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Oregon was set to be another top-10 team last season, but things didn't go to plan when its new quarterback got injured early in the year. That led to some embarrassing losses, including giving up a 31-point lead to TCU in the Alamo Bowl. The Ducks finished 9-4 overall, their worst mark since 2007, but were still only a game behind Stanford (who they beat on the road) in the Pac-12 North. Having to work in another quarterback has this team outside of the preseason top-10 for the first time in awhile.
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The first, and most talked about competition, is at quarterback where Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop is fighting Travis Jonsen for the job. Prukop comes from a similar offense at the FCS level, while the freshman Jonsen took bigger shots down the field in the spring game. Both finished with similar numbers in the scrimmage and the battle is far from over.
But outside of quarterback, the offensive talent is loaded as usual for the Ducks starting with do-it-all running back Royce Freeman, who had 2,184 total yards and 19 total touchdowns last year. But it's not just him that returns with Taj Griffin (570 yards), Kani Benoit (364 yards) and Tony Brooks-James (288 yards) all returning in the backfield. At receiver, it's almost the same situation with Darren Carrington (609 yards, 6 TDs) and Dwayne Stanford (463 yards, 5 TDs) the top two returnees.
Outside of quarterback, the other question falls to the offensive line where a few starters are gone. For Freeman to surpass last year's numbers, or to at least help the new QB out, the line can't be a detriment to the group.
Defensively, there are plenty of questions, but new coordinator Brady Hoke is expected to change that. If there is ever a problem with Oregon, it's usually on the defensive side, as seen last year when they needed 50 or even 60 points to win multiple games.
There are a ton of holes on the line and stud DeForest Buckner is gone. But with Hoke, expect a lot of different and more aggressive looks from this defense. Maybe they won't become the best Pac-12 defense overnight, but improvement should at least be expected. The secondary will need to make the biggest jump after being one of the worst in the country last year, but as a somewhat positive, most of those guys return, outside of Charles Nelson, who moved back to wide receiver full-time.
For the most part, the Ducks have the schedule to surpass last year's nine wins even with their over/under sitting around the 8-win mark or higher at most places. Oregon hosts Stanford, but also have to travel to Utah and USC out of the South, which is as bad as it gets. Nevertheless, a road trip to Nebraska won't be as tough as the Michigan State one from last year, but it'll be far from easy.
The Ducks should be good as usual on offense, no matter who wins the quarterback job. But getting to double-digit wins will fall to what Hoke can do in his first year as coordinator. If they improve just a little, expect Oregon to challenge Stanford for the North title, which is the norm these days.
2016 Oregon Ducks Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. UC Davis
Sept. 10 vs. Virginia
Sept. 17 at Nebraska
Sept. 24 vs. Colorado
Oct. 1 at Washington State
Oct. 8 vs. Washington
Oct. 21 at California
Oct. 29 vs. Arizona State
Nov. 5 at USC
Nov. 12 vs. Stanford
Nov. 19 at Utah
Nov. 26 at Oregon State
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