NCF Nation: Tacoi Sumler

Reign in Oregon: Ducks aren't going away

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
11:30
AM ET
Let's play a quick game of fill in the blank: Oregon fans are ... What comes to mind? Keep it clean, folks. Behave!

Yes, it is fair to say that Oregon fans have eagerly, zealously and vociferously embraced the recent success of their team. The seed that was planted when Kenny Wheaton went the other way against Washington in 1994 is now a full-grown oak, and Oregon fans enjoy pointing out that their oak is more stately and beautiful than yours.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIRENCAA sanctions appear to be the only thing that could derail Chip Kelly's Oregon juggernaut in the near future.
Eleven other Pac-12 teams want Oregon to go away. We have bad news for those 11. Not happening.

With the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Wisconsin, the Ducks are playing in their third consecutive BCS bowl game. No other team in the country has played in three consecutive BCS bowl games. But this rise to the nation's elite started before this run of conference success. Oregon's first taste of national title contention was in 2000 and 2001. After a middling, post-Joey Harrington, pre-Chip Kelly interim, it was ranked No. 2 and a national title contender in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee. Oregon finished the 2008 season ranked 10th. It finished 11th in 2009 after losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. It finished third in 2010 after losing to Auburn in the national title game.

While opposing fans can still pull out the "They haven't won a BCS bowl game under Kelly" card, that tweak comes from beneath the Ducks in the Pac-12 pecking order, so as ripostes go, it's rather pyrrhic.

And the Ducks, even if they lose to Wisconsin, will be a preseason top-10 team in 2012, probably top-five if they win the Granddaddy. There certainly is a lot to like about the depth chart.

Not including junior running back LaMichael James, who is likely off to the NFL, the Ducks should welcome back six starters on offense, six on defense and both specialists in 2012. But that doesn't tell the entire story.

For one, the Ducks will have a two-year starter returning at quarterback in Darron Thomas. While Thomas has had runs of inconsistent accuracy, there are two bottom lines: He's 22-3 as a starter and has thrown 63 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions.

But what's notable about the Ducks' depth chart is not just returning starters.

Oregon only lists a two-deep. That means 44 players on offense and defense. Of the 22 names on offense, just four are departing seniors, not including James. Of the 22 names on defense, just six are seniors.

And most of the players who are leaving -- or are expected to leave, as in James' case -- are presently backed up by intriguing young talents who already have significant game experience. James leaving? Well, you all know who Kenjon Barner is. Tight end David Paulson? Freshman Colt Lyerla caught five touchdown passes this season. Lose two offensive linemen? Junior Ryan Clanton and freshman Jake Fisher have seen plenty of action. Lose two linebackers? Kiko Alonso has started five games and Boseko Lokombo has played a lot. Cornerback Anthony Gildon out the door? Redshirt freshman Troy Hill has started five games while Gildon has been hurt (and is doubtful for the Rose Bowl).

Further, the Ducks have some redshirt freshmen on both sides of the ball -- particularly at linebacker and receiver -- who figure to make an impact next year. Receivers Devon Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley were highly touted 2011 signees, who could bolster the Ducks passing game.

If you were connecting the dots, you'd actually project the Ducks to be better in 2012 than their 2011, 11-2, Pac-12 champion selves.

And, even with the loss of Thomas after next season, the Ducks appear to set up nicely for 2013. And beyond.

I know. I know. Fans of those 11 other Pac-12 teams are jumping up and down and waving their arms, bellowing, "What about Willie Lyles and the NCAA?"

True, major NCAA sanctions would seem the mostly likely way the Ducks get knocked from their ascent to the nation's elite. And it could happen. You never know with the NCAA.

But the more I talk to people who make educated guesses on NCAA investigations, not to mention a few who have specific knowledge of the NCAA's inquiry into the Ducks, the more I'm leaning toward the position that the NCAA will not pound Oregon. I suspect sanctions will fall short of what Ohio State recently received.

Of course, I thought USC would receive less severe penalties than Alabama received in 2002, so I've also learned to not expect the NCAA to be logical and fair.

