32 catches for 609 yards and 6 touchdowns. Dwayne Stanford had 30 catches for 463 yards and 5 touchdowns. Receiver Devon Allen finished fifth in the 110 meter hurdles at the recently completed Rio Olympics. Tight end Pharaoh Brown is back after missing all of 2015 with a knee injury.
Guard Cameron Hunt and tackle Tyrell Crosby are back to anchor the line. Though only a redshirt freshman, center Jake Hanson could be a star in the making. The Ducks gave up 39 sacks last year.
Offense was not the problem for the Ducks as they were explosive as always. On the other hand the defense was terrible. Oregon gave up 485 yards per game including 307 passing yards and 38 points per game. The Ducks were #116 or worse in all three categories nationally out of 128 teams. Helfrich demoted defensive coordinator Don Pellum to linebackers coach and hired former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke as the new coordinator to revamp the defense. Five starters are back. A competent defense will be be the key to Oregon’s chances of winning the division or conference.
Hoke has moved to a 4-3 defense. Oregon had used a 3-4 since 2009. Hoke will emphasize blitzing and aggressiveness more than Pellum did. The Ducks lose DeForest Buckner who was a first round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Buckner had 83 tackles including 17 for loss and 10.5 sacks. T.J. Daniel and Torrodney Prevot will start at the ends. Rodney had 7.5 tackles for loss last year. Henry Mondeaux and Rex Manu will start at the tackles.
A.J. Hotchkins and Jonah Moi were junior college teammates and will start along side each other at linebacker. Johnny Ragin III will also start at linebacker.
Cornerback Arrion Springs and safety Tyree Robinson are both back in 2016. Robinson had 3 interceptions and 64 tackles in 2016. Springs had 53 tackles. Safety Reggie Daniels and converted receiver turned cornerback Malik Lovette will also start. Safety Fotu Leiato could also see plenty of action.
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Former walk-on kicker Aiden Schneider was All-PAC 12 last year as a sophomore making 22 of 24 field goals and all 67 extra points. Punter Ian Wheeler is also back and a former walk-on as well. Charles Nelson returned punts last year and returned one for a touchdown. He will also likely return kicks with the departure of Addison.
Schedule and Outlook
Oregon opens with home games against UC-Davis and Virginia before a road trip to Nebraska. In conference, Oregon hosts Colorado, Washington, Arizona State, and Stanford. The Ducks travel to Washington State, California, USC, Utah and Oregon State.
It will all come down to the defense for Oregon. This team can score with any team in the country. They do get Stanford and Washington in Eugene, but road trips at Nebraska and USC will be tough. Still I think Oregon wins at least 9 games and perhaps more.
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