Early predictions for Oregon Ducks 2014 football schedule: 10-2

usatsi_7487674_147386290_lowres.jpg

Early predictions for Oregon Ducks 2014 football schedule: 10-2

The start times for some of Oregon’s football games next season have been released, so given that there’s not much else to write about, why not take a stab at some early score predictions?

Actually, a plethora of reasons exist against engaging in such an exercise but since when does practicality matter when posting predictions during the offseason?

Oregon's national title window remains open with the team returning enough talent, including quarterback Marcus Mariota, to make a run at being invited to the four-team playoffs.

But it's difficult to believe that this team is better than the teams of the past two seasons. So while I could see Oregon winning each game on the schedule, the smart money is on them stumbling once, if not twice. So I'm going with a prediction of 10-2 for the Ducks in 2014.

However, pinpointing those stumbles is quite difficult. Huge underdogs have ended the Ducks' national title hopes in each of the past three seasons.

Oregon's three losses over the past two seasons (Stanford in 2012, Stanford and Arizona in 2013) came with the Ducks being favored by a combined 46 points.

In 2011, a season after UO went to the BCS national title game, the Ducks lost the opener to LSU in Dallas, Texas but still had an outside shot at returning to the national title game before losing at home to USC, a 14.5-point underdog.

With questions at wide receiver and facing the challenge of replacing a host of defensive linemen and defensive backs, the Ducks have some concerning holes. But they should remain quite formidable. If Oregon patches up these potential weaknesses, the Ducks could be sitting at 12-0 by the end of the regular season.

History, however, suggests that them doing so is not very likely. 

Saturday, Aug. 30: vs. South Dakota, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks – The annual small-school beatdown features the Coyotes signing up for a butt whoopin’.  And what a butt whoopin’ it could be. South Dakota went 4-8 last season. Oregon should do all of us a favor and start its second-string across the board in order to make the game semi-close for at least the first quarter. That won’t happen. Still, the Ducks have typically been merciful against smaller programs and will “only” win 61-13.

Saturday, Sept. 6: vs. Michigan State, 3:30 p.m., FOX/FOX Deportes – In what could be considered the biggest non-conference game ever played at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks will face a serious foe with a defense capable of giving them fits. This will be the first test to see if last year’s four-game stumble by the offense at the end of the season has been rectified. The Spartans were 13-1 last season and ended the year with wins over No. 2 Ohio State (34-24) and a 24-20 victory against No. 5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The same Stanford that has owned Oregon the past two seasons. Oregon will need young wide receivers to emerge in order to win this game. For now, I'm calling this game a loss. MSU 31-27.

Saturday, Sept. 13: vs. Wyoming, 11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks. – Breakfast, anyone? Might be the earliest kickoff ever at Autzen, which won’t be so bad since most in attendance could be asleep by the second quarter anyway. The Cowboys went 4-7 last year and allowed four teams not named Oregon to score more than 50 points. Uh oh! Ducks 54-20.

Saturday, Sept. 20: at Washington State, Pullman, Wash., time TBA – The Cougars demonstrated great improvement last year and threw for a ton of yards against the Ducks. But their defense remains under construction so UO shouldn’t have much trouble. Ducks 42-24.

Thursday, Oct. 2: vs. Arizona, 7:30 p.m., ESPN – The first revenge game of the season features the Wildcats at home. Arizona throttled the reeling Ducks, 42-16 last year to end any chance of going to the national title game. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has the Wildcats' offense going in the right direction and they should be productive against Oregon. Just not enough to overcome a UO team that should be seeing red against the Wildcats. UO 44-27.

Saturday, Oct. 11 at UCLA, Pasadena, Calif., time TBA – The Bruins are an up-and-coming program that went 10-3 last season. This is a troublesome game for the Ducks and one that they will lose if the wide receiver position is not solidified. UCLA has the athletes to matchup and quarterback Brett Hundley will be a year older and wiser. Bruins 37-33.

