But they’ll have to do it without LaMichael James.
In Chip Kelly’s three seasons as Oregon’s head coach, he’s done nothing but win three Pac-12 titles. In those three seasons, he has had dynamic playmakers that excelled in his spread option system.
Those playmakers have had a knack for breaking long runs, rushing for 20 or more yards once every 15.9 attempts, best in the nation among FBS teams with at least 10 games against AP Top 25 opponents since the start of 2009.
In the last two seasons, the Ducks’ high-octane offense ranked first in both touchdown drives of three plays or fewer (39) and touchdown drives in less than two minutes (90).
The main catalyst for Oregon’s offense has been James, the Pac-12’s second all-time leading rusher with 5,082 rushing yards in his three seasons. He has 34 rushes of at least 30 yards since the start of 2009, ranking first in FBS during that span.
For any program, it would be nearly impossible to replace a playmaker like James. However, the Ducks have two capable backs to effectively replace James’ production in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.
James, Barner and Thomas all ranked in the top four of the Pac-12 in yards per rush last season (minimum 50 rushes). As a team, the Ducks had the highest yards per rush average in FBS (6.7 yards per rush).
Oregon was even more successful running the ball on first downs last year. James led the way with 122 carries for 968 yards (7.9 yards per rush). It wasn’t all James however, as Barner and Thomas combined for 94 carries for 702 yards (7.5 yards per rush).
When James dislocated his elbow last year, Oregon did not lose a step. In the two games without him, Barner and Thomas carried the ball 49 times for 352 yards (7.2 yards per rush).
The speed of Oregon’s rushing attack has been illustrated by its success rushing outside of the tackles. Last season, James averaged 9.5 yards per rush outside the tackles while the two returnees went for 8.7 yards per rush.
Barner and Thomas’ versatility allowed them to line up at different positions and contribute in the passing game, combining for 63 receptions for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns. James had 17 receptions for 210 yards and one touchdown last season.
James thrived under Kelly’s system. However, statistics show Barner and Thomas can continue the recent trend of a potent Ducks rushing attack.