Oregon Ducks: Bralon Addison

Oregon and UCLA are generally the preseason picks as the Pac-12's best candidates for the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, which also indicates they are the favorites to win their divisions and play for the Pac-12 championship.

That doesn't mean they are a sure-thing. Far from it. In fact, Phil Steele, who likes both Oregon and UCLA, says folks should watch out for USC. He rates the Trojans as one of the potential surprise teams of 2014.
The Trojans are one of just five teams in the country that have each of their positional units (QB, RB, etc.) rank in my top 40. Scholarship limitations have really limited them as of late, but they have some depth at key positions. There is no disputing a talent like defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The Trojans also have my No. 6 defensive line in the country, No. 5 linebackers and No. 3 defensive backs, giving them my No. 2 overall defense

ESPN.com's Insider also takes a look at several Pac-12 teams playoff chances here, including Washington, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

Still, the Ducks are the preseason Pac-12 front runners. Their chances of making the playoff are rated at 48 percent by Brian Fremeau with a projected record of 11-1.

ESPN analyst Brock Huard presents a detailed look at Oregon here. What he likes about Oregon isn't not surprising: QB Marcus Mariota, a favorable schedule and the Ducks recent track record.

He does, however, see some issues, starting with the Ducks front seven on defense. He writes:
... while Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have each seen plenty of snaps, they must both make significant strides to be the forces at the point of attack that BCS champs have wielded over the last decade.

That's entirely fair, though the defense looks a lot stronger and experienced at linebacker than it did a year ago. It's also notable the Ducks are rebuilding their secondary after you get past the return of All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Huard also notes that the injury to No. 1 WR Bralon Addison hurts, making the Ducks typical offensive explosiveness a question.

Finally, he points out that navigating the Pac-12 schedule -- not to mention a nonconference matchup with Big Ten favorite Michigan State -- will be rugged and challenging on a week-to-week basis, even with pair of favorable misses (USC and Arizona State).

Bottom line: Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which their being in the national title hunt has been the standard not the exception.

Barring anything exceptional in 2014, the Ducks should again be in the thick of things.
Over the past few weeks we examined the Ducks, position-by-position, evaluating the talent. But since I was in Eugene last week for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, I figured I'd stop by the football offices to check in with one of the guys who knows that information best, offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Today, we'll go through quarterback and running back highlights. Tomorrow, we'll get to wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line.

QUARTERBACK

  • They're certainly not shying away from any Heisman hype at this point in the year. On quarterback Marcus Mariota, Frost said, "We certainly think we have the best one in the country" and that "he throws better than anyone in the country." Well Jameis Winston, there you have it.
  • I was curious about Mariota's injury situation -- a lot of times when guys come back there might be some hesitation or some ounce of doubt still in their minds about their knee, or ankle or whatever. Frost isn't worried about it. He said that even a few weeks after the injury Mariota wanted to get the knee brace off. Frost also said that Mariota would've run for 200 yards in the bowl game (he rushed for 133 yards) but he was out of shape from the injury.
  • As far as the quarterback-not-named-Mariota situation, redshirt sophomore Jeff Lockie is the No. 2 guy this season ("without question," Frost said.). Frost doesn't seem concerned that the only backups on the roster at this point are Lockie and redshirt freshman Taylor Alie. Lockie was 8-of-13 last season for 57 yards and one interception. Alie is a local walk-on, but Frost did note how impressed he was with Alie's spring.
  • Alie will likely be the holder for field goals this season.
  • Regarding last season's backup, Frost said that they felt comfortable with both Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who has transferred to San Diego State, but if they would've had to name a backup, it would've been Lockie. But that the coaching really didn't want to "finalize the outcome of that competition until a point in time when we [needed] to."
  • On whether the flip side of having such a great QB like Mariota is the fact that you do get attrition with other guys: "Quarterbacks are a unique breed. … They're the leaders. They're used to being the guy. It's tough for guys to come in and not play. We've had a great one, which is a good problem to have. But a lot of the guys behind him hadn't had the chance to play as much as they'd like."
  • Fun note: Frost lauded Mariota for being good at many different things, but apparently golf is not one of those things.
RUNNING BACK

