Oregon Ducks: Kenjon Barner
In the Class of 2013, the Ducks signed local legend and ESPN 150 RB Thomas Tyner (Aloha, Ore./Aloha), but they lost ATH Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) to Ohio State in the final stretch of the recruiting cycle. With De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall the only scholarship running backs on the roster prior to the arrival of Tyner and fellow 2013 RB signee Kani Benoit (Phoenix, Ariz./Thunderbird), the Ducks know they need to add depth and talent in this year's recruiting cycle.
The Ducks will likely take two running backs in the Class of 2014 and there are plenty of options to choose from. The Ducks have issued a number of offers to some of the elite ball-carriers in the class, but there are still a handful of athletes that could wind up with an offer from the Ducks before signing day comes around.
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The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2013 season having lost a possible top-five pick to the NFL draft, the No. 2 rusher in the Ducks' history and two all-league linebackers. The loss of Dion Jordan, Kenjon Barner, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will hurt, but potential losses after the 2013 season could sting a lot more.
The 2013 recruiting class was solid, but not spectacular. Next year, the potential of losing De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Hroniss Grasu and Colt Lyerla early to the NFL would be a huge blow to the Ducks as they try and continue their run of BCS appearances. The Ducks will definitely lose three impact players on the defensive line, two safeties, a linebacker and star wide receiver Josh Huff to graduation.
With heavy losses ahead, the Ducks must land a strong recruiting class in 2014. There are negatives to having a roster loaded with NFL talent, and the Ducks are about to learn that the hard way.
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You can see our preseason top 25 here.
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
2012 numbers: Mariota completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Preseason ranking: Unranked.
Making the case for Mariota: It's pretty extraordinary that a redshirt freshman quarterback earns first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And tops this list. But Mariota had an extraordinary season. He ranked first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in pass efficiency. It's reasonable to wonder how ridiculous his numbers would have been had Oregon played more close games, and therefore Mariota's A-game was needed in the fourth quarter more than three or four times. Consistency? Mariota threw a touchdown pass in every game. He threw one interception in the final seven games. He led an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.5 ppg) and was fifth in total offense (537.4 ypg). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team. The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who also might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see 86 and 77 yard runs this year. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He tied a school record with six TD passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State. In the Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State, he passed for two touchdowns and ran for another and earned game MVP honors as the Ducks ended up ranked No. 2 in the nation. Mariota will enter the 2013 season as one of the top-five preseason Heisman Trophy candidates. Said All-American Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown: "He's a great young player. He has a bright future." Yes he does. If current trends continue, Mariota will become the greatest player in Oregon history and be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. That's a lot. But it's the truth.
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah
Up next: Mariota's six pack
Who and against whom: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota carved up the California secondary, turning a close game in the third quarter into a 59-17 blowout victory.
The numbers: Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a 230.79 passing efficiency rating, which is very, very good. He also -- oh, by the way -- rushed six times for 42 yards.
A closer look: Running back Kenjon Barner hurt? The Ducks vaunted running game bottled up? The Ducks up just seven early in the third quarter? No matter. The Bears ended up getting Marcus Mariota'd. This game, in fact, seemed to provide ultimate confirmation that Mariota was an elite quarterback and a future Heisman Trophy contender. He was simply brilliant on the road in the second half of a game where things weren't going Oregon's way. The Ducks, who had rushed for at least 400 yards in the previous three games, were outrushed by the Bears 236 yards to 180. Barner had just 65 yards on 20 carries, 256 fewer yards than he had the previous weekend against USC. Cal's defense wanted to force Mariota to pass to win. He did, and with panache, tossing touchdown passes of 10, 10, 35, 39, 14 and seven yards. He tied the Oregon school record for touchdown passes in a game and tied USC's Matt Barkley for the Pac-12 season-high.
With a roster stacked with young talent, it will be tough for any of the newcomers to crack the two-deep next fall. There are two members from the Ducks' Class of 2013 who stand out as having a legitimate shot at seeing the field early.