Saturday, Oct. 18 vs. Washington, time TBA. – The Huskies had their chance to take down the Ducks last season but failed miserably. Now they start over with new coach Chris Petersen, who had great success at Boise State and twice defeated Oregon. He will likely need some time to get things rolling at UW, however. Ducks 39-23.

Friday, Oct. 24 at California, Santa Clara, Calif., 7 p.m., FOX Sports 1 – The Golden Bears got rid of Jeff Tedford following a 3-9 season in 2012 and promptly went 1-11 last season. The rebuild continues in 2013. Ducks 44-13.

Saturday, Nov. 1 vs. Stanford, time TBA – I guarantee that the Ducks, despite all of their "every game is the Super Bowl" talk, will have this game circled on their calendar. Mariota probably has it circled with a bull’s-eye. He admitted last season to having a chip on his shoulder from the 2012 loss. Said “chip” must be the size of a small country by now. Fortunately for Oregon, Stanford lost a ton of players on defense so maybe, just maybe, the Ducks will end a two-game losing streak against the Cardinal. UO 31-17.

Nov. 8 at Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, time TBA – The Utes went 5-7 last year but hung around bit with the Ducks, losing 44-21 at Autzen. Let’s go 40-24 for UO this season.

Saturday, Nov. 22 vs. Colorado, Time TBA – Colorado improved last year to 4-8 from 1-11 the previous season. The Buffaloes will need much more time to reach Oregon’s level. Ducks 47-13.

Saturday, Nov. 29 at Oregon State, Corvallis, time TBA. – The Beavers almost pulled off the upset at Autzen last year and with quarterback Sean Mannion back will look to end its six-game losing streak against the Ducks. OSU will have a shot, but UO will get it done, 42-27.

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Oregon doesn't start fall camp on Aug. 8, so we're trying to kill time with a little prognostication here and there. Today, Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress count down their top three Ducks who must improve if Oregon is going to contend for the Pac-12 title in 2016.

NO. 3

Fentress' pick - Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III: - Ragin provides some experience within a group loaded with inexperienced returning players. To help Oregon's move to the 4-3, Ragin must provide consistency and leadership.  

Quote: "He was taken to media day. He needs to play like a guy taken to media day. Last year, just 20 tackles. He going to need 60 or 70 to have an impact on that defense." '

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby: - The three-year starter is on the quiet side vocally, but certainly creates noise on the field when he plows into defenders. Oregon could need him to provide leadership after losing seniors Tyler Johnstone and Matt Hegarty.

Quote: "He's got the physical abilities. We saw it last year. He started all 12 games. But he needs to become that emotional leader for the Ducks on the offensive line."

 

NO. 2

Fentress' pick - Redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson: - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood praised Hanson's development during spring drills. Problem is, Hanson has never before played center. 

Quote: His youth could be a red flag, but "the last redshirt freshman to start for Oregon at center was Hroniss Grasu, who went on to win a couple of Rose Bowls, etc."

Amaranthus' Pick - Senior defensive end Torrodney Prevot: - The former four-star linebacker recruit has had a spotty career to date, now he moves to defensive end, where he could excel as a pass rusher in Oregon's new 4-3 scheme. 

Quote: "He moved from linebacker to defensive line during spring ball... He's going to have to put on a lot of weight. He wants to get to 255 pounds."

 

NO. 1

Fentress' pick - Sophomore defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule: - The former four-star recruit has the talent to become a dominant force but has been limited by injures, including a major concucssion suffered last season. 

Quote: "He has been compared to Buckner and Armstead, who are gone. He needs to play like one or both of those guys in order for that front seven to elevate itself after losing six of seven starters." 

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior cornerback Arrion Springs: - Springs is ultra talented. Just ask him. But mental lapses and inconsistent play have prevented him from reaching his potential. That must change this season. 

Quote: "Definitely talks the talk. We have to see him walk the walk a little bit more."

