HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich, First Season |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Frost |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Aliotti
New head coach Mark Helfrich’s transition will be eased by the presence of two potential Heisman Trophy candidates in sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota and junior running back De’Anthony Thomas.
Mariota, who combines laid-back Hawaiian cool with textbook dual-threat abilities, set school records for completion percentage (68.5) and total touchdowns (38) in his first season as the starter.
Used as a complement to LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner the last two years, Thomas will get a shot as the primary back in 2013, though the Ducks will limit his carries to protect the 176-pound jitterbug. Sophomore Byron Marshall and 5-star recruit Thomas Tyner will also be involved in the running game.
There are enough veteran targets on hand in receivers Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe and Bralon Addison, plus tight end Colt Lyerla, that speculation around Eugene is that the Ducks will throw more often this fall, after being predominantly a running team under Chip Kelly.
The offensive line features a trio of all-conference candidates in center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone and right tackle Jake Fisher, but the guards will be relatively new faces. Senior Mana Greig started two games last fall before a knee injury ended his season, and junior Hamani Stevens is a big body who could provide the physical presence the Ducks need to prove they’re not just a finesse offense.
The Ducks return six of their top seven defensive linemen and their entire two-deep in the defensive backfield, including All-America candidate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback.
The question mark is at inside linebacker, where Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso have graduated, and juniors Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick sat out spring practices. Junior college transfer Joe Walker and converted outside linebacker Tyson Coleman could be factors there.
Oregon also needs to replace top NFL Draft pick Dion Jordan, but his shoulder injury late in 2012 provided a chance for backup Tony Washington to earn the confidence of his coaches and teammates. On the other side, the Ducks are waiting for senior Boseko Lokombo to blossom into a consistent impact player, after flashes of greatness the last three seasons.
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Marcus Mariota, QB – Had 11 TDs and four INTs in his first five games, then 21 TDs and two picks in the final eight.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB – Ducks need to limit his exposure, and hope his explosiveness makes for quick drives without a lot of carries.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB – Turnover machine in 2012 could face less work in 2013 now that opponents have seen what he can do.
The Ducks could have two new kickers, with heralded freshman Matt Wogan set to challenge inconsistent placekicker Alejandro Maldonado, and Dylan Ausherman replacing punter Jackson Rice. Ausherman is a junior college transfer who redshirted last fall. Thomas is a threat in the return game — he scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl — but he struggled with his decision-making as a punt returner last fall. Addison is a more sure-handed option on punt returns.
The Ducks enter their most intriguing season since Kelly took over in 2009, with the Helfrich era kicking off and the Ducks looking to regain their throne after failing to win a fourth consecutive conference championship in 2012. They “settled” for their second straight BCS bowl victory, over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the departure of Kelly to the NFL a few weeks later made 2013 a potentially historic transition year for the program.
The promotion of Helfrich was intended to maintain momentum, and he managed to keep the bulk of the coaching staff and the recruiting class together. But in six years with the Ducks, Kelly grew to become one of the most respected football minds in the country, and a hiccup or two in his absence wouldn’t be surprising, particularly against Stanford, the only team to beat Kelly twice in his four years as head coach.
It is hard to argue that any Ducks' quarterback has been more successful than Darron Thomas. His 66 career touchdown passes rank first in Oregon history. His 5,910 passing yards are good for seventh in program history. And he finished sixth in Ducks’ history with 6,633 yards of total offense. Thomas, who accounted for 71 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter, is one of only three quarterbacks in conference history with two seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes (Matt Leinart, Andrew Luck). He led the Ducks to back-to-back Pac-12 championships, its first-ever trip to the BCS National Championship game and wrapped his Duck career by earning the school’s second-ever Rose Bowl Championship.