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Warren S. (Henderson, Nev.): With the Ducks landing Devon Allen (Phoenix/Brophy Prep), do you think that has more to do with their feelings on what [Darren] Carrington (San Diego/Horizon) will do or how they feel about Allen?
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We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.
OREGON (12-1, 8-1)
MVP: Quarterback Marcus Mariota went from being the Ducks' biggest preseason question to first-team All-Pac-12. He ranked first in the conference and seventh in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 68.5 percent of his throws for 2,677 yards with 32 TDs and just six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five TDs, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
What went right: A lot. When a team finishes ranked No. 2 in both major polls, tying the school's best-ever final ranking, it's difficult to cast things in a gloomy light. The only way to have done any better was to win the national championship. The Ducks were dominant on both sides of the ball, ranking second in the nation in scoring offense (49.54 ppg) and 25th in scoring defense (21.62 ppg). Most games were over at halftime. Other than the lone loss to Stanford, no team was within 11 points of the Ducks. In fact, eight of 12 foes went down by at least three TDs. The Ducks vanquished their top rivals, Oregon State and Washington, in dominant fashion, and won a second consecutive BCS bowl game, this time topping a top-five Kansas State team decisively, 35-17, in the Fiesta Bowl. What went right? Just about everything, other than ...
What went wrong: Nov. 17. That's the evening Stanford went into Autzen Stadium and shut down the Ducks' previously unstoppable offense in a 17-14 overtime win. There were plenty of "what ifs?" in that game. What if De'Anthony Thomas turned around and provided a chip block on Devon Carrington, which would have turned a 77-yard Mariota run to the Stanford 15-yard line into an early TD? What if the officials had ruled Zach Ertz didn't have control of that 10-yard pass that tied the game at 14-14 with 1:35 to go? What if kicker Alejandro Maldonado hadn't missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime that set Stanford up for the easy winner? That loss did two things to the Ducks' season: 1. It made Stanford the North Division and the Pac-12 champion; 2. It prevented the Ducks from playing Notre Dame for the national championship, a game that most figure the Ducks would have won fairly easily. So, as good as the season was, there are some regrets. Oh, and Chip Kelly bolting to the Philadelphia Eagles is probably a downer for many fans.
2013 outlook: The Ducks have 15 position player starters coming back. By every early account, this team will be ranked in the preseason top-five. So Oregon will begin Year 1 under new coach Mark Helfrich as a national title contender. Again. If Mariota improves, which is typically something you'd assume a guy would do as a second-year starter, he will become a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. His offense will have plenty of other weapons, including Thomas (running back/receiver), receiver Josh Huff and tight end Colt Lyerla. Three starters are back on the offensive line, including both tackles and All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu. The biggest question is replacing running back Kenjon Barner. The defense has a few holes. It loses defensive end Dion Jordan and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, but the entire two-deep in the secondary is back and there's plenty of experience on the defensive front. The big issue is replacing Clay and Alonso, an elite tandem. It also might help to figure things out at kicker. The schedule is forgiving. The Ducks probably will be favored in every game they play. The redletter date, of course, is at Stanford on Thursday, Nov. 7. That game could have national title implications. Expectations will be extremely hire in Year 1 for Helfrich.
Jones, who belatedly broke through as a senior for the Bruins under Mora, earning second-team All-pac-12 honors, is having a great week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and his draft stock is surging, according to multiple reports.
First from ESPN's Todd McShay, Kevin Weidl, Steve Muench :
UCLA's Datone Jones (6-4[, 280) had another good day. Talk about explosive upper body power -- this guy has it. He played hard and is a disciplined backside defender. He blew up a play on nine-on-seven with his quickness and ability to get inside. He also has the ability to work his hands and disengage when he's locked up in a tight situation.CBS Sports rated Jones one of the Senior Bow's top "risers."
He's had a good week. There's a buzz in the stands about him.
After an impressive practice on Monday, Datone Jones kept the momentum going on Tuesday, standing out as one of the best defensive stars on the North squad. He is very strong from head to toe and does a nice job using his powerful arms and hands to rip past blockers. He wasn't overly productive as a pass rusher at UCLA, largely due to the fact that he was moved all over the Bruins' hybrid 3-4 scheme, but he did make 19 tackles for loss as a senior with his impressive blend of burst and power to dispose of blockers at the point of attack. Jones is a name that will start to appear in first-round mock drafts moving forward.