One Duck makes Top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016

One Duck makes Top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman has ranked his top 20 'Freaks' in college football for 2016.  The criteria for the list? "Top workout warriors in the sport or the guys who possess some rare physical abilities that wow folks inside their programs," says Feldman. 

One Duck graces the list at No.2 and it may not be who you think. In other words, it's not Royce Freeman. Can't figure out who it is? 

Devon Allen! 

From the article: In 2014, as a redshirt freshman, Allen — a legit world-class sprinter — was one of the Ducks’ most consistent wideouts as they made it to the national title game. He led Oregon in touchdown catches with seven and was third in receiving yards. Allen didn’t get to play in that title game after tearing up his knee and was limited last season, but he showed this summer that all of his speed is back. In fact, Allen qualified for the Summer Olympics in Rio with a 110-meter hurdles time of 13.03 seconds — the second-fastest time in the world this year. Allen also became the first man to win the 110 hurdles at both the NCAA Outdoor Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials in 60 years. After the Olympics, Allen plans to return to the Ducks football team, hoping to be ready for Oregon’s second game of the season.

Read more

 

Oregon's continuing QB competition could be good or bad for the Ducks

Oregon's continuing QB competition could be good or bad for the Ducks

If we are to believe Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, and there's evidence to go either way on that, the Ducks' quarterback competition remains wide open between senior transfer Dakota Prukop, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and true freshmann Terry Wilson.

To be fair, there's zero reason for Helfrich to tip his hand either way at this point. It's not as if a Marcus Mariota or Darron Thomas is returning as an unchallenged starter. 

Sources say that it's anywhere from a 75 percent to a 90 percent chance Prukop opens the season as the starter Sept. 3 against U.C. Davis at Autzen Stadium. 

Helfrich's words at Pac-12 Media Days, however, indicate otherwise.   

"I think it's a three-man race coming out of spring," Helfrich said. "And I think all three of those guys will be drastically different when they show up in the fall."

Helfrich said he expects a summer of throwing with receivers and further absorbing the playbook to result in a dramatic leap in consistency for all three quarterback contenders. But is there really a true competiton in play, or is that understandable coach-speak? Probably a bit of both. Let's look at the pros and cons involved in the possible scenarios surrounding this position heading into fall camp, which begins Aug. 8:

1. Dakota Prukop is the unchallenged starter. 

Pro: If Prukup demonstrated during spring that he can deliver a Pac-12 title then internally naming him the unchallenged starter is all good, even if the formal public statements are to the contrary. 

It is unlikely, however, that Prukop made such an impression during the spring. At least, no such word has leaked out that Prukop lit it up during closed practices, and he certainly didn't put forth a dominant effort during the spring game.

We've heard positives about his progress, but he has not yet seized the job like Vernon Adams Jr. did within a few days of showing up to fall camp last year. Then again, Adams faced less competitoin. 

Con: If Prukop becomes the guy by default, Oregon would have a problem. The last thing the Ducks want to see is Jonsen and Wilson not demonstrate at least the ability to produce as a starter. In this scenario, Prukop being the unchallenged starter because nobody is capable of challenging him and not because he is playing great football would certainly lead to trouble on the field with no Plan B in place. 

2. Jonsen truly pushes Prukop. 

Pro: The positve here would be that the Ducks could see the end to recruiting Big Sky quarterbacks to rescue the program. If Prokop appears to be a strong candidate to start but is facing a tough battle from the former No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation, the Ducks are in business behind center for years to come. 

Plus, Oregon would know that if Prukop went down the team wouldn't skip a beat with Jonsen in the lineup. A Pac-12 title would be within reach. 

Con: If Jonsen is pushing Prukop because the latter is proving to be less than expected, the Ducks are headed toward a 7-5 record.