  • On the Thomas Tyner vs. Byron Marshall debate -- Frost said there's a lot of confidence in both players. He said that it took Tyner a while to really get up to speed, but that he's there now and that Frost likes the competition between these two. Seems like even if there is a lead back and a No. 2 back, there really might not be a ton of separation in reps or carries.
  • Both have really good hands, but Frost said both "need to work on running routes a little bit and making sure they know more than one spot."
  • The first non-Tyner-Marshall player that Frost brought up was incoming freshman Tony James. James is the No. 14 RB in the 2014 class and chose the Ducks over offers from Auburn, Florida State and Ohio State.
  • On how the Bralon Addison injury affects the running backs: "We'd be silly if we just leave one running back on the field and most of these guys off the field. I can see us playing with more than one, using them in some other roles.
  • Frost cited the 2011 season when the Ducks used LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner together a lot, saying that might be something we see this season. That season James rushed for 1,805 yards, Thomas rushed for 595 and Barner rushed for 939. I don't think Frost is saying that 2014 will necessarily be another 4,000-rushing yard season, but, this idea of multiple-back situations keeps coming up a lot.
  • Apparently, Chip Kelly used to use, what he called, the "taser" position -- a guy that can play tailback, flanker and slot. This is something they're looking at using more of next season with Tyner or Marshall, it sounds like. Even if Addison weren't injured, this would've been something they would've considered doing more of this year.
  • In closing, Frost put it best: "We want our best five on the field for the situation all times. There have been times that's four running backs. There have been times that's two tight ends. And there's times that's four receivers. So, we'll just have to get through camp, figure out who our best guys are and go from there."
During the next few weeks, we’re going to go through Oregon’s roster, position by position, examining what talent was lost to graduation or the NFL and what that leaves the Ducks with in 2014.

The wide receivers are up on Thursday.

Who was lost after the 2013 season: Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins, Chad Delaney, Blake Stanton

Lost production: 89 catches, 1,510 yards, 15 touchdowns

Who’s back in 2014: Junior Bralon Addison*, redshirt senior Keanon Lowe, redshirt sophomore Chance Allen, redshirt junior B.J. Kelley, redshirt freshman Devon Allen, redshirt sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington, senior Johnathan Loyd, redshirt sophomore Chris Tewhill, redshirt sophomore Austin Daich, redshirt senior Jeff Stolzenburg, incoming freshman Jalen Brown

* Questionable whether Addison will return for the 2014 season due to injury

Statistics of returning players: 85 catches, 1,234 yards, 11 touchdowns

Outlook: The Addison injury certainly doesn’t help anything (typically no injury does), because without his production the returning stats really are 24 catches, 344 yards and four touchdowns. Pretty meh.

Luckily, the wide receivers looked like they had quite a bit of potential during the spring game. Nine wide receivers caught passes, and Devon Allen was certainly the headliner of the day with his two touchdown receptions. Some of the younger players -- Carrington and Chance Allen -- showed potential too, though quarterback Marcus Mariota likely has the most established chemistry (in this group) with Lowe.

This will continue to be one of the biggest question marks heading in to the 2014 season because, as I’ve said before, Mariota’s Heisman campaign is only going to be as good as those on the receiving end of his passes. Look for Devon Allen to have a big season, for Lowe to be the most consistent player and for the receiving corps as a whole to be one of the youngest contributing position groups in recent history for the Ducks.

Other spring position reviews:
Spring ball is a lovely little dose of football that gets us all through the year, but it’s a far stretch from what we know and see in the fall. For the most part, it gives the young guys solid snaps and lets the older guys tune their skills.

But the coach who put it best this spring was Oregon coach Mark Helfrich who said, “In spring ball, you’re panning for gold a little bit. There’s a bunch of crap and one fleck of gold. You grab it and build on that and try to fix the other parts.”

So, here’s a look at who or what those flecks of gold were for the Pac-12 North:

Cal: If the Bears had been even adequate on defense a year ago, Andy Buh would still be in charge of the defense. Of course, that didn’t happen, but as a result coach Sonny Dykes was able to bring in Art Kaufman -- a man with a much more extensive list of success coordinating defenses. With Kaufman on board, Cal got back to basics, upped the amount of hitting it did in practice and took steps toward getting back to respectability. And, oh yeah, it remained healthy throughout the process.

