As far as the early prognosticators are concerned, the 2011 Oregon Ducks should pick up very much where they left off in 2010 — knocking on the door of a BCS Championship.
While Chip Kelly’s team may want to erase the final seconds of last year’s title match versus Auburn from their collective memories, the experts were impressed enough by the Ducks taking the Cam Newton-led Tigers to the mat for four quarters, as many have Oregon sitting among their preseason top four. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated lists the Ducks number two on his preseason list while Dennis Dodd of CBS and Mark Schlabach of ESPN both have them third. Nationalchamps.net puts Oregon at number four and Rivals.com is the lone outlier, ranking the Ducks seventh.
All this bodes very well for a program that is relatively new to preseason hype. Should these early predictions cast a psychic image of where Oregon starts in the AP poll for 2011, it will place the program at its highest starting position ever. The last time the Ducks graced an AP preseason Top 10 (and the only time) was 2001. Starting at number 7, Oregon went on to finish as the AP runner-up to National Champion Miami (without, unfortunately, playing the Hurricanes).
Oregon began 2010 with its second highest AP preseason ranking ever — at number 11 — and finished third. I have Oregon third in my own preseason Top 25
The regression of Southern California since the departure of Pete Carroll (and the arrival of sanctions) has left the door wide open for Oregon to reign supreme in the newly expanded Pac-12. During the domination of the conference by the Trojans for much of the last decade, Oregon was a clear second among the West Coast schools, quietly amassing a share of four conference crowns in the last 10 years. And the Ducks have taken full advantage of the door left open.
Oreogon will get to see immediately if they are worthy of their lofty preseason standing as the Ducks open the year against early SEC favorite, LSU, in what could be one of the top regular season match-ups for the entire year. Following LSU, Oregon takes on Nevada which is coming off a surprising 13-1 campaign that included a thrilling overtime win over Boise State, a 52-31 throttling of Cal and the first WAC Championship in school history. Nevada’s vaunted rushing attack should remain one of the top units in the country for 2011.
After LSU and Nevada, Oregon begins a conference slate that includes a trip to Boulder to face PAC-12 newcomer, Colorado, and to Seattle where Steve Sarkisian has his Huskies looking at their first serious conference title challenge in a decade. The Ducks finish at home against USC and instate nemesis Oregon State.