As the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation, Stewart came to Eugene as one of the most high profile recruits to ever sign with Oregon. Despite only carrying the football 53 times as a freshman, Stewart scored nine total touchdowns while leading the nation in kick returns (33.7). He took over the starting role as a sophomore and rushed for 981 yards and 10 scores. As a junior, Stewart set the Oregon single-season rushing record with 1,722 yards. He scored 13 touchdowns that season, and he shattered the single-season all-purpose record with 2,481 yards (1,944 had been the previous mark). He left after this monster season and was the 13th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Smith might be able to claim the single-best passing season in school history after capping his brief Oregon career with 3,763 yards and 32 TDs in 1998 - both of which were school records. He earned Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors as well. Smith racked up 5,148 passing yards and 5,515 yards of total offense to go with 45 touchdowns in only two seasons of action. He flew up NFL Draft boards and was selected with the third overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Bengals.
Musgrave is recognized as the central figure responsible for intitating the most prosperous era in Oregon history. He set school records for passing yards (8,343) and total offense and remains one of six QBs in league history to throw for at least 8,000 yards and at least 60 TDs. In 1989, he led the Ducks to their first bowl appearance in 26 seasons. The first-team all-league honoree was selected in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft by Dallas.
Oregon's 1972 MVP became the school's first QB to top the 2,000-yard mark in a single season. Fouts set no fewer than 19 Oregon school records, including total offense (5,871), passing yards (5,995) and touchdown passes (37). As a third round pick in the 1973 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, Fouts went on to a stellar 14-year NFL career in which he passed for 43,040 yards and set an NFL record with 51 300-yard games.
Despite some swirling off-the-field issues, James has to be considered one of the greatest to ever carry the football for Oregon. He led the nation in 2010 in rushing at 144.3 yards per game, while helping the Ducks to their first-ever BCS National Championship game. In only two full seasons as the starter, James has rushed for 3,277 yards and 35 TDs. He added 34 catches for 376 yards and three more scores over that time. Despite what car he may or may not be driving, James' accomplishments speak for themselves: Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Heisman Finalist and the Doak Walker Award winner in 2010. His 1,731 yards and 21 TDs last fall were both school records for a single-season performance.
The premier offensive lineman in Oregon history - as well as one of the NFL's all-time greats - completed his collegiate career by being named the Pac-10's top offensive lineman his senior season. The NFL and Oregon Hall of Famer went to seven Pro Bowls and retired atop his profession after winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in 1998.
Argubaly the most dominant defensive lineman in Oregon history, Ngata was the school's first consensus All-American in more than four decades. He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and won Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Pac-10 his junior (and final) season in Eugene. He was the first defensive lineman to be named team MVP in 18 seasons when Oregon named him their best player in 2005. He finished his career with 151 tackles and a school-record seven blocked kicks. When Ngata was selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, he became the highest drafted D-lineman in school history. He is arguably the best defensive tackle in the world currently.
Few players will ever match the exploits of Moore, who changed his name to Ahmad Rashad when he converted to Islam. Rashad, who began his career as a wide receiver before being moved to running back, established single-game (249), single-season (1,211) and career (2,306) rushing records. He also set the single-season and career receptions benchmarks at the time with 54 and 131 catches respectively. He set no fewer than 14 school records and led the conference in scoring two years in a row - from two different positions. The All-American was selected with the fourth pick in the 1972 NFL Draft by St. Louis. Rashad was inducted into the NCAA Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
He graduated as one of the most prolific athletes in school history, becoming the Ducks' first Heisman Trophy finalist ever (finishing fourth). He ended his career third in school history in passing yards (6,911 yards), total offense(7,121 yards) and TD passes (59). The biggest legacy, however, for "Captain Comeback" was his ability to led his team to victory in the fourth quarter. He established an 11-2 record in games in which Oregon either trailed or was tied in the fourth quarter. He accounted for more total touchdowns (78) than any player in Oregon history and led the Ducks to the highest ranking in school history at the time (#2). He earned the 2001 Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and was drafted with the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
1917: Oregon showed the country just what Western football was about by whipping mighty Pennsylvania, 14-0, in the Rose Bowl. All-America Shy Huntington ran for a touchdown, passed for another and picked off three passes in a tremendous individual display. (There weren't a lot of cameras in 1917, so here's a video of Oregon's archivist discussing the importance of this game.)
Trailing 40-21, with under 5:00 to play, Oregon stages a remarkable comeback to overcome UCLA. QB Dan Fouts, who had been benched earlier in the game, leads the comeback and secures the 41-40 win by throwing a 15-yard TD pass to Greg Specht with 0:21 to play.