Oregon: Offensively, if there’s any kind of gold/silver lining to the fact the Ducks lost Bralon Addison, it’s that they lost him early in the spring, which gave the younger, less experienced receivers more reps. Obviously, you never want to see a guy go down, but the timing of this injury gave other guys the time to step up and bring along the learning curve. Defensively, the silver lining is that the pass rush definitely improved. Between Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, Oregon is going to have two really solid defensive linemen on its hands.

Oregon State: The Beavers lost Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks and with him about 1,700 yards of receiving. They spent the spring trying to figure out where they’d find it. The fleck of gold in this season for Oregon State is that it might be on the right trail with two young receivers -- sophomore Victor Bolden and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon. They’re both players to keep track of next fall as quarterback Sean Mannion will certainly continue his gun-slinging ways.

Stanford: The two-time defending Pac-12 champion’s blueprint has long been in place. Now the program is in the rinse-and-repeat state among college football’s elite -- and for Stanford that starts with the offensive line. With four new starters up front, the talented group needs time to mesh, but it showed enough throughout spring to encourage the coaching staff it can remain a strength of the team. Center Graham Shuler and left guard Joshua Garnett also displayed leadership traits.

Washington: Whenever there’s a coaching change before a spring season, the fleck of gold is always going to be the fact that for both the coaches’ and players’ benefit, there was a period of time to get acquainted with one another. For Chris Petersen, he was installing a new system, bringing UW an overhaul in the coaching staff and implementing new rules and ways of doing things. Hopefully the spring period moves this group from Petersen’s program with Steve Sarkisian’s players to more of Petersen’s program.

Washington State: Ask any WSU fan about the future at quarterback beyond Connor Halliday and there is no worry in the world. It has been that way since Tyler Bruggman signed his letter of intent as part of the Class of 2013. What few counted on was that a walk-on could end up challenging the heir apparent -- but that appears to be the case. Luke Falk, who at one time was committed to Cornell, split reps with Bruggman and outperformed him in the Cougars’ spring game.

Spring games primer

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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The final spring games of 2014 will take place in the state of Oregon this weekend. Here's a few things to keep an eye on.

Oregon

Where: Autzen Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week), KUJZ (95.3) in Eugene and KXTG (750 AM) in Portland.

What to watch: Oregon reporter Chantel Jennings had a nice summary on Thursday of some storylines to keep an eye on. It will be interesting to see how backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are used. Both have even gotten some work at wide receiver this spring as the Ducks look to find a replacement for the injured Bralon Addison. Though that’s likely more situational than anything. Still, both are fighting for carries to see who will be the No. 1 back in 2014 behind an offensive line that has bulked up significantly. … Admission to the game requires three non-perishable food items. Parking is $5 per vehicle, though shuttles are provided. After the game, Oregon players will donate their jerseys to approximately 100 service members.

Oregon State

Where: Reser Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: The offensive line has been an issue all spring because of the absence of some starters due to injury. That’s opened up opportunities for others to get some reps, but coach Mike Riley has expressed some frustration about not being able to build some chemistry with a starting five. A lot of eyes are on Victor Bolden as the guy who could step in to replace Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks. The backup quarterback spot is also of note, so look for Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio to make a push as Sean Mannion's No. 2. … Activities begin at 10 a.m. with the 50-yard line sale. There will be an autograph session at 10:45 a.m. and stadium gates open at noon.

Poll: Top spring storyline

April, 24, 2014
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There hasn’t been a shortage of intriguing storylines this spring in the Pac-12. Then again, there usually aren’t. From quarterback battles to disciplinary issues, the 2014 spring has given us plenty to talk about. But which one stands out as the biggest storyline? That’s today’s Pac-12 blog poll question.

