Ducks Prepare to Build Off Strong 2013 Season in 2014

Marcus Mariota ’14 finished 14th in the country as a redshirt sophomore last year with 3,665 yards passing.

That some Oregon Ducks football fans feel disappointed by the team going “only” 11-2 and “only” making it to the Alamo Bowl—where they defeated the University of Texas 30-7—last year is testament to the incredible success the UO has enjoyed this millennium.

Since 2000, the Ducks—who have three different stretches in their 120-year history where they went at least 20 years without a single bowl appearance, let alone a bowl win—have gone 134-98, notched nine double-digit win seasons, won the conference five times, and have won nine bowl games, including three BCS bowls. In addition, the team has finished the season ranked in the Associated Press’ top 10 in in five of the last six years, with the only outlier coming in 2009, when they lost to Ohio State University in the Rose Bowl and plummeted all the way to… eleventh.

So for a 2013 campaign—one in which the team won 11 games, broke the 50-point barrier six times, and thrashed one of the most celebrated teams in college football history in a bowl game—to be viewed as anything other than a tremendous success means that these are glory days indeed.

But what of the 2014 team, and expectations for the coming season? Can an offense without new Kansas City Chiefs running back DeAnthony Thomas and new Philadelphia Eagles receiver Josh Huff ’13 be as prolific as the unit that finished fourth in the country in scoring last year? Can a Don Pellum ’85, MS ’87-led defense improve on the Nick Aliotti unit that finished 13th in the nation in 2013?

The voters certainly think so, as the Ducks enter 2014 ranked No. 3 in the nation in the first AP poll. The fans will get their own answer soon enough, as the second game of the season pits the UO against 2014 Rose Bowl champions Michigan State, who beat Stanford in the “Granddaddy of the All” and will start the season ranked No. 8 nationally.

That matchup—an odds-on favorite for a visit from ESPN College GameDay—is just one of four games the Ducks play against teams that will begin the year ranked by the AP. In fact, three of them—vs. No. 8 Michigan State on September 6, at No. 7 UCLA on October 11, and vs. No. 11 Stanford on November 1—are among the top five games in the nation all season when ordered by combined national ranking.

Redshirt junior Marcus Mariota ’14, pictured
here with fellow 2013 Duck quarterback Dustin
Haines ’14, earned his degree in general
science this offseason. (Photo from Craig
Pintens @UOPintens)

The tough season ahead will be a benefit to the Ducks, as this is the first year of the new College Football Playoff, a four-team postseason bracket that will be used to determine the national championship. Gone is the BCS poll, and in its place is a selection committee that will determine which teams advance to the playoff, where it will all be decided on the field. Strength of schedule and head-to-head results count large in the new system, so a schedule that sees the Ducks face the No. 8 Spartans, the No. 7 Bruins, the No. 11 Cardinal, and the No. 25 Washington Huskies—with three of those games taking place at Autzen Stadium, including the Homecoming game against UW on October 18—will be a major factor when determining whether or not the Ducks are one of the four teams chosen at the end of the regular season.

As usual, the roster is loaded. Center Hroniss Grasu, quarterback Marcus Mariota ’14, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ’14 all turned down the NFL to return to the UO, eager to lift the one trophy that has eluded the Ducks through the years. Mariota, a redshirt junior who has already earned his degree in general science, finished 14th in the country as a sophomore last year with 3,665 yards passing, and may not have Huff to throw to anymore, but still has another strong receiving corps at his disposal. Bralon Addison, who finished second on the team behind Huff with 890 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns last year, is back after an honorable mention all Pac-12 campaign, and leads a unit that includes signees Jalen Brown, an early enrollee who was ranked the 12th-best wideout in the nation coming out of high school; and Charles Nelson, the top-ranked all-purpose player in Florida last year.

Derrick Malone Jr. ’14 and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ’14
were the Ducks’ leading tacklers in 2013. Both
graduated this past spring, and both return to
the UO this fall to lead the Don Pellum ’85,
MS ’87 coached defense. (Photo from Derrick
Malone Jr. @PoeticSoul__)

Thomas may have garnered much of the press last year, but injuries limited his time on the field, opening the door for Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner to combine for 283 rushing attempts at a healthy 6.4 yards-per-carry average, with 23 touchdowns rushing between them. Now a junior and sophomore respectively, Marshall and Tyner will lead the ground game for what has been, in recent years, one of the country’s best rushing offenses.

The defense’s two leading tacklers from last year, linebacker Derrick Malone Jr. ’14 and defensive back Ekpre-Olomu, both graduated from the UO this past spring and are both back in green and yellow this season to lead a defense that will be coordinated by someone other than Nick Aliotti for the first time in 14 years. Succeeding Aliotti is Pellum, a former UO linebacker who has been a member of the Ducks’ defensive coaching staff since 1993.

Matt Wogan, a sophomore who took over field goal duties during the 2013 season, will again try to split the uprights for the Ducks, one year after going 7-9 on field goals and 42-44 on PATs to finish with 63 points, good for third on the team.

For the complete 2014 schedule and summer practice reports, click here.