2011 CFB Season Preview: University of Nike (aka Oregon)

Grant KoenekeContributor ISeptember 1, 2011

Oregon Unis for the Cowboy Classic at the House of Jerry
Oregon Unis for the Cowboy Classic at the House of Jerry

It sounds funny, but it really isn’t a joke. 

Nike, the corporation, does have full run on Oregon sports when it comes to the equipment.  Nike founder and alumni Phil Knight loves his alma-mater and gives millions of dollars and all the corporation’s help any chance he gets. 

If you haven’t heard, Nike did yet another “Special” uniform for the Ducks for their opening game at Cowboy Stadium against No. 4 LSU.  The relationship has been beneficial both ways.  Nike gets a promotional stage for its products as well as a testing ground and Oregon gets free equipment and also uses that as a recruiting tool. 

If you don’t think it has helped Nike, just look at all the other teams, like the Boise State Broncos, they do uniforms for now.  Nike is also taking over all of the NFL’s equipment starting in 2012.  

Enough of that, we’ll move onto the season...............................

Ironically, a lot has been made of the offensive and defensive lines for the Ducks.  They graduated three from each, and analysts all over the nation have been taking this as a point of emphasis on why Oregon can’t make it back to the Title game.   Subscribing to the school of thought that the college teams with the most experienced lines will be the great teams, which I typically do agree with, that would mean that Oregon is probably going to be good but not great. 

Here is why this conventional method of analysis doesn't work with the unconventional Ducks, and I’m not referring to just their 547 uniform combinations. 

First, the Ducks play at a faster pace than anyone in College Football under Chip Kelly.  Actually, I’m quite sure we can make the distinction of saying ANY football team.  This pace allows the team to run close to double the amount of plays as other teams. 

Obviously this also tires out the players much faster as well.  Kelly implemented a rotation schedule where they use up to 10 offensive linemen in rotation throughout the game.  Last year the group of offensive linemen got a lot of experience.  Saying the team lost three of five makes it sound worse than it really is.  Three of 10 is the actual number.  You can argue that the starters had more experience, which is true, but that is why they graduated. 

Second, the new linemen coming in are monsters at 6’6” or above. Oregon’s recruiting class is the best they have ever had.  These new kids need some experience, but they will be at the end of the rotation list and get what they need during the season.  The real question is not if the line will be as good as last year, it is when the line will be better than last year. 

Third, the defensive front seven are very solid and highly talented.  Of all the players lost last season the most experience and leadership was on the defense.  Casey Mathews and Brandon Bair were two excellent leaders, but they didn't start that way.  Like every season, new leaders will step up on and off the field.  As far as talent, the defensive front seven are fantastic, and they are returning the secondary. 

James in the BCS Title Game January 2011
James in the BCS Title Game January 2011Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Everyone should be looking at the one position that is in question right now: tight end.  It isn't really in question because of talent but because of injury.  The depth is lacking for a team that wants to run two tight end sets.  Though Colt Lyerla is a talented athlete, he is still a true freshman.  As the backup, he will need to learn as quickly as possible if the team is going to be able to use its full arsenal of weapons.

Looking at the rest of the team, you can see that everyone else is returning.  You have your two, yes two, Heisman candidates in Darron Thomas and LaMichael James to go along with super-sub Kenjon Barner.  David Paulson is back at tight end with Josh Huff at wide receiver.  Cliff Harris is the only real question and that’s only because we don’t know how many games Chip Kelly is going to make him sit for the 118 MPH stunt he pulled.

Before we get to the schedule, let’s look at the one thing that really was different about the Ducks last season, their pace.   USC tried to practice, mid-season, for two weeks at the same pace as Oregon in order to keep up with them.  The final was 53 – 32.  In what can only be explained as unfathomable, it’s coming out of Eugene that the Ducks are actually moving at a faster pace than last season.  If that is true, a lot of teams are going to be exhausted before halftime, especially the first three or four games of the season.

Some would say that Oregon has a brutal schedule.  In the first game of the season, they will travel to Texas and play No. 4 LSU in Cowboy Stadium as a neutral site.  Neutral Site?  I could see that being 75 percent LSU fans. 

This game was going to be a battle in the south with the winning team probably getting the No. 1 ranking for Week 2.  With the recent suspensions of the LSU starting QB, LB and WR, this looks like it may be heavily leaning Oregon’s way.  Though LSU’s defense is probably the best they will see all season.

After the LSU game, the schedule lines up pretty nicely.  USC and Arizona State are at Autzen Stadium, where they will have a huge advantage.  Stanford in Palo Alto is a game for the centuries and the toughest game Oregon will play all season.  This year’s Civil War will be played at Autzen as well, giving the Ducks the advantage.  Finally, the Ducks should play for the PAC-12 Title which should lead them onto their Bowl game.

Scouring over and over the schedule, barring injury, there is nothing except Stanford standing the way of Oregon being back in the BCS National Championship game.  So, that’s my prediction; the Ducks are in the Title Game for the second straight year!