What’s the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

Your options:

SportsNation

What is the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

  •  
    43%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,677)

Bralon Addison injury: The Ducks lost one of their top receiving threats when Addison tore his ACL in spring practice. There are options for the Ducks, who are never wanting for offensive talent. But Addison seemed poised to build off an outstanding 2013 after catching 61 balls for 890 yards and seven touchdowns -- not to mention his prowess as a return man. This is the third-straight spring a marquee receiver has gone down (Paul Richardson, 2012; Austin Hill, 2013).

USC quarterback: Cody Kessler is USC’s starting quarterback, for now. New coach Steve Sarkisian announced before the spring game that the incumbent had continued to distance himself from challengers Max Browne and Jalen Greene. It wasn’t a total shock -- given Kessler’s year of experience and the fact that he came on strong in the second half last fall. But USC quarterbacks will always garner national attention.

Quarterback questions marks: While 10 Pac-12 coaches have the luxury of having their QB in place already, two schools are still looking for their starter. Arizona has a host of quarterbacks to choose from. And spring has brought little clarity to the situation. At Washington, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams split the snaps, but we won’t know much until Cyler Miles returns from his suspension.

ASU’s defense: Every team has to replace a few key players, but the Arizona State Sun Devils essentially have to replace its entire starting defense. With nine starters gone from last season’s defense gone -- including two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton -- the competition level was upped to see who is going to step in.

Stanford's RBs: Being a starting running back at Stanford means big production. The Cardinal have had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008, so whoever replaces Tyler Gaffney is probably in for a big season. Though coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog earlier this month he’d prefer to have a committee approach, a natural No. 1 will likely emerge. Who that is, however, remains a question.
Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

Jake from Spokane writes: What do you think Chris Petersen should do with Cyler Miles and Damore’ea Stringfellow? I know Miles wasn't charged and Stringfellow got off easy, but don't you think he should make an example out of them?

Ted Miller: Yes. And no.

As many of you know, I typically side with second chances. I think zero-tolerance is bad policy. Everything should be a case-by-case basis. For one, there's typically two sides to every story, with the less public, after-the-big-headlines side often being closer to the truth -- see past assault accusations against former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Or Duke lacrosse, for that matter.

I know the self-righteous out there love to tell everyone about their inflexible absolutes with behavior and Puritan standards for character. My experience with people like that is they almost always are full of pooh.

And yet a line I often do draw is at bullying, which the two incidents involving Miles and Stringfellow approximate. A bigger person pushing around a smaller person just because he can is abhorrent. That, to me, does reveal a deep-seated character flaw. The fact that alcohol apparently wasn't involved actually almost makes it worse. When you can't blame the booze, what can you blame, other than a flawed moral compass?

Based on what I know typing this today, here's what I would do if I were Petersen.

First, I would meet with a crew of Huskies seniors who command respect in the locker room and ask their positions on the situation and why they feel that way. I would ask if there were details of the incidents that they knew of or had heard of from reasonably reliable sources that differed from public accounts. I wouldn't ask what they thought I should do, but I would take the measures of their feelings toward both, including whether those feelings were different between the pair.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen hasn't announced the punishment for Washington players Cyler Miles and Damore'ea Stringfellow.
Barring any major surprises, I'd then meet with Miles and tell him he was being conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first game (at Hawaii, so he'd truly be missing a fun trip). I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with strength coach Tim Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third. A quarterback, in particular, is supposed to set a standard in the locker room.

Then, I'd meet with Stringfellow. He too would be conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first three games. I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third.

I'd publicly announce my decision in May or June so it wasn't a big, distracting story right before the beginning of preseason practices. I'd also have both of them meet with the media, though only after a stern session with myself and sports information director Jeff Bechthold, where we'd hammer home talking points about being humble, regretful and accountable while not reviewing too many details of the incidents. Something like, "I know I won't do this again because of how horrible I felt and still feel for hurting someone and embarrassing my family, my school and my team."

I'd also minimize the "put it behind me" talk, which always comes off as lacking regret while suggesting impatience with a justifiable inquisition. Want to win a news conference? Say, "No, I'm not going to put this behind me. I'm going to think about it every day to remind myself of what it feels like to be a bad person, which I never want to feel again."