Oregon races to a 24-6 lead and holds off Michigan in a 31-27 thriller at Autzen Stadium. The Wolverines entered the game leading the nation in rushing (307.3 ypg) but were held to minus-three yards on the ground on 19 carries.
The second-ranked Ducks used 350 passing yards from Joey Harrington and three interceptions by Steve Smith to throttle number-three Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, 38-16. Little over a month earlier, the Buffaloes had trampled Nebraska, 62-36, but were no match for Oregon.
#1. The Ducks Secure Their Run To The 1994 Rose Bowl
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With less than a minute left, Pac-10 bully Washington had the ball on the Oregon eight, down 24-20. Many expected the Huskies to extend their league primacy with a touchdown, but Kenny Wheaton picked off a Damon Huard pass and went 97 yards for TD that clinched a 31-20 win and keyed the Ducks’ run to the Rose Bowl.
HEAD COACH: Steve Spurrier, |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Spurrier |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Lorenzo Ward
At Florida in the 1990s, Steve Spurrier won while playing two quarterbacks at times. He might do it again this season. Connor Shaw’s injuries gave Dylan Thompson opportunities last season, which ended by Thompson throwing the game-winning touchdown pass at the finish of the Outback Bowl. Thompson also played all of the previous game, a win over rival Clemson.
So what now? Thompson, a junior, says Spurrier told him to expect to play this season. Shaw, a senior, missed all of spring practices while undergoing foot surgery, but that didn’t concern quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus.
Marcus Lattimore was the heart and soul of the Gamecocks’ program for the past three seasons. But he turned pro early, after a devastating knee injury, and now Spurrier will try to replace him with another high-profile recruit, Mike Davis, who had 52 carries last season as a true freshman. Davis improved his pass-blocking this spring, which enabled him to beat out the slower Brandon Wilds for the job.
Bruce Ellington will step into the role of No. 1 receiver after Ace Sanders left early for the NFL Draft. Junior Nick Jones and sophomore Shaq Roland will also be major factors in the passing game.
Every offensive line starter returns except center T.J. Johnson, and that’s a big loss because he started every game for the past three seasons. His replacement, redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop, struggled with snapping at times in the spring.
Quite simply, no player in college football left a more indelible final impression in 2012 than defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose helmet-popping hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl continued to wow everybody for months after it happened. Clowney now has 21 career sacks and 35.5 tackles for a loss. If offensive lines slide their protections toward Clowney, senior Chaz Sutton can take advantage.
Linebacker is the biggest question mark for the Gamecocks, who lost all three of their starters. They likely will start sophomore Kaiwan Lewis at the Mike spot — the linebacker responsible for aligning the defensive front before the snap. They will enter August practices with battles at the two outside linebacker spots — Will and Spur. T.J. Holloman and Cedrick Cooper are even at Will, while Sharrod Golightly is slightly ahead of Jordan Diggs at Spur.
Cornerback Victor Hampton is one of South Carolina’s most talented players. And if he has a big 2013 season as a junior, he could cash in for NFL money, just as Stephon Gilmore did after the 2011 season. Hampton knows this, and he also knows he has to continue to demonstrate maturity, after off-field disciplinary issues pockmarked the early part of his career.
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Jadeveon Clowney, DE – The college football world has one more season to enjoy him before he cashes in as the likely No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Connor Shaw, QB – He has been South Carolina’s starter since Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team midway through 2011. Likely to share snaps with Dylan Thompson.
Bruce Ellington, WR – Two-sport star blossomed into a complete college receiver in 2012 after struggling with the position at times in 2011.
Victor Hampton, CB – Possesses the type of physical skills to be an elite boundary corner, like Stephon Gilmore was for the Gamecocks, as long as he stays focused mentally.
Dylan Thompson, QB – A lightly recruited player, he proved himself plenty capable in big spots last year when Shaw was injured.
