Oregon Ducks: Dennis Dixon

3-point stance: Losing parallels

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
5:30
AM ET
1. History provides parallels of sort to the possible demise of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in their big games this week. No. 2 Oregon, with a quarterback who was the Heisman favorite, lost on the road in November 2007. But that was at Arizona, not Stanford, and quarterback Dennis Dixon had a torn ACL when the game began (the knee gave out in the first half). The last time the No. 1 Crimson Tide was a two-time defending national champion, 1980, the Tide made it into November with ranking intact before losing an SEC game, 6-3. But that was at Mississippi State, not home against LSU.

2. A Georgia Tech fan on my chat Wednesday asked if the Yellow Jackets had hit a ceiling with Paul Johnson and his option offense. Georgia Tech is 6-3 as it prepares to play No. 7 Clemson. But no one wants to play an option team -- ever. A week after Pitt lost to Georgia Tech, 21-10, and Notre Dame edged Navy and its option, 38-34, the Panthers and Fighting Irish play. The first thing Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Tuesday? “I know for both teams, we're excited about getting away from the option offense that we have both seen over the last couple of weeks.” Exactly.

3. One of the most intriguing stories this month will be whether Duke -- yes, Duke -- can win the ACC Coastal. The Blue Devils are 6-2, 2-2 in the league, and with their victory over Virginia Tech, in the thick of the division race. A year ago, Duke started the season 6-2 – and finished 6-7. Unlike last year, the Blue Devils enjoyed an off week before they hit November. “It gave us time to talk about what lies in front of us,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Everybody’s aware on this team of what happened a year ago. We didn’t win. We had all the losses, but it’s easy to forget that we played good football in November.”

Ducks make habit of closing strong 

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
9:00
AM ET
Haloti NgataG Fiume/Getty ImagesHaloti Ngata lived up to his five-star hype at Oregon and brought that success to the NFL.

For those Oregon fans who worry about how many commitments the Ducks have at this point in the recruiting cycle, all they need to do is take a look back over the past decade or so, starting with the 2002 recruiting class, when the Ducks landed some guy named Haloti Ngata on signing day.

With a handful of spots to fill in the class of 2013, DuckNation decided to take a look back at who the Ducks have added in the final weeks of the recruiting cycle in each year since 2003.

After a long battle that led to much speculation and many predictions, the Oregon Ducks have a starting quarterback.

The Ducks named redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota the starter. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Mariota battled with third-year sophomore Bryan Bennett all throughout the spring and summer. On Friday, it was announced that Mariota had earned the job.

Mariota has drawn many comparisons to former Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon for his smooth demeanor, athleticism and ball fakes in the spread option. The biggest difference? Mariota is more polished than Dixon was at this stage in his career.

Dixon had a magical senior year that might have ended with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in 2007 if not for a season-ending knee injury. Before his senior season, Dixon was a great athlete with a lot of upside. Once Kelly arrived, Dixon went from an enigma to the best player in college football.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanRedshirt freshman Marcus Mariota was named Oregon's starting quarterback.
Mariota was redshirted last season as he developed under Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The Ducks had junior Darron Thomas as a second-year starter and hoped to bring Mariota and Bennett, Thomas' backup last season, along slowly.

Thomas decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, leaving the Ducks in what many perceived to be a tough spot. But there are those inside the program who believe Bennett and Mariota both bring better athleticism and overall ability than Thomas. They just don't have the experience.

But Thomas didn't have experience when Jeremiah Masoli was booted from the team before the 2010 season. Thomas rose to the occasion and guided the Ducks to their greatest season ever. With his departure, it is Mariota's turn to take the keys to the offense.

Mariota quickly rose to the occasion and had the Ducks faithful on the edge of its seats during the spring game. His performance sparked memories of Dixon's 2007 season that left fans wishing that Chip Kelly would have connected with Dixon before his senior year.

Oregon fans watched nine games of Dixon at his best. With four years of eligibility left, Mariota has the potential to do what Dixon couldn't finish during his senior year.

Many expected the Ducks to take a step back when Masoli was dismissed from the team. Masoli was effective, but he had limits on what he could do. Thomas set records and took the Ducks to new heights while displaying a unique style that left people thinking how good he could be if he tightened up his game.