These situations typically involve a complicated calculus, particularly when the players are key contributors, as both of these guys are. Petersen has a duty to his players, fans, administrators and himself to do what he was truly hired to do: Win. Yes, he should aim to build character and help young men grow into quality adults, but the reality is that comes in second place to winning. Sorry if that bursts your idealistic bubble, but there's a reason why even the greatest teachers aren't paid $3 million a year.

That said, bad apples in a locker room don't help the cause. Sometimes temporary pain -- suspensions or giving players the boot -- helps a program, helps it win over the long term.

My impression of Petersen is he's the clearest of thinkers. While most of us view this as the first big test of his administration, I suspect it feels fairly routine for him.


Tim from Portland writes: Hey Ted, I wonder if I'm the only one thinking that the loss of the Ducks' top four receivers could actually be a good thing. I know we lose a lot of numbers with those four out, but isn't it possible Oregon could go back to the blue-collar attitude they had in Chip [Kelly's] first couple years as head coach? I mean, in those years at least we met or exceeded the expectations for the season.

Ted Miller: Yes, Tim, you are the only one thinking that.

Are you saying that Bralon Addison's blowing out his knee this spring is a good thing? My answer to that: No. One thousand times no. Have you seen Addison play? Before he got hurt, I saw him as a legitimate All-Pac-12 candidate.

And, no, losing your top four receivers is never a good thing, either. Never. Well, unless they all ran 5.0 40s and were locker room cancers.

Also, I'm not sure if I've ever viewed Oregon as a "blue-collar" team. I see Oregon as a cutting edge, fancy-pants team that has the best facilities in the nation and gets to go behind the velvet rope at all the cool clubs.

I'd also like to point out that the Ducks' horribly disappointing season included 11 wins, a dominant bowl victory over Texas and a top-10 final ranking.

Now, if you're saying the Ducks might run the ball more next fall with four returning starting O-linemen, a good crew of tight ends and what should be a dynamic RB combination in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, I could get on board with that.

That said, quarterback Marcus Mariota is an A-list passer. While there are unknowns at receiver, I suspect the cupboard isn't empty. I'd be surprised if Mariota doesn't throw for at least 250 yards per game.


Dave from Tucson writes: Ted, thanks for some good, informative articles on football. Just a minor reporting point on this: "...Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker." Actually, Matt Scott had beaten out Nick Foles to start the 2009 season and started two games before being benched for Foles. Denker also started a game and played the entire game against Colorado in the 2012 season when Matt Scott was down with a concussion. Matt Scott was not a first-year starter in 2012 and Denker was not a first-year starter in 2013.

Ted Miller: I think you're mixing up "first-time" and "first-year."

Both Scott and Denker had started games and seen action before ascending officially to the starting job, but neither was a returning starter, which is typically defined as starting at least five games during the previous season. Nick Foles preceded Scott as the 2012 starter, and Scott preceded Denker as the 2013 starter.

And, just as Washington QB Cyler Miles, despite starting at Oregon State, was not the Huskies' starting QB in 2013. That was Keith Price.


Mr. Elizabeth Bennet from Salt Lake City writes: I enjoyed the quote you added to your lunch links from April 16. I wonder what your thoughts are on how Jane Austen would have commented on the state of college football, given all the clamoring for change that has happened and the widening gap of aristocracy between the conferences? Also, which "Pride & Prejudice" character best describes each Pac-12 football coach/team? It seems like the Pac-12 blog does a good job as the Elizabeth Bennet of the college football world, offering witty, but insightful commentary on the society within college football.

Ted Miller: I think it's a universally acknowledged truth that Jane Austen would have been a heck of a sportswriter, full of sense and sensibility as well as persuasion. While some -- mostly those who haven't read her -- probably see her as some sort of "chick-lit," the reality is she's a wonderfully biting observer of how folks behave, not to mention underrated when it comes to humor.

As for Austen and college football, she's already commented. You may not know this, but Lady Bertram in "Mansfield Park" is the personification of the NCAA, a novel, by the way, that includes these two felicitous quotes:

  • Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
  • A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

As for the "Pride and Prejudice" request, I'm not going to wander down that road -- who wants to be Wickham or Collins or Lydia? -- but I will say Chip Kelly had plenty of "Darcy" in him.


