Oregon's Early Opponents Weak At QB
By John Baker
Optimism runs rampant across college campuses in the spring as football teams either put the dismal past behind them in search of better things or seek to build on prior highlights. While Oregon sped its way through a few issues, the teams they face in 2013 were in various states of repair or fine-tuning, depending on the season before and the personnel losses.
Oregon brings back one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota, but many of its upcoming opponents spent the spring searching for replacements at that position. For some, it is a search that will last into the hot, hot days of fall.
Here's a quick look at Oregon's 2013 opponents and some of their issues.
(H) Nicholls State, Aug. 31
2012 record: 1-10
The Colonels are coming off a 1-10 season and did some housecleaning with its coaching staff under fourth-year coach Charlie Stubbs. Nicholls State does have a returning quarterback in Landry Klann, but he had to sit out the spring with a shoulder injury. Breaux Hebert did most of the damage this spring and tossed for three scores in the spring game. At this point, Klann looks iffy to start the season, meaning Hebert would be the guy. Fortunately, he's got a pretty solid running back returning in Marcus Washington, who ran for nearly 600 yards and six scores a year ago.
(A) Virginia, Sept. 7
2012 record: 4-8
The Cavaliers are trying to re-energize a defense that was anything but attack-minded a year ago. Virginia had only 12 takeaways to go with 17 sacks and too often left opponents feeling no pressure. Enter Jon Tenuta, the new DC with one goal and one goal only — to make Virginia's defense play the game faster and with a much more aggressive mentality. We'll see how that works when the Ducks start running all over the field, but for now Virginia wants to create more big plays on defense. They've got a nice weapon in tight end Jake McGee, who had 28 catches and five scores a year ago, but are still dealing with a quarterback quandary. The three-headed monster of David Watford, Greyson Lambert and Phillip Sims seems likely to head into fall camp without a clear-cut leader. They also have some size on the offensive line.
(H) Tennessee, Sept. 14
2012 record: 5-7
The Volunteers welcome new coach Butch Jones to the fold with, you guessed it, quarterback questions. Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman have been battling for the job, but Jones would not name a starter. The Vols not only lost their quarterback, but their top two receivers. Fortunately, the offensive line returns not only bodies but quality and the running back spot has some talent behind Rajion Neal, who went for 700 yards and five scores a year ago. Depth could reappear if the suspension of last year's second-leading rusher Marlin Lane is lifted in time for him to get in shape.
(H) California, Sept. 28
2012 record: 3-9
New coach Sonny Dykes has a reputation for putting the ball in the air a lot — then doing it some more. That's probably going to be a struggle given the personnel and losses the Golden Bears have to overcome this season. The expected starter, last year's backup Allan Bridgford, left the program, learning the job in the hands of either Zach Kline, Jared Goff or Austin Hinder. Goff enrolled early to participate in spring drills and showed promise. California is going to a 4-3 defense under new DC Andy Buh, which should yield some benefits for OLB Chris McCain, who had 43 tackles and four sacks a year ago. The brightest offensive light is running back Brendan Bigelow, who has overcome multiple knee procedures in high school to get back to his speedy self. He had 431 yards and three scores a year ago, but how he'll be used in this offense is still a question mark.
(A) Colorado. Oct. 5
2012 record: 1-11
And yet another new coach, with former San Jose State head man Mike MacIntyre taking the Buffs' helm this season. Colorado will run the pistol offense made famous by Nevada of late, but as with many of Oregon's opponents, the Buffs have questions at quarterback. Last year's starter Jordan Webb missed the spring with multiple injuries while experienced backup Nick Hirschman has decided to move on. That appoints Connor Wood to the role for now. Fortunately, there's some good news for Colorado with the return of dynamic wide receiver Paul Richardson from a knee injury that cost him all of the 2012 season. He's an explosive receiver who has the big-play capability this team missed a year ago. In 2011, he had 39 catches for 555 yards and five scores. Overall, this team has a lot of young players who have gained playing time during the last two years, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. We'll see if MacIntyre can mold that experience into something competitive.
(A) Washington, Oct. 12
2012 record: 7-6
At last, a team with some proven offensive pieces. The Huskies return quarterback Keith Price, who threw for 2,278 yards and 19 scores a year ago. It wasn't that long ago that Price was considered the next "big thing" in the Pac-12 quarterback ranks, only to falter due to poor decision-making and up-and-down play. He's the unquestioned starter, however, and capable of punishing teams with his arm and legs. Fortunately, he's got Bishop Sankey returning to do most of the ground work. Sankey rushed for 1,439 yards and 16 scores in his first year as a starter. Word is the Huskies have installed a no-huddle offense, hoping to give Price more chances to use his unique skill set. Offensively, the Huskies have plenty of talent, including suspended All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but it is the defense that needs to take a step or two forward under second-year DC Justin Wilcox. If they do, this has "trap game" written all over it.