Should Jonsen win the job it must be because he is amazing in the same way Marcus Mariota took the job as a redshirt freshman away from redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett prior to the 2012 season. Bennett, who ended up in an NFL camp after transferring and starting at Southeastern Louisiana, certainly had the goods to be a successful starter at Oregon. He simply lost out to a future Heisman Trophy winner. If Prukop loses out to a struggling redshirt freshman simply because he doesn't offer more than Jonsen does, the Ducks are in trouble. Remember, Oregon went after Prukop because the coaching staff wasn't confident Jonsen, who missed most of the available practice reps during his redshirt season because of a toe injury, would be ready to carry the load this season. If neither is capable, the Las Vegas Bowl awaits. 

3. Wilson truly has a shot to become the starter.  

Pro: He would have to be phenomenal. As in, the next Robert Griffin III (check the dreads). This scenario would require a special player to have arrived for spring as a three-star recruit and steal the job away from Prukop and Jonsen. For that to happen, the coaching staff would have to believe that Wilson is a future Heisman candidate that must get on the field right now. 

Con: If the above isn't the case, then that means Jonsen and Prukop lost out to a promising freshman who clearly is too inexperienced to win it. This would likely mean Prukop is a disgruntled backup second-guessing his decision to transfer to Oregon while Jonsen would be plotting a transfer in the winter while the coaching staff begins searching for another transfer. 

All bad. 

---

The best-cased scenario for Oregon is as follows: Prukop wins the job over a very competent Jonsen whom coaches believe the Ducks could win with if needed.  Jonsen receives meaningful time in blowout victories, and maybe a spot start due to injury (never ideal to have the starter go down but at least it would mean more game time for Jonsen). Jonsen continues to grow as a player and enters next season as an impact first-year starter with Wilson, who redshirts this season, as the backup. 

If the quarterback competition plays out in this fashion the Ducks will have a strong chance to prove doubters wrong by claiming the Pac-12 North Division and maybe the conference championship.

If not, the Ducks will fall short of achieving a 10-win season for the second consecutive year. 

Royce Freeman and LaMichael James connected within Oregon's RB fraternity

Royce Freeman and LaMichael James connected within Oregon's RB fraternity

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Oregon running back Royce Freeman remains the unassuming superstar. 

He seeks to avoid media attention like he does defenders. Freeman juked virtually all media during spring drills with a well conceived class schedule that left him unavailable. 

"Had to dip and dodge," he said with a smile. 

Being the face of the team, so to speak, meant Freeman found himself in a pool infested with media during Pac-12 media days, which started today in Hollywood. 

He couldn't avoid the questions or the spotlight. He handled himself well, as usual, deflecting questions that revolved around him and redirecting them toward the team. 

When asked about East Coast bias maybe impacting West Coast teams and players, Freeman didn't bite. Nor did he when asked about being overshadowed by Stanford senior running back Christian McCaffrey, last year's Pac-12 offensive player of the year and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting. 

"I feel like you get what you deserve," Freeman said. "If you want praise and everything, then you're a 'me' guy, and that's not me."

How well Freeman is viewed nationally, he can't control. The Ducks, picked by the media to finish fifth in the Pac-12, must win big for his rushing numbers to get him into the Heisman race. And the field is deep, with several returners that placed within the top six in voting last season. 

However, there is one area where Freeman could make a lasting name for himself and cement his place within Oregon football lore for decades to come. The 235-pound Freeman, who wears No. 21,  needs 1,880 yards to surpass the most famous No. 21 in program history, LaMichael James' career rushing mark of 5,082, set from 2009 through 2011. Freeman has 3,203 career yards after rushing for 1,838 in 2015. 

Freeman said he's connected with James and the two have talked. 

"He's motivating me to be the best I can be," Freeman said. "It's just a family, as far as the running back culture."

James, who excelled at 180 to 190 pounds depending on the season, said he has encouraged Freeman to remain selfless, be a leader, allow his play to inspire others to work harder. He added that he would like nothing more than to see Freeman surpass him - again. Freeman last year broke James' single-season rushing mark.  

"Some people's egos get bruised but not mine," James said of having his records fall. "Every record I broke those guys were extremely happy for me. But I knew the records meant nothing in the long run. It's how you conduct yourself as a player."