It also appears that two Pac-12 running backs, UCLA Johnathan Franklin and Oregon's Kenjon Barner, also are doing well.
That said, McShay, Weidl and Muench had some questions about Franklin's speed, and that "makes him more of a third- or fourth-round prospect instead of a second."
Another Pac-12 player on the North, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, has distinguished himself. From CBS:
While tight end Vance McDonald has impressed on the South squad, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa has stood out on the North team. A former defensive end, he didn't make the move to offense until late last season, entering the 2012 campaign with just one career catch on his resume. Kasa plays a bit tight and bulky, but he is an intriguing athlete and has really impressed as a blocker this week. He obviously needs some more seasoning, but the tools are there for Kasa to be an interesting developmental draft choice early on the third day.As for South practices , where California and Stanford players are, the Bears seem to be doing well. Cornerback Marc Anthony and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke have impressed:
Cal CB Marc Anthony had the best Wednesday. He turned and ran with Georgia's Tavarres King. I think he runs well, showed the ability to turn and run with guys, and he can break on balls thrown in front of him. He almost had a pick, and he can get physical.And here's a take on Schwenke:
While Jenkins has shown the ability to dominate lesser opponents, California center Brian Schwenke has proven surprisingly effective when taking on the massive defender. While perhaps not the most aesthetically-pleasing blocker, Schwenke shows good quickness, functional strength and understands leverage. He sinks his hips on contact, anchoring well despite being significantly lighter at 6-3, 307 pounds than many of his opponents.
Another player whose speed is being questioned is Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas. While he's been impressive on the physical side, Thomas apparently has struggled in coverage. From CBS:
Speaking of looking the part, no linebacker was as physically imposing as Chase Thomas (6-foot-3 1/8, 241 pounds). The outside linebacker practiced and played with a lot of effort, throwing around fellow linebackers in a tackle-shed drill, and that helped make up for a lack of burst and speed that a lot of high-profile outside linebackers tend to have. On Tuesday, Thomas was beaten a number of times on a quasi-race from a two-point stance to a tackling dummy. Ultimately, he seemed a half-step behind receivers in practice and a bit slower than his teammates in drills.
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The big news on Jan. 7 was that Kelly had turned down his NFL suitors, including the Eagles. He didn't feel the need to comment then, which might be telling as to his reversal of course that would send shock waves across the Pac-12 and college football less than 10 days later.
Kelly went for the double shocker. It was shocking to learn he had decided to stay at Oregon after a flurry of interviews following a Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State. And now, three weeks before national signing day, it's shocking that ESPN's Chris Mortensen broke the news of his departure to the Eagles.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, the heir apparent to Chip Kelly, doesn't have head-coaching experience.
Kelly was 46-7 over four seasons at Oregon, leading the Ducks on their most successful run in program history. The Ducks have played in four consecutive BCS bowl games, winning the past two, including their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917. Oregon has finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons.
Kelly doesn't owe any more to Oregon. That success is enough. Fans shouldn't feel bitter or betrayed. Sure, the NCAA may shortly impose sanctions on the program over Kelly's involvement with street agent Willie Lyles. That is a black mark. But it's unlikely those penalties will be harsh enough to erase the brilliance that came before.
For Kelly, 49, this is an opportunity to test his considerable football acumen at the highest level. While he is known for his innovative, up-tempo, spread-option style of offense, know that Kelly is all about winning. He will adapt to his personnel and the differences in the NFL game. He won't, say, have his $18 million quarterback running the option 15 times a game.
And if things don't work out in the NFL, Kelly will have his pick of college jobs. It will be like Nick Saban's ill-fated tour in Miami. There's little risk for him in taking his NFL shot.
As for Oregon, there will be questions. While Helfrich will bring system and program continuity and should be able to retain a significant number of Ducks assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, he's not Kelly, nor does he have head-coaching experience.