(H) Washington State, Oct. 19
2012 record: 3-9
It's not that second-year coach Mike Leach doesn't have a workable system with his "Air Raid" offense, it's simply that the talent level isn't what he's used to. The Cougars return a likely starting quarterback in Connor Halliday, who threw for nearly 1,900 yards and 15 scores while splitting the job last year with Jeff Tuel. There is experience on the offensive line and throughout the defense, but the Cougars simply don't have the talent pool in which most of its Pac-12 brethren swim. Leach needs to make sure Halliday is his quarterback and find three or four quick, playmaking receivers to at least frighten other teams.
(H) UCLA, Oct. 26
2012 record: 9-5
While 2012 will be remembered as a turnaround season for the Bruins, it was a breakout season for redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley as well. Hundley seemed to make big plays every week and ended the season with 3,745 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. It was eerily similar to the season Washington's Price had in 2011, followed by last year's struggles. That will be key for Hundley, who seems to have an innate sense of timing on the football field — can he actually get better and handle the truckload of expectations that he now faces not only in Westwood, but through the Pac-12? The Bruins must find a running back to replace Johnathan Franklin and another playmaker or two at wideout, but Hundley will be the focal point of this attack. Fortunately, the offense doesn't have to carry the whole load. While the defense lost some key components, it returns some big-time players, including linebacker Anthony Barr, who had 74 tackles and 14 sacks a year ago. If Hundley and Mariota both go off and the defenses have "one of those days," this one could be fun.
(A) Stanford, Nov. 7
2012 record: 12-2
The Ducks will have an extra week to prepare for quarterback Kevin Hogan and company. A year ago, Hogan proved to have the kind of feel for the position only the best have, but he also had a running game and more NFL-ready tight ends than what seems fair. Two of those tight ends are gone. Stud running back Stepfan Taylor is off to the NFL. Still, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are seniors who've carried the ball and Ryan Hewitt returns as the hybrid fullback-tight end to torment defenses. Stanford seems to revel in recruiting top-notch offensive linemen, so the quandary will be how the Stanford offensive line fares against Oregon's defensive line — and the subsequent degree of success of the Cardinal running game. Make no mistake, coach David Shaw will plug any holes on his roster and his team will be ready to play in this one.
(H) Utah, Nov. 16
2012 record: 5-7
Oregon hasn't played Utah in a few years, but the Ducks have the double advantage of missing defensive lineman Star Lotulelei and running back Jonathan White. Arguably the Utes' best two players the last two seasons, Utah must replace both while finding out if Travis Wilson really is the answer at quarterback. Wilson threw for 1,300 yards and seven scores a year ago and will be working under new offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson — yes, that Dennis Erickson. Kelvin York will likely get first crack at the running back job, though Karl Williams ran for 108 yards and three scores in the spring game. Dres Anderson returns to add some quality to the receiving corps. Defensively, the Utes will be youngish as they replace some solid pieces.
(A) Arizona, Nov. 23
2012 record: 8-5
Ka'Deem Carey burst onto the scene a year ago with 1,929 yards and 23 scores on the ground, not only getting the tough yards but showing burst and big-play ability nearly on a game-to-game basis. Well, he's back, but he's got a little baggage following him. Carey practiced in the spring, but had several off-the-field incidents that left him languishing in coach Rich Rodriguez's doghouse a bit. If he cleans up his act and gets back to football, he'll again be one of the best weapons in the Pac-12. And the Wildcats will need him as they break in a new quarterback and deal with the loss of not only several productive receivers through graduation, but Austin Hill to a knee injury that will cause him to miss the 2013 season. The quarterback race offers up a bunch of names, but an interesting addition will pop into camp this summer — USC transfer Jesse Scroggins.
(H) Oregon State, Nov. 29
2012 record: 9-4
The Beavers may have a team capable of battling the Ducks through four quarters this season if everything falls into place. Oregon State will need to decide on a quarterback between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, but unlike the other Pac-12 quarterback battles, both these guys have not only proven they can win at this level, they can be downright scary on any given night. By the time the Civil War game comes around, you'd like to think coach Mike Riley has his guy dialed in. Whomever it is will have a receiver worthy of big night in Brandin Cooks, who turned 67 catches into 1,151 yards and five scores last year. Storm Woods heads the running game, but Terron Ward and Chris Brown will see action, too. Defensively, OSU lost both defensive tackles and All-American safety Jordan Poyer. They'll need to plug some holes in the middle, but have high-motor defensive end Scott Crichton (9 sacks) back to stir up trouble. Cooks needs a runningmate at receiver with Markus Wheaton gone and the defense needs some tending to, but the Beavers should be a very good team in 2013.
Due to schedule rotation, Oregon doesn't play Arizona State or USC in 2013.