Mariota is already more polished than Masoli or Thomas. The two previous quarterbacks made amazing plays for the Ducks and had legendary two-year careers in Eugene. They also left fans holding their breath in anticipation of both good and bad.

Now the Oregon program is looking at a future with a possible four-year starter who is already ahead of the game.

Speaking of games, the only one fans have seen Mariota involved in was the Ducks' spring scrimmage. Now he has to prove it against real opponents. An easy opening schedule should provide ample opportunity for Mariota to sharpen things up. It starts Sept. 1 against Arkansas State.
Bennett-MariotaGetty Images/AP PhotoBryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota will battle for Oregon's starting QB job throughout August.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly has no use for depth charts before preseason camp is over. He sees 22 practices before earnest game preparation begins for the Sept. 1 opener against Arkansas State. A lot can happen in 22 practices.

"Everything is open," he said.

Sure, there's a little bit of coach-speak there. With 14 starters back from the 2011 Pac-12 champions, as well as plenty of key backups, it's actually not terribly difficult to project most of the Ducks' starting positions. There are plenty of the usual suspects, from Kenjon Barner, to Dion Jordan, to John Boyett, to Michael Clay to De'Anthony Thomas to Jackson Rice.

But Kelly isn't one to obsess about crowning starters on a depth chart even when games begin. To him, a strong two-deep is the thing to remain the Pac-12 king.

"I think we've really developed depth here the last couple of years," he said. "Everybody understands that. It's not about being the No. 1 guy. It's about being in the rotation."

Ah, but there is one special spot that will keep Ducks fans agog and, really, is one of the major preseason questions in all of college football: Who's going to replace Darron Thomas at quarterback? Marcus Mariota, who had the standout spring game? Or Bryan Bennett, who stepped in admirably for an injured Thomas a year ago?

“I’ve got a lot of faith -- after seeing Bryan for a couple years now, and Marcus for a full year now -- in both those guys’ abilities to play,” Kelly said.

A top-five preseason ranking in just about every poll, including the recently released coaches poll, suggests many share Kelly's faith that QB won't be a big issue. But faith isn't certainty. Competing for the starting job is one thing. Leading a top-five team is another. Just because Dennis Dixon blossomed and Jeremiah Masoli and Thomas had success as first-year starters under Kelly doesn't mean that will always be the case, and Kelly admitted as much.

"Their first snap is going to be really our first look at how they handle it," he said. "I anticipate them being very successful, but we’ll see. That’s obviously a big question for all of us.”

Kelly also said he's not opposed to playing two guys, though he said his experience in such competitions is there's typically a clear winner.

As far as what Kelly is looking for out of his starter, it's a mixture of measurable performance -- efficiency, protecting the football, running the plays correctly -- and less tangible things -- leadership, instincts, moxie, etc.

"I can't give you a concrete thing -- a 'hey, I need to see this,' " he said.

Of course, fans and media won't see much of anything as practices and scrimmages are closed. While scuttlebutt will certainly get out, it will be difficult to know how reliable it is. Here's a guess there will be conflicting reports from players who enjoy toying with media, students and other fans trying to pry out tidbits of information. It's unlikely anything will be official before Aug. 24, and Kelly may even wait until the Monday before the season-opener.

Everyone in the know, however, knows it's going to be Mariota. No, Bennett. No, Mariota. Bennett!

Let the speculation begin.

Oregon kicks off camp on Monday 

August, 5, 2012
8/05/12
1:21
PM ET
Kenjon Barner Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner should get the majority of carries in the backfield this season.
The defending league champion Oregon Ducks kick off their quest for a Pac-12 four-peat when fall camp kicks off on Monday. The Ducks won the last two Pac-10 titles and the inaugural Pac-12 title; now they want to be the first back-to-back Pac-12 champions.

When fall camp kicks off there will be many familiar faces and also some notable players missing.

Gone are record-setting quarterback Darron Thomas, all-time leading rusher LaMichael James, team MVP David Paulson, the team's most improved player, Eddie Pleasant, and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP LaVasier Tuinei. How will they replace the departed stars? Who will step up? Is a fourth consecutive league title possible?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Who Is The Heisman Front Runner?
Heather Dinich looks at whether or not Marcus Mariota or Todd Gurley is leading the Heisman race.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/2
Saturday, 10/4