Helfrich has been a quarterback coach at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado -- he was the Buffs' offensive coordinator, too -- before Kelly hired him in 2009.
"He's really smart, really intelligent," Kelly said at Fiesta Bowl media day when asked why he made Helfrich his first offensive coordinator. "He brought a different perspective to our staff, because he had a different background. He wasn't a spread guy. I wanted to bring someone in who wasn't going to tell us what we already knew."
When asked what advice he'd give to Helfrich if he became a head coach, Kelly said he'd give him the same advice former Oregon coach Rich Brooks gave Mike Bellotti and Bellotti gave him: "Be yourself. You can't be someone else."
While Helfrich has a lighter touch -- more of a polished, people person -- than Kelly, that could mean little on the field and in the locker room. The question will be whether he can command the same respect and dedication that Kelly did. Can he maintain the Ducks' "Win the day" culture that was as efficient and productive as any in the country?
After the Fiesta Bowl win, Oregon's players were asked about Kelly potentially leaving and Helfrich taking over. They seemed uniformly confident that Helfrich would be up to the task.
"Expect the same," All-American running back Kenjon Barner said. "Nothing will change."
Said offensive lineman Kyle Long, who is expected to be an early-round NFL draft choice this spring: "Seamless transition. [Kelly and Helfrich are] cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."
Kelly certainly left his successor a strong hand. The Ducks welcome back 15 position-player starters next fall, including star redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. When the 2012 season ended, the Ducks were widely viewed as a top-five team in 2013, perhaps as high as No. 2 behind two-time defending national champion Alabama.
While it's nice to have a good team coming back, Kelly's successor also will inherit high expectations. Ducks fans are no longer satisfied with a top-25 team that plays in a nice bowl game. They expect Pac-12 championships. They expect to compete for national titles. And more than one loss is a disappointment.
If the 2013 Ducks go 10-3, a record that was outstanding before Kelly arrived, there will be immediate grumbling.
While Oregon fans are probably wringing their hands with worry, fans of 11 other Pac-12 teams are elated, most particularly those at Oregon State and Washington, the Ducks' most bitter rivals. Kelly had built a juggernaut, even if it was toppled atop the conference this fall by Stanford. Now there is an opportunity to change the balance of power in both the Pac-12 North Division and the Northwest.
When it was reported that Kelly was returning to Oregon nine days ago (Kelly had not talked about it), college football retained its West Coast equilibrium. There seemed to be renewed clarity, at least in the short term.
His departure leaves an uncertain void. While many believe Helfrich can capably fill that void, the uncertainty will remain until toe meets leather and the Ducks continue to produce the fancy-pants, winning product that Kelly brought to Eugene.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.
Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.
Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.
Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.
So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.
He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.
Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.
"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."
Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.
Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.
The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.
Oregon players paid tribute to both.
"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."
But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.
"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."
Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."
Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."
Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.
"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."
Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."
As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."
"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.
He's not the only one.
A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.
Oregon gives the Pac-12 a final 4-4 bowl record, though that record now includes victories in a pair of BCS bowl games.
Here's how we see it following the Ducks' 35-17 victory over Kansas State.
It was over when: Oregon owned the third quarter, making a game that looked competitive at halftime into a tension-free fourth quarter. The Ducks outscored the Wildcats 10-0 and outgained them 166-51 in the frame. They also scored a one-point safety on an blocked PAT, meaning we all saw something we likely never had seen before.
Turning point: Oregon jumped ahead 15-0, but Kansas State came back in the second quarter. Down 15-7, but moving the ball well, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-1 from the Oregon 18. Instead of trying for the yard, they tried a freeze play. Instead of getting the Ducks to jump, it was the Wildcats who got a false start. They backed it up five yards and then missed the field goal. Oregon, which had been struggling on offense, took the ball and went 77 yards in five plays and just 46 seconds, making it 22-10 at the break. The Wildcats never really mounted a threat thereafter.
Game ball goes to: While De'Anthony Thomas was spectacular with a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD and a brilliant 23-yard run on a screen pass, it was QB Marcus Mariota who earned game MVP honors. The redshirt freshman complete 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards with two TDs and no interceptions, and he rushed for 62 yards on eight carries, a number of them critical third-down conversion dashes.
