The case for
The Ducks bring back the core of a starting offense that scored an FBS-best 89 touchdowns last season, and at least three of those players (sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, junior running back De'Anthony Thomas and senior wide receiver Josh Huff) are proven home run threats. Thomas has scored 33 touchdowns in two seasons, while Mariota set the school record for touchdowns in a season (38). The Ducks averaged one point for every 32.9 seconds of possession, and offensive coordinator turned head coach Mark Helfrich isn't expected to ease the pace.
As for the defense, the Ducks feature a veteran secondary led by potential All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The budding star on that side of the ball is sophomore defensive lineman Arik Armstead, a physical specimen (6'8", 280 pounds) whose sack totals and tackles for loss (½ and two in 2012) could skyrocket this year. Oregon's defenders have another thing going for them: They practice against the nation's best offense every day.
The case against
The Ducks have the weapons to make a title run, but it's wait and see on whether Helfrich has the savvy and acumen to run the offense as effectively as Chip Kelly.
How has the transition from offensive coordinator to coach been?
I think that everybody is comfortable since we have so much carryover. Eight of 10 coaches are back and the support staff, too. That makes it a lot easier to get up and go.
Are you sitting in a bigger chair now that you've moved into shiny new facilities?
It's ... indescribable. What they tried to do is to go around the world and look at the best of the best, whether it's food service or training equipment. Our staff brought all that together.
And what about the new responsibilities?
It's different when you're no longer worrying about just one side of the ball. There are so many more questions that you've never thought of before.
You've coached some good quarterbacks. How good is Marcus Mariota?
He's phenomenal. He has the capabilities to be the best and, more important, the desire. Putting those together is what makes him so special. He can make any throw, and he's such an incredible athlete.
Player to Watch
Tight end Colt Lyerla has already caught 11 career TDs, and with a largely unproven receiving corps, he might be Mariota's top target. At 6'5", 246 pounds the junior is too fast for most linebackers, too big for defensive backs and a gifted blocker.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Marcus Mariota
Pass: 2,862 yards, 32 TDs
Run: 680 yards, 6 TDs
RB De'Anthony Thomas
Run: 785 yards, 14 TDs
Rec.: 450 yards, 7 TDs
WR Josh Huff
Rec.: 840 yards, 10 TDs
Run: 25 yards, 0 TDs
The Ducks should be favored in every game until their Nov. 7 tilt with Stanford, which could be the biggest Pac-12 game since they traveled to Palo Alto in 2011. Oregon doesn't play USC or Arizona State and faces only one other challenging road game (Oct. 12 at Washington). Cal and UCLA could be tricky, but they're in Eugene.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (THOMAS)
KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/USA TODAY SPORTS (HELFRICH)