Mariota has Oregon thinking national title

2014-06-30T00:00:00Z 2014-06-30T23:05:04Z Mariota has Oregon thinking national titleBy Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a six-week series that looks at each of Arizona’s 12 opponents this year. Today, we assess Oregon. Up next: USC on Friday.

Few programs have had as much success as Oregon the past five seasons.

The Ducks have gone 47-9 the past half-decade and have been ranked outside the top 10 just four weeks the past three years.

Coach Mark Helfrich’s crew routinely drops 50-plus points on opponents and rarely sweats out games in the fourth quarter.

Not only has the Pac-12 powerhouse dominated college football the past five seasons, it also has looked good doing it in the Ducks’ exclusive Nike threads.

But there’s one thing Oregon hasn’t done — win a national title. Helfrich is hoping to change that this season. The Ducks return eight offensive starters and five more on defense, and have more depth and talent than any Pac-12 program.

After opening against South Dakota, Oregon will host Michigan State on Sept. 6 in a early-season game with a lot of implications.

If the Ducks win, they likely will be a Top 3 team a month later when Arizona travels to Eugene for a Thursday night game.

Here’s the lowdown on the Ducks:

When: Thursday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Where: Autzen Stadium

Last year’s record: 11-2

Projections: Unsurprisingly, a lot is expected of the Ducks this season. Phil Steele ranked Oregon No. 6 in his preseason top 40 and said the Ducks “could easily run the table” if quarterback Marcus Mariota stays healthy all season.

The Sporting News is even higher on the Ducks, ranking them No. 2 in the Top 25. The publication is on the same page as Steele, writing: “As long as Mariota stays healthy, no one will stop the offense.” Lindy’s put Oregon at No. 4 and thinks the Ducks have a good chance at qualifying for the first-ever college football playoff this season.

Three names to know

QB Marcus Mariota: You probably already know that name, and you should. Mariota was arguably the top quarterback in the country last season before suffering a knee injury that slowed him down against Arizona and some other late-season opponents. The redshirt junior still managed to throw for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. He also used his wheels to run for 715 yards and nine scores.

Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: Ekpre-Olomu could have been a first-round pick in May’s NFL draft, but decided to return for his senior season and will be a serious candidate for first-team All-American honors. He had 84 tackles and three interceptions last season.

RB Byron Marshall: He ran for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a sophomore and will be a solid complement to Mariota in the backfield. The Ducks will also use sophomore Thomas Tyner (711 yards, nine touchdowns last season) with Marshall.

Three numbers to know

45.4: Oregon welcomes back several key members from an offense that scored 45.4 points per game last season — fourth best in the country.

1: Don Pellum will be in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Ducks. An assistant at Oregon since 1993, he was promoted to coordinator when Nick Aliotti retired.

16: The fewest points the Ducks scored in a game last season was 16 in a 42-16 loss to the UA at Arizona Stadium. Oregon scored at least 20 points in every other game.

How they’re different than last time

A healthy Mariota would be the biggest difference. The Ducks dashed out to an 8-0 start in 2013 before he became hobbled with a knee injury. They lost to Stanford by six before losing to Arizona two weeks later and missed out on a BCS bowl.

The quarterback opted against declaring for the NFL draft and returned to Eugene for another crack at a national championship. If the Hawaii native is able to stay healthy for the entire season, the Ducks have a good chance of being even more dangerous than last year.

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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