Cleat Geeks

2016 Pac 12 Preview: Oregon Ducks

For nearly the past decade, the North division has dominated the Pac-12, bringing in the conference champion every year since 2008 and hovering as the best overall division in all of college football. In a division that has been headlined by Oregon and Stanford during that span, there is much more competition heading into 2016. Washington is much stronger this season and faces huge national expectations with a possible conference crown on the horizon. Washington State is no team to sleep on due to their fast-paced offense and high-powered passing attack headlined by All-Pac 12 QB Luke Falk. The bottom feeders of the division this season figure to be California and Oregon State. The Golden Bears are faced with the tough task to replace 1st overall pick Jared Goff under center, while the Beavers are tasked with the mission of bouncing back from a winless season in conference play. Both, however, will be scrappy teams who could serve as a threat to end a team’s Playoff hopes.Pac12IntroPhoto

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 North division. Comment with some predictions of your own for the Oregon Ducks and if you believe they can take the North division. Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the offseason as we gear up for opening week.

1 – Oregon Ducks (8-4, 6-3 – NORTH)

Players to Watch: QB Dakota Prukop, RB Royce Freeman, WR Darren Carrington, WR Charles Nelson, DT Canton Kaumatule, DE Henry Mondeaux
Key Departures: QB Vernon Adams, WR Bralon Addison, WR Byron Marshall, OT Tyler Johnstone, DL DeForest Buckner, LB Joe Walker

Since 2009, Oregon and Stanford are the only two teams to capture the coveted Pac-12 championship. Oregon’s last coming in 2014 – their only under Mark Helfrich who took over for Chip Kelly following the 2012 season. Oregon comes off a good, but fairly disappointing 2015 campaign as they went 9-4 marking the first time they didn’t reach double-digit wins since 2007. Their season was capped off by a monumental collapse in the Alamo Bowl where they dropped a triple OT thriller against TCU. All this led to Helfrich re-hauling the coaching staff, headlined by the hire of former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to oversee the defense’s transition to a 4-3 defense.

A team known for their explosive, fast-paced offenses year after year, the Oregon Ducks and Mark Helfrich are putting a strong emphasis on defense this season. Last year they fielded one of the worst defenses in the entire country as they ranked 115th in scoring defense and 116th in total defense. Hiring a personality like Hoke should help their cause. However, losing top 10 pick and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year DeForest Buckner will prove to be a monumental loss on that defensive line, although there are some pieces who should be able to help fill the void.

Photo by; Adam Eberhardt/Emerald

Photo by; Adam Eberhardt/Emerald

Up front, Henry Mondeaux is the name to watch as he brings versatility to the new scheme and a disruptiveness. Sophomore Canton Kaumatule is primed for a breakout year, if he can stay healthy. He boasts a monstrous 6’7”/295 pound in the middle and will see a much expanded role in the rotation. The former five star recruit (depending who you ask) very well could serve as the next Buckner or Arik Armstead for that Oregon defense. The LB corps will be an enigma early on in the season with no returning starters. The unit has a lot of size but may be forced to rely on more of a rotation.

The secondary was the weakest link of the defense in 2015 and arguably the worst in the conference, but they gain much needed experience. Safety standout Tyree Robinson returns at strong safety with his 6’4” length. He will be paired with Fotu Leiato II, a Troy Polamalu look-alike. Reliable junior Arrion Springs returns as the team’s top corner. A pass defense that was 125th in the nation last season should be much improved if the key pieces can remain healthy.

Now to the bread and butter of this team, the offense. After a year rental of Vernon Adams Jr. who came over as a graduate transfer from Eastern Washington, the Ducks find themselves in the same situation this season as Dakota Prukop comes over from Montana State as a graduate transfer. Prukop assumed the starting job after a solid Spring Game. The Ducks will need him to serve as a reliable game manager who will limit turnovers. He’s a dual threat under center who can make plays with his legs.

 Photo by: Ryan Kang/Emerald

Photo by: Ryan Kang/Emerald

Pairing with Prukop in the backfield is All-Pac 12 running back and Heisman darkhorse Royce Freeman. The star RB brings a powerful running style as he led the conference in rushing with 1,836 yards on the ground to go with 17 TDs. He will prove to be the heartbeat of that offense yet again, especially with another new QB under center. His production very well could carry him into the Heisman conversation. The Ducks feature tremendous depth with big play threats Taj Griffin and Kani Benoit, both of whom averaged over 7 yards per carry last season and combined for 934 rushing yards and 6 TDs. Even if Prukop fails to get a grasp of the offense, which I doubt based on his raved work ethic reviews, the Ducks running game is more than good enough to carry them to wins.

Even more explosiveness comes in the WR corps. Darren Carrington is the leading WR who returns to the team after a sophomore season which saw him haul in over 600 yards with 6 TDs and an impressive 19 yards per catch. He has 1,000 yard potential and could be up for All-Pac 12 honors. Charles Nelson returns to a primary offensive role this season and brings a dynamic ability all over the offense. Senior Dwayne Stanford was another productive guy, bringing over 450 receiving yards and 5 TDs from last season. Dillon Mitchell is the freshman to watch. The top recruit coming out of the state of Tennessee stole the show in the Spring Game as he hauled in two impressive TD catches.

On the offensive line the Ducks will be forced to replace four-year starter Tyler Johnstone. Although, Tyrell Crosby shifts over from right tackle after serving as a vital cog in Oregon’s top 5 offense last season – the team has high hopes for him and believes he is a natural at the blindside. The interior of the line will be inexperienced as no returning starters come back to man the inside.

As usual, the Ducks will field one of the best, most explosive offenses in the nation. Freeman will run his way into the Heisman debate and brings the type of impact to win his team’s game single-handedly. The offense is surrounded by playmakers all over the field. Depending on Prukop’s ability under center, this offensive unit should take off from week 1. The defense may still serve as a liability, especially in closer games down the final stretch, but Hoke should be able to tighten up the screws a bit. As always, the Ducks will compete in a deeper than ever Pac-12 North division. Their 2nd half of the season will be huge, most notably their games against USC on the road, and Stanford.

9/3: vs UC Davis WOregonHelmet
9/10: vs Virginia W
9/17: @ Nebraska L
9/24: vs Colorado W
10/1: @ Washington State L
10/8: vs Washington W
10/21: @ California W
10/29: vs Arizona State L
11/5: @ USC L
11/12: vs Stanford W
11/19: @ Utah W
11/26: @ Oregon State W

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