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Friday, March 12, 2010
Judgment day for Oregon?

By Ted Miller

Oregon running back LaMichael James' will face sentencing this morning after making a plea deal on domestic violence charges, and Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will face a burglary charge in court later this afternoon.

Masoli
Masoli
James
James
And coach Chip Kelly is expected to announce discipline decisions on these two second-team All-Pac-10 performers who were big reasons the Ducks were likely going to be a preseason top-10 team and the Pac-10 favorites heading into 2010.

It's a big day for Ducks football.

So, in purely football terms, the worst case is Kelly either kicks both off the team or suspends them for the entire season. That's highly unlikely, particularly with James, but let's entertain the notion.

First, the Ducks won't tumble into the slag heap, though picking a Pac-10 favorite will become much more difficult.

The Ducks spread-option offense will take a step back if Masoli isn't running the show. He's a two-year starter who's masterful at disguising where the ball is on option runs. He's also a physical runner with a nose for the end zone who's a solid, if at times inconsistent, passer.

Senior backup Nate Costa has seen only limited action in games, starting once last year when Masoli was hurt, leading the Ducks to a win over UCLA. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Recall that knee injuries derailed a promising future for Costa. He was Dennis Dixon's heir apparent in 2008, and Kelly was very high on his prospects. The biggest question with him is whether he can stay healthy.

The future, however, is Darron Thomas, who took a redshirt in 2009, his second season with the program. Thomas, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is best remembered for his poised performance as a true freshman coming off the bench against Boise State in 2008, when he nearly led the Ducks back from a huge deficit. He threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns.

Thomas is a good athlete with tremendous upside as a passer. Would starting his second game in front of 100,000-plus at Tennessee be a shock to his system? Probably. But UCLA won there last year with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, so success in Neyland Stadium with a green QB is hardly unprecedented.

At running back, Kenjon Barner, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore, is James' capable backup. The former cornerback rushed for 366 yards last year and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. He had seven carries for 64 yards in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks also have senior Remene Alston, who rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but Barner's top backups might be one or two of the touted freshmen in the 2010 recruiting class: Lache Seastrunk, rated the nation's No. 6 running back by Scouts. Inc., Dontae Williams and Josh Huff.

Is potentially losing Masoli and James ideal? Absolutely not. Is it catastrophic for the 2010 season? Probably not.

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