EUGENE, Ore. -- A team is only as good as its twos and threes -- or so says Oregon wide receiver coach Matt Lubick. If that’s true, the Ducks are about to find out how good they are in the passing game.

While the addition of former Ducks basketball player Johnathan Loyd to the football team brought some excitement last week, it was quickly overshadowed by the news that wide receiver Bralon Addison had torn his ACL.

While there have been several success stories of players who’ve returned quickly from these types of injuries, considering the timing of Addison’s injury, Lubick needs to count on his twos and threes for the brunt of the receiving duties in the 2014-15 season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB Thomas Tyner might need to make more plays in the passing game this season.
“They’re very eager,” Lubick said of his youthful players. “They’re excited to learn. If there’s a blessing in disguise about an injury happening at this time it’s that it gives those guys reps now as opposed to right in the middle of the season when they wouldn’t get as many reps.”

And those guys need to take the reps considering the personnel situation in the wide receiver corps.

Of the Ducks’ top 10 leaders in receptions last season, the top four will not be playing next season (that includes Addison, who was the No. 2 receiver last season). Those four players accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Ducks’ receptions and 72 percent of the Ducks’ receiving yardage. As a group, receivers 5-10 last season accounted for only slightly more catches than Josh Huff did on his own.

And of those six players who return, only two are pure receivers -- Keanon Lowe and Chance Allen. The other four are tight ends (John Mundt and Pharaoh Brown) and running backs (Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall).

“The neat thing about spring ball is you’re trying to figure out about your team,” Lubick said. “Is our best personnel group two tight ends? Is our best personnel group two running backs or is it still three wideouts? We still don’t know that. We’re still trying to find that out.”

Over the past three seasons Oregon has had a running back in its top four receivers, including the 2012-13 season when running back De'Anthony Thomas led the team in receptions. However, for Tyner or Marshall to boost themselves into the top four, they’d have to nearly triple their receptions next season. It’s certainly possible, but Oregon would still need receivers to step up because they’re not going to be able to throw to backs or tight ends on every play.

The two returning receivers from last season’s top-10 group -- Lowe and Allen -- only accounted for 23 catches, 331 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

However, it’s not ridiculous to believe that such inexperienced players could make a huge jump in just one season. From the 2011-12 season to the 2012-13 season Colt Lyerla and Daryle Hawkins went from just 12 combined catches to 50 catches. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season Addison went from 22 catches and 243 yards to 61 catches and 890 yards.

But when Lyerla, Hawkins and Addison made those jumps there were several other players making huge impacts from a receiving standpoint as well, guys like Thomas and Huff. This season, Lowe and Allen won’t have that luxury because there aren’t other experienced players around them in the passing game.

Another issue for the Ducks is that the young guys are going to need to play above their age from a consistency and blocking standpoint. Generally, blocking isn’t one of the aspects emphasized for most high school wide receivers and so they get to college and need to learn that skill.

“At Oregon, it’s not just about catching balls,” Lubick said. “You have to be able to make plays without the ball. You have to be able to make plays with the ball. You can’t do one without the other, you have to do both. That’s sometimes the biggest adjustment for guys who weren’t used to doing that in high school.”

Lubick said that he, offensive coordinator Scott Frost and coach Mark Helfrich will be looking for the most consistent wide receivers through the spring and those will be the ones who get the starts in the spring game.

“The good thing about it is we have a lot of talent, a lot of resources and our offense gives us a lot of flexibility to have a whole bunch of personnel groupings,” he said. “… To be in our offense, whether you’re a tight end or running back, you have to know all the spots. It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”

But chances are, no matter who steps up, there will be at least a few completely new names catching balls during the spring game.

On one end will be a possible Heisman contender (assuming his receivers can help boost his passing yards) and one of the best-known quarterbacks in the nation. And on the other end will be a bunch of the Ducks’ twos and threes. People know how good QB Marcus Mariota is. Now, according to Lubick’s reasoning, they’ll find out how good the passing offense is as a whole.
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To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.
By most football standards, last season in Eugene, Ore., was a success. Under a first-year head coach the Ducks had an 11-win season while their 273.5 rushing yards per game and 291.5 passing yards per game were among the best in the country. But there was no Pac-12 championship and no BCS bowl game (ending the Ducks’ run of four-consecutive BCS bowl game appearances). So, year two is going to be as big of a test as the first for Mark Helfrich & Co.