The point is this: If you are wondering what Oregon is likely to be doing in, say, 2014, my projection is they still will be annoying 11 other teams.

The Ducks aren't going to go away.
ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman has ranked the top-10 "impact true freshmen," Insider and USC receiver George Farmer ranks third. Here's what Feldman wrote about Farmer:
3. George Farmer, WR, USC Trojans:

If, as many Trojans insiders insist, Farmer is even more talented than his buddy Robert Woods, Matt Barkley is going to have a startling array of firepower to work with (don't forget about former blue-chip WR Kyle Prater, who redshirted in 2010). Farmer has blazing speed, and at 6-foot-2, 205 he has a very strong, sturdy frame to go with it. With him in the lineup, defenses will be seriously tested, having to cope with Farmer's speed and Woods' explosiveness at the same time.

Woods was dominant this spring, but many expect Farmer to be Woods' equal this fall. We'll see. If so, Barkley and the Trojans might not need much of a running game with their patchwork offensive line. What about the other 11 Pac-12 teams? Who is the most likely impact freshman for each? Because of our "heck yeah!" attitude, we've decided to take a stab at this query. Understand that it's not just about highly rated, it's about who might help immediately.

Arizona: The Wildcats signed three touted linebackers, but we're tapping Rob Hankins as the one who will make the most impact -- and by impact, we mean start. While Hankins is a pure inside linebacker, the Wildcats need immediate help on the outside due to Jake Fischer's knee injury.

Arizona State: With so many returning starters, the Sun Devils won't need a true freshman to start immediately. But after the knee injury to Omar Bolden, cornerback went from a position of strength to a questionable one -- at least in terms of depth. So the best guess is Rashad Wadood will get an early opportunity to work his way into the rotation.

California: The Bears reeled in an outstanding class, particularly on defense. A number of those guys are going to play. But a need area next fall for Cal is running back, where 5-foot-7, 188-pound junior Isi Sofele is atop the depth chart. So we're tapping running back Brendon Bigelow as the impact freshman, with the caveat that he is coming back from a knee injury. If not Bigelow, then perhaps it will be Daniel Lasco.

Colorado: The Buffaloes lost two starting corners to the NFL and struggled against the pass in 2010. They need help in the secondary, and Sherrard Harrington looks like the best bet, either at cornerback or perhaps at safety.

Oregon: Colt Lyerla is going to play for Oregon next fall, likely as a hybrid tight end/H-back sort. But the Ducks are solid at tight end. They need either Devon Blackmon or Tacoi Sumler to step up as an outside receiver. We're going with Sumler who has special speed and is more polished as receiver.

Oregon State: Rusty Fernando was penciled in as a starting defensive end at the beginning of spring practices, and it appears it will remain that way. But he's a junior college transfer. So, in the interest of focusing on incoming freshmen, we're going with Terron Ward, a grayshirt freshman running back who flashed ability this spring. At least one of the three true freshmen running backs figures to get touches.

Stanford: Linebacker James Vaughters is a beast. His film will give you goose bumps. He's going to play. But in terms of need, receiver is a far more questionable position for the Cardinal this fall. So watch out for Ty Montgomery.

UCLA: A lot of UCLA fans would say quarterback Brett Hundley. He finished No. 3 on the depth chart after spring practices and, while he's the quarterback of the future, it likely would be better to redshirt him, if possible. But Kevin Prince's inability to stay healthy and Richard Brehaut's inability to be consistent might make that impossible. And the Bruins recruiting class doesn't include any other obvious impact guys for this fall.

Utah: This one is easy -- running back Harvey Langi was No. 2 on the post-spring depth chart behind John White, and that competition is ongoing. Langi is going to get plenty of carries.

Washington: Another easy one -- Austin Seferian-Jenkins finished spring as a push with Michael Hartvigson as the Huskies starting tight end. Nothing suggested that he won't live up to the considerable hype he received during recruiting.

Washington State: Outside linebacker Logan Mayes has great Cougar bloodlines; he's the son of former Washington State All-American running back Rueben Mayes. He has the athletic ability and football smarts to work his way into the mix immediately, mostly likely at strong side linebacker.

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