Sunday, June 18, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: OREGON
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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The Ducks are not perennial ten-game winners, but the potential - if not the chops - is in place for an encore
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 41-20 (26-14 PAC Ten) - 2005: 10-2 (7-1 PAC Ten)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 13 (7 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The defensive line still has big Polynesians, but none of the triumverate of David Faaeteete (6-2, 307), Thor Pili (6-4, 283) and end Matt Toeaina (6-3, 301) quite measures up to the near-cosmically massive body of 345-pound, all-American, high first round draft pick Haloti Ngata, whom SMQ questioned as a future NFL star but was clearly a dominating presence most of the time in college. How will linebackers fare without the gravitational pull that routinely attracted double teams to the two gap? As "an opposing PAC Ten coach" says in TSN's preview: "They were just running free and making plays. I don't know if they'll be able to find the ball as easily."
The same could be said of Duck wideouts sans Demetrius Williams, the team's top pass-catcher three years running, and Kellen Clemens, the team's top passer three years running. The top rusher three years running, Terence Whitehead? Also graduated, with more than 4,200 career all-purpose yards. Clemens, particularly, blew up en route to without-a-doubt career highs before going down against Arizona, at which point the Ducks' productivity fell by more than 100 yards per game over the last five.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The offensive line returns intact, with five experienced starters and a right side - Palauni Ma Sun and Geoff Schwartz - with its own gravitational pull at just shy of 700 pounds. Given this experience and girth, another per carry average under four (3.78 last year) should not be acceptable.
MEET THE NEW BOSS, SCARIER THAN THE OLD BOSS: Much of that responsibility will also fall to 234-pound sophomore tailback Jonathan Stewart, top running back recruit in the country in '05 and a chiseled freight train of a back - he's 5-11/234, and you don't have any Bettis/Dayne/Henry Melton pudge on this kid - whose short-yardage role as a freshman (only 3.5 a pop, but six TDs on 53 carries) portends, along with the humongous line, a more power-oriented approach to the running game than with the shiftier, pass-catching Whitehead, though the depth chart still lists three receivers as the base set with no fullback.
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Fullback? Jonathan Stewart don't need no stinkin' fullback.
And the responsibility for opening things up for Stewart and fellow backfield bowling ball Jeremiah Johnson (5-9/213) falls on one of two - or both - quarterbacks, where the situation, obviously, is not as settled. Dennis Dixon would seem to be the favorite over Brady Leaf, as Dixon was 3-0 in regular season starts and is a much better runner with adequate - if not Clemensesque - passing numbers. Ryan's little bro, meanwhile threw three picks, to Dixon's zero, in the Spring game, while also being sacked seven times. Yet all accounts are that the two enter the fall neck and neck and likely will both play, depending on what kind of emphasis Bellotti wants to put on the attack at any given moment. SMQ guesses, like versatile Troy Smith's quick, predictable eclipse of big-armed Justin Zwick at Ohio State last year, a healthy Dixon won't be giving up many snaps by Week Three, when Oklahoma rolls around again.
SOME MINOR BUBBLE-BURSTING: It doesn't seem fair that a team like Notre Dame is a suddenly resurgent, perpetual BCS lock when it rebounds to win nine games, while Oregon's equally surprising 10-2 season is taken as more of an anomaly, but the recent past says, for the Ducks, at least, this is the case. Impressive as OU's resume was in '05, it was not - as SMQ went out of his way to point out - quite up to the "elite" bar one expects from a double-digit winner from the PAC Ten, and the last "breakout" season under Bellotti - 2001, when, as with Clemens last year, he rode hot senior quarterback Joey Harrington to 11-1 and a No. 2 final ranking - was followed by a disappointing 7-6 year post-Harrington in 2002. In fact, the Ducks were just 12-12 in the PAC Ten in the intervening three years before last year's comeback, with a low of 5-6 in 2004. And despite tying for second place, Oregon was still actually much closer to the rest of the PAC Ten in '05 than it was to USC, as the 32-point home loss to the Trojans and close, one-score wins over the unranked triumverate of Arizona, Cal and Washington State - plus Fresno State outside of the league - demonstrate (that the three in-conference nailbiters, and the Holiday Bowl loss to Oklahoma, all came with Dixon and Leaf taking snaps should be more cause for concern). The Ducks could finish way up in the standings, but, close as they were to being 4-4 again last year, without even playing UCLA, there are safer wagers.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Did a renewed emphasis on the running game in the Spring paying dividends? A two-yard effort in one early scrimmage notwithstanding, coaches are happier with what they saw from Stewart and Johnson later on. Things especially improved in the Spring game, when Stewart rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on a 7.4-yard average and Johnson had 56 yards. Backups Terrell Jackson and Andiel Brown were OK, too, though the White team's stats skewed by Leaf's inability to escape three-sack performances by both Victor Filipe, listed as a second-team end, and "pass rush specialist" Nick Reed, not listed on the depth chart at all.
REASON FOR HOPE: New skill guys are more highly-regarded talents than the old ones. The offensive line and the prospects of a versatile attack that can misdirect with Dixon, go pass-happy with Leaf and slam it up the middle with Stewart.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: New skill guys have almost no experience. Does the passing game go possession minus Williams' deep speed? The rushing defense was just decent with Ngata (39th nationally) - how does it fare if the linebackers can no longer be set free?
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... This is annually an open, unpredictable league, but a twelfth game ought to mean eight wins. Slightly improved offensive talent may pay some dividends, but contention for a conference title seems a little far-fetched, though any unexpected vulnerability from SC means all PAC Ten bets are off.
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...April 11: Boise State...April 14: Tulane
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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please say that the absence of that portion of the evaluation was merely an administrative oversight..
nicely-named smq rocks has picked up the slack, anyway, i see; i encourage competition here to tab the ducks' non-athletic doppelganger(s) if anyone wants to try.
btw - next team is big XII! should i survive this job until then!
glad to hear a big xii team is on the way, my guess is that the giraffe coughed up a North team.
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