With spring practices beginning Tuesday, the first steps of 2014 will be taken as the Ducks look to build on what they did last season and fix the mistakes that were made and the shortcomings that plagued them.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe return of Marcus Mariota meant big expectations are back for Oregon's offense.
Offensively, their identity is set. Marcus Mariota decided to return to Oregon, and with that decision expectations soared for what this offense could do. The Ducks lost their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers but with Mariota slinging it behind an offensive line that returns abundant talent and experience, even average receivers could look great. The receiver depth is far better than average. Keanon Lowe and Bralon Addison need to continue to contribute at a high level as they look to make up for the loss of two of the top three receivers from 2013.

However, since the receiver experience is limited, look for Helfrich to get the tight ends more involved in the pass game as the Ducks return a trio that could help take some of the yardage burden off those WRs. In 2013 the tight end trio of Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis accounted for five touchdowns and 475 yards on just 30 receptions.

The run game, again, will be no surprise to anyone. Even without De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks should be fine. Byron Marshall -- who led Oregon with 14 rushing touchdowns and 1,038 rushing yards -- and Thomas Tyner will be able to attack defenses up front and be a very formidable matchup in the option when teams try to stop the run. They both boast good hands, so they’ll be able to help out in the pass game as well, helping Mariota put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

All of that combined will make up a high-powered offense, which is exactly what people expect out of Oregon. But the biggest question will be whether the defense can be an equal counterpart. And with an attack like Oregon’s, the defense must almost be even stronger considering it’s on the field about 10 minutes more per game than teams.

So it’s not very fair to put up their straight defensive numbers and statistics against any other team that doesn’t feature as prolific of an offense. But it is fair to say that it’s one of the bigger concerns heading into this spring and one of the facets of the game that must make the biggest strides.

Last year, Oregon was known for its deep secondary as it dared teams to throw. But in return, the Ducks struggled against the run even with an experienced group. They gave up 3.8 yards per rush and allowed opponents to convert on 65.5 percent of rushing attempts on third downs (119th nationally). Oregon returns DeForest Buckner on the D-line, but overall, the group will need to improve its numbers against the run. It’s certainly a place where players could emerge through spring ball and one of the most important position groups that must build depth.

But even with the shuffling and inexperience on the defensive line, new defensive coordinator Don Pellum will stick with the 3-4 base defense because of the depth and experience the Ducks have in their linebacker group, which returns three starters, and their defensive backs. Even though the Ducks have just one returning starter in the secondary (cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu), most of the DBs got some experience last season.

Next season could be huge for Oregon, but the foundation of what happens next December and January begins right now.

Poll: Best three-headed monster?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
1:00
PM ET
Which Pac-12 team has the best overall three-headed monster?

To review what the heck we are writing about: On offense, that's an elite combination at quarterback, running back and receiver. On defense, it's an elite combination of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 unit has the best three-headed monster?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,817)

We've reviewed South offenses and North offenses and South defenses and North defenses.

But now we want your take on whose troika is the mightiest. Who has the surest thing heading into 2014?

On offense, we like Oregon in the North and Arizona State in the South.

Oregon offers QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall and WR Bralon Addison. Arizona State counters with QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong. That right there is a tough call.

The Ducks probably have a lead at quarterback, but you could say the Sun Devils are better at the other two spots. Or you might not.

On defense, we like USC in the South and Stanford in the North.

USC offers LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams and S Su'a Cravens, while Stanford has LB A.J. Tarpley, DE Henry Anderson and S Jordan Richards.

That's a group of six players who figures to earn All-Pac-12 honors.

First you might choose which crew you like on offense and which one you like on defense. Then you could ask yourself which one you'd most want to play for your team.