Freeman said he hasn't given much thought to James' record. 

"Not really registering," he said. "I have a long way to go."

To get there, Freeman said he must continue to improve. Last season he worked on being better in open space. This season he wants to better use his weight as a weapon by running better "behind his pads," meaning using his power and pads as a weapon to inflict more damage. 

"I feel like that will compliment me as a bigger back," Freeman said. 

A better Freeman would certainly be a scarier Freeman for the Pac-12 to contend with. 
 

Helfrich, Freeman express pride in Devon Allen's Olympic run

Helfrich, Freeman express pride in Devon Allen's Olympic run

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - One of the hot Oregon-related topics at Pac-12 media days had nothing to do with football. 

Ducks' redshirt junior wide receiver Devon Allen's victory in the 110-meter hurdles during the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene sent him to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and jolts of pride through UO football coach Mark Helfrich.

"It's awesome," Helfrich said today. "I was tearing up that night and I get misty every time I sit down and think about it for a while because he's just such a good dude."

Allen's Olympic endeavors could ultimately lead to him giving up football, although that decision remains unaddressed and very much up in the air. 

Allen started for the football team as a redshirt freshman in 2014 before injuring his knee returning a kickoff during the Rose Bowl. He returned to action last season but simply wasn't quite the same. Now nearly 20 months removed from the injury, Allen should be expected to return to his past form on the football field. 

Helfrich said Allen has been present at team development activities over the summer, and appears to be very much planning to return to football. Should Allen not return, the Ducks would be just fine at receiver, a testament to how well they have recruited the position. 

Oregon lost Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall to the NFL, and Kirk Merritt transfered. Losing Allen would compound the long list of departures at the position. Most teams would be devastated by such a loss of talent. Not Oregon. 

Senior Dwayne Stanford, redshirt junior Darren Carrington Jr. and junior Charles Nelson will likely start. Then there's redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown, who missed spring drills with injuries but Helfirch said is now back at full strength, and freshman Dillon Mitchell, who had two touchdowns in the spring game.

"We're very excited about that position," Helfrich said. "Obviously we would love to have Devon back just to solidify everything...but we're all so excited about our young guys there as well as our guys coming back."

First things first. Helfrich and the team want to see Allen win gold in Rio.

"It's crazy," UO running back Royce Freeman said of Allen's accomplishment. "I'm proud of my boy, Devon...Wishing all the best when he does go to Rio. Him qualifying and winning that race was great."

Freeman watched first hand as Allen went down against Florida State only to work his way back onto the football field and into the Olympics. 

"I'm excited for him," Freeman said. "Especially after his injury, it's well deserved. He's worked hard to accomplish that. I really couldn't think of anybody more deserving than that guy after his injury."

Freeman said he expects Allen to dazzle in Rio. 

"He's going to win it," Freeman said. "The boy is talented and he's blessed. And he's a hard worker."

Oregon picked third in Pac-12 North, fifth in conference

Oregon picked third in Pac-12 North, fifth in conference

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - My how the mighty Ducks have fallen. 

After winning four conference championships in eight seasons and playing in two national title games, the Oregon Ducks shine has lost some shimmer. At least with those who cover the Pac-12 Conference. 

Media members picked Oregon to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North and fifth overall. Not one media member gave a vote of confidence that the Ducks would win the Pac-12 title game. 

"We know it's not as big of a target (on our backs)," UO junior running back Royce Freeman. "It's a long season. That's all I have to say... no matter where you're projected to end up in the conference, you just gotta win football games."

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich also brushed off the poll, as he said his team does with every poll.

"I don't think we've ever mentioned the BCS," he said. "I don't think we've ever mentioned the College Football Playoff. I don't think we've ever mentioned any poll. No offense, but it just doesn't happen."