Sanders was a very good receiver, but an even better punt returner. He ranked fourth nationally last season with 15.3 yards per return and brought two back for touchdowns. So who takes his place? Hampton seems like the leading candidate, but the coaches want to cast a wide net in this search. Ellington is one of the country’s most experienced kickoff returners. He returned 18 last season and 20 in 2011.
With a game-changing player like Clowney, South Carolina has a chance for a special season. If Spurrier can manage the Shaw-Thompson rotation and get positive results from Davis, who certainly doesn’t have to be the next Lattimore in his first year as a starter, then the Gamecocks’ offense has a chance to be better than it was the past two seasons, when they leaned on their defense and the offense ranked No. 82 and 74 nationally in yards per game.
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HEAD COACH: Mark Richt, 118-40 (12 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bobo |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham
The best offense in Georgia history, at least statistically speaking, returns eight starters, including a fourth-year quarterback. It’s hard to see how the Bulldogs could get better. But they could.
Aaron Murray’s ability to put up big numbers isn’t in question, and he played well enough against Alabama’s stout defense in the SEC Championship Game to answer critics who claim he doesn’t perform in big games. But Murray still needs to eliminate those brief stretches where he struggles, such as the three-interception first half that almost cost Georgia its win against Florida last year.
Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (who combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns last year) need to avoid sophomore slumps, and they’ll get increased attention from defenses. And the offensive line, which was average last year, needs to be good from the outset this year, with Georgia’s front-loaded schedule. The Bulldogs may need their offense to carry them this year — and it’s capable of doing just that.
There’s a lot of optimism around the Bulldogs about their young defense, but the fact is they still have so many playmakers to replace: Two-time first-team All-American Jarvis Jones, leading tackler Alec Ogletree, three-fourths of the starting secondary and almost the entire defensive line.
Four players who finished last year as starters return. One of them, sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, could emerge as a star this year. Junior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera and junior cornerback Damian Swann are also All-SEC caliber.
But the performance of the defense will hinge on the players who fill in the other roles. Josh Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore who rarely played last year, will see a lot of snaps at a hybrid Star safety/linebacker position. The nose tackle spot, so key to a 3-4 defense, will be filled by a committee. Safety Tray Matthews could become the first true freshman to start Georgia’s opener since defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was hired in 2010.
It’s not a defense without talent: Several years of good recruiting took care of that. The question is whether Grantham can mold this unit into a successful one soon enough for the team to survive Clemson, South Carolina and LSU — or whether Georgia will need to win a bunch of high-scoring games.
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Aaron Murray, QB – A fourth-year starter, Murray’s set school records and some SEC marks, so now it’s all about winning a title, and perhaps a Heisman.
Todd Gurley, RB – Broke Herschel Walker’s record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman (17) and ran for 1,385 yards, first in the SEC among tailbacks.
Keith Marshall, RB – The other half of the “Gurshall” tandem was pretty good in his own right and averaged slightly more yards per carry (6.5 to Gurley’s 6.2).
Malcolm Mitchell, WR – Once he moved back to receiver, Mitchell re-emerged as one of the team’s top receiving threats.
Jordan Jenkins, OLB – Played significant snaps as a true freshman, finishing second on the team with five sacks, and looking like a future star.
Erratic hardly begins to describe Marshall Morgan’s first season as Georgia’s placekicker. He eventually settled down, but early in the season he missed three extra points, had another blocked and had several more ding off the uprights. But he also booted two field goals from over 50 yards out. Punter Collin Barber, also a freshman last year, was the direct opposite of Morgan, with hardly any shanks but also few memorable bombs, and less than a third were downed inside the 20. While the two kicking spots are set, the return specialist roles remains in flux. Malcolm Mitchell provides the most breakaway ability, but he also made some ill-advised decisions. Gurley had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the opener, then hardly returned any kicks after that.
There’s enough talent on this team for Mark Richt to take the program to the next level and win a national championship. But Georgia’s schedule is much harder than it was last year, and with three potential top-10 teams in the first month, the season may be decided on two things: Whether the defense can start the season off at least being serviceable and whether the offense can be as good as last year. If the answer to both questions is yes, then the Bulldogs should be back in Atlanta in December, hoping the third time is a charm for winning the SEC title.