It's nice to have star power at all three levels on either side of the ball. But your question today is whose stars shine the brightest.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
2:30
PM ET
Starks are always right eventually. Winter is coming.
The first day of Oregon’s spring practices is April 1 (no, we aren’t fooling you), which means we’ve got about three weeks until the Ducks take the field again. Last week we counted down the top five Oregon recruiting classes and this week we’re taking a look at the top five players to keep track of during spring ball.

No. 1: WR Bralon Addison

2013 Statistics: 61 receptions | 890 yards | 7 TD | 68.5 yards per game

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenBralon Addison had 890 yards and seven receiving touchdowns as a sophomore and hopes to progress more in 2014.
Why to watch him: The Ducks lose their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers in Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins which means someone must step up if the offense is going to continue to be one of the most dominant in the nation. The Oregon offense has so many of its pieces in place to not only be as good, but better than it was last season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota returns. The offensive line is pretty much locked up. The top two rushers return. But the big question mark is whether or not a receiver will step up to provide a deep threat.

Mariota's passing yardage improved by nearly 1,000 yards from his redshirt freshman season to his sophomore season. His TD count remained about the same (32 in 2012, 31 in 2013) and his interceptions dropped from six to four. Mariota, who chose to come back to Eugene this season instead of heading to the NFL, should see another increase in his passing yardage if players such as Addison step forward.

In 2013, Oregon's top four receivers accounted for 72 percent of the receiving yardage and the season receiving touchdown total. However, Addison is the only player of those four who returns. He's going to need to use that experience to not only step up as a player but also lead the other younger receivers. Senior Keanon Lowe also returns. He played in 12 games and started three for the Ducks, but averaged just 19.4 yards per game.

Addison might need to make major strides quickly, as Oregon will have a major test on Sept. 6. Michigan State allowed just 165.6 passing yards per game last season (No. 3 nationally). The Spartans defensive backs referred to themselves as the "No Fly Zone" and backed that up. They held Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to zero passing TDs and just 143 yards in the Rose Bowl, 44 yards below his season average. Hogan completed just 10 passes.

The Spartans will provide a good measuring stick for Addison to show how much offseason progress he made. And as the season progresses, Addison and Mariota will face three of the top five passing defenses in the conference. This spring will be crucial to the development of his game and to see how much chemistry he and Mariota can build. Mariota is expected to have a great season, but his passing totals will only go as far as players such as Addison take him.

The countdown:
The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.

We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles in the next month, and we’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. We finish off the first countdown of our spring football series with a group that needs to replace a lot of yardage after 2013.

No. 1: Wide receiver

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsOregon receiver Bralon Addison caught 61 passes for 890 yards in 2013.
2013 review: With quarterback Marcus Mariota registering the highest QBR in the Pac-12, the Oregon wide receivers found themselves in a pretty favorable position. Mariota increased his passing yards per game from 205 yards per game in 2012 to 281 in 2013, which means the wide receivers were targeted more and in bigger spots. In 2013, Oregon led the Pac-12 (and finished No. 6 in the nation) with 68 percent of its receptions going for a touchdown or first down. The Ducks also led the conference and finished in the top 10 nationally in yards per reception (14.8). Mariota was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award for college player of the year and the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year. However, no quarterback can do that alone. Every quarterback in that group also had solid receivers as targets, which the Ducks certainly had in 2013.

Why they must improve: The Ducks lose their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers in Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins. Huff recorded a team-high 12 touchdowns on 62 catches and 1,140 yards, and Hawkins scored three touchdowns on 23 catches and 347 yards. So just between those two, Oregon is looking to replace 40 percent of its receiving yardage and 47 percent of its receiving touchdowns. Bralon Addison at slot receiver and Keanon Lowe at wide receiver each return, but finding someone to fill that other wide receiver spot will be important this spring. Dwayne Stanford, who redshirted last year after undergoing knee surgery, and B.J. Kelley (appeared in eight games, made one catch) are two players who could be in contention for that position. Stanford has the height advantage at 6-foot-5 (Kelley is 6-2), but Stanford needs to prove that he’s better than his freshman statistics, when he recorded 11 catches in 13 games. The Ducks need a big-time receiver to step in, and while there’s certainly an arsenal, no player is proven yet.

The countdown:

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