Here is how the voting went, announced today at Pac-12 Media Days:

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Stanford (24 first-place votes), 186 points

2. Washington (8), 163

3. Oregon (1), 132

4. Washington State, 112

5. California, 67

6. Oregon State, 33

 

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (19), 180

2. USC (12), 173

3. Utah (2), 127

4. Arizona, 87

5. Arizona State, 85

6. Colorado, 63 

Stanford received 20 votes to win the Pac-12 title game, followed by USC (5), Washignton (4), UCLA (3) and Utah (1). 

--- 

Of course, polls are for entertainment purposes only. If they always proved correct, Las Vegas sportsbooks would go out of business. 

Oregon certainly does have enough question marks to warrant such a low ranking. The Ducks (9-4 last season) lost six of their front-seven starters on defense, including conference defensive player of the year, DeForest Buckner, from a unit that ranked 115th in the nation. Oregon is once again turning to a transfer quarterback from the Big Sky Conference, Dakota Prukop out of Montana State, and the offensive line must replace two key starters now in NFL camps. 

Furthermore, the rest of the conference has improved dramatically since Chip Kelly coached at Oregon. It's simply not the same conference he dominated durihng his four seasons as the Ducks head coach (2009-2012). 

Still, Oregon is very talented in most areas and has a lot of players poised for breakthrough seasons. The Ducks could very well end up with the last laugh. That said, the voting is further indication that the Ducks' national title window indeed closed for the forseable future after quarterback Marcus Mariota left for the NFL following the 2014 season. 

Devon Allen's family creates GoFundMe to help get to Rio

Devon Allen's family creates GoFundMe to help get to Rio

Devon Allen won the 110-meter hurdles Saturday in the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. Allen will represent University of Oregon and the USA in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Allen's school-record time of 13.03 is the second-fastest in the world this year.

Allen's parents, Louis and Bernadette, have created a GoFundMe to help with trip expenses to watch their son compete in Rio De Janeiro. 

The fund goal is $15,000; the rasied money would cover airfare, room, ground transportation and some meals for 10 days. Within 18 hours and 59 donations, the fund has raised $3,420. 

To donate or read the note from Devon's parents go to this website: https://www.gofundme.com/2cmqfv3f .

Devon Allen hurdles his way to the Olympics

usatsi_9376987.jpg
USATI

Devon Allen hurdles his way to the Olympics

Most guys clear 10 hurdles. Devon Allen took an extra leap.

The University of Oregon receiver and hurdler for the Ducks track team became a U.S. Olympian on Saturday.

Allen won the 110-meter hurdles at trials and celebrated by racing over to the seats and jumping into the stands to hug his family.

“It was a really exciting moment for me,” said Allen, who became the first man to win the 110 hurdles at trials and NCAA championships since 1956. “It’s something I wanted to share with my family. I’m glad they could be here.”

Allen won in a school-record time of 13.03 seconds, holding off runner-up Ronnie Ashand Jeff Porter. The rest of the results were as surprising as the three qualifiers for Rio.

Defending Olympic champion Aries Merritt finished fourth, falling just short of making the team after a kidney transplant. Jason Richardson, 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was fifth, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver withdrew just before the final with a tweaked left hamstring.

“It seemed like age didn’t give you the experience factor that you’re used to,” the 30-year-old Richardson said. “It seemed like it was more of a handicap. Tried to will myself to this last Olympics.”

Merritt won a bronze medal at the 2015 world championships in Beijing on a kidney that was working at 10 percent capacity. After receiving a new one from his sister in September and going through another surgery because of complications in October, he hurt his groin five weeks ago and wasn’t in top form.

“For me to be where I am is a miracle,” said Merritt, the world-record holder in the event. “It’s a pity that I’m not going to the Games. I know in six weeks times I’ll be in much better shape and probably pull off something similar as I did in Beijing. However, that’s not the case.”

CONTINUE READING

Kirk Merritt transfers to Texas A&M

Kirk Merritt transfers to Texas A&M

Two weeks after promising wide receiver Kirk Merritt left Oregon, the sophomore has found a landing spot. And that spot is in the SEC with Texas A&M. 