Notable number: Both teams entered the game among the nation's leaders in turnover margin, and Kansas State had only yielded 10 turnovers the entire year. Oregon won the turnover battle 2-0.
Unsung hero: Senior running back Kenjon Barner had 23 yards on seven carries at halftime, but he finished with 143 yards on 31 carries. And most of those were tough yards.
Unsung hero II: The Ducks' defense may finally get credit for how good it is -- and has been. Kansas State ranked ninth in the nation in scoring this year at 40.67 points per game. It also averaged 411 yards. It gained just 283 yards against the Ducks, and was shut down completely in the critical third quarter.
What it means for Oregon: That Oregon wins a second consecutive BCS bowl game and finishes ranked in the top-five for a third consecutive year. Of course, this might be the last game under coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to unprecedented heights, but he would leave behind a team that should contend for a national title in 2013.
What it means for Kansas State: It was a dream season for Kansas State in Year 4 of Bill Snyder Take 2. The Wildcats have improved every year since Snyder came back in 2009. The next step is winning a bowl game, which they haven't done since 2002. The Fiesta Bowl loss is a bummer, but the Wildcats are back atop the Big 12. That's big.
It's also interesting that both lost to an opponent that generally resembles their opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium.
Oregon went down to Stanford, a team that prides itself on its disciplined, physical play on both sides of the ball. That's Kansas State.
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCoach Chip Kelly and Oregon will face a Kansas State team that shares similarities with Pac-12 rival Stanford.
The parallels are far from exact -- for example, Baylor is pass-first; Oregon is run-first -- but they are notable. Both teams surely paid extra-special attention to those game tapes.
Said Ducks coach Chip Kelly, "I think Baylor has a lot of speed, speed in space. They made kids miss tackles. When they missed tackles, they hit some long runs."
That hits the first issue to watch: Tackling. Said Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, "Tackling is going to be the biggest thing in this game."
That seems simple, right? And it is. But it's a measure you can measure on your own at home: How often does the first guy miss or fail to bring his guy down? How often does the Duck or Wildcat with the ball get a second chance to gain yards?
Oregon thrives when it gets fast guys into space, and that fast guy leaves the first tackler grasping air. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, receiver Josh Huff and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas can use a first-guy miss to go yard.
Kansas State isn't quite so fancy, but it's effective. It ranked seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at just over 50 percent. How often can quarterback Collin Klein or another Wildcat twist away from a Ducks tackler and significantly boost the attractiveness of down and distance? Unlike Oregon, Kansas State loves to hold the ball for a long time. Against Oregon, in particular, it wants to methodically move the chains and play keep-away.
Oregon, by the way, ranks 14th in the nation in third-down defense, with foes converting less than 31 percent of the time.
And what about an X factor? We know who the stars are, and it's perfectly reasonable to believe the quarterback who plays better will lead the winning team. But so often in bowl games, a player who has been under the radar all week plays a major role in deciding things.
Maybe that's Huff for Oregon. Or Chris Harper, a former Duck who is now Kansas State's best receiver.
As for Oregon making like Baylor or Kansas State donning a Stanford disguise, it probably won't be that straightforward. Know that both teams labored over that what-might-have-been game film well before the Fiesta Bowl. The weaknesses that were exposed were taken note of and addressed.
At least that's what both teams' coaches and players are saying about the one that got away.
Said Helfrich, "I don't know if they are finding any magic in that game. I don't think it's in there. It's not going to come down to revelations from one game on either side."
The biggest recruiting splash the Ducks have made in the Lone Star State has been at running back. In 2008, it was LaMichael James. In 2010, it was Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams. In 2011, the Ducks went back to James' alma mater to sign Tra Carson, who broke all of his predecessor's records in high school.
Seastrunk, Williams and Carson all transferred after just one year at Oregon, but James left a trail for others to follow. And that's exactly what they've done. Last year, the Ducks flipped WR Bralon Addison from Texas A&M on signing day. They also convinced his cousin, WR Chance Allen, to flip from Oklahoma State.
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