The former four-star recruit out of Louisiana announced his transfer on Twitter:

Merritt played in 12 games last season as a true freshman, catching five passes for 61 yards while displaying elite level elusiveness. Oregon also used him on special teams and in spot duty at receiver. 

With the departure of receivers Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison to the NFL, Merritt figured to see an expanded role in 2016 and been in line to start by 2017. 

Now at A&M, NCAA transfer rules will force him to sit out a year. The season will essentially serve as a redshirt season and Merritt will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.

Return of Dylan Ennis makes Oregon a Final Four favorite

usatsi_9207193.jpg

Return of Dylan Ennis makes Oregon a Final Four favorite

Before I begin making thrashing and gurgling sounds as if I'm drowning myself in Oregon Ducks basketball Kool-Aid, allow me to assure you that I have not yet booked my travel plans to Arizona for the 2017 NCAA Final Four. 

But only because CSNNW management won't allow me to do so nine months out. I fully plan to be on hand to cover the Ducks next April.

The news that senior guard Dylan Ennis has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing most of last season with a leg injury, reported by Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, cements the Ducks greatest ever returning collection of accomplished talent, and should make them a favorite to reach the Final Four.

Ennis,who averaged 9.9 points and 3.5 assists at Villanova two seasons ago, is a dynamic playmaker that will elevate the Ducks' offense and draw attention away from other scorers. Some said he was the best player on Oregon's team before he went down. 

Adding him makes up for the loss of senior forward Elgin Cook and leaves the Ducks with no excuses other than bad luck to not reach the Final Four. 

Oregon simply checks all the boxes:

  • Returning experience: The Ducks will welcome back four starters and five of their seven main rotation players headlined by junior forward Dillon Brooks, sophomroe guard Tyler Dorsey and senior center Chris Boucher.
  • Recent success to build upon: Returning talent means little if that talent didn't go anywhere the previous season. That's clearly not the case here. The Ducks won a program record 31 games and for the first time ever captured the Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships in the same season. 
  • Tournament experience: Oregon entered last year's tournament as a No. 1 seed and reached the West Region finals where it lost to a much more experienced Oklahoma team. Along the way, Oregon defeated Duke to capture one of the greatest victories in program history. 
  • Depth: Oregon, mostly limited to a seven-man rotation last season, could go nine or 10 deep next season. Ennis and junior forward Jordan Bell will likely end up in the starting lineup. Junior point guard Casey Benson and junior college transfer, center Kavell Bigby-Williams will be the primary backups. Also, three four-star recruits join the team, point guard Payton Pritchard, guard Kevin Smith and guard M.J. Cage.  Guard Kendall Small played last season, as well. 
  • Versatility: The Ducks will be able to play small ball with Ennis, Dorsey, Brooks, Benson and Bell or Boucher, or go much bigger with the 6-foot-10 twin towers, Boucher and Bigby-Williams. Both are intimidating shot blockers who can score. Bell certainly can block shots and has vowed to work on his offensive game. The depth and versatility will allow coach Dana Altman to match up with any team's strengths while also forcing opponents to deal with whatever it is Oregon choses to do on the court. 
  • Coaching: Atlman has proven to be a very good in-game coach and his emphasis on defense has paid off well for Oregon. He has simply needed the right mix of experience and talent to push the Ducks along. He has that now more so than ever. 
  • Star power: Brooks and Dorsey tested the NBA waters before wisely returning. Both need work before they are ready for the big time, but each certainly has NBA-caliber talent. 
  • Hunger: The Ducks haven't been to the Final Four since 1939 (won national title) but have reached the Elite Eight three times since 2002. The emotion in the locker room following the team's loss to Oklahoma was palpable, and many players vowed to work even harder to get over the hump next season. The return of Ennis ads to the hunger of this team. He watched his former team win the national title last season without him. 

Nothing is ever guaranteed in sports, espcially one with a single-elimination tournament like college basksetball. Nevertheless, Oregon will be flat ou better than it was last season, which makes taking the next step both logical and expected.