2012 College Football Team Previews

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The three-time defending Pac-12 champions are not picked to make it four in a row.

Oregon was picked by the media to repeat as champion in the North Division, but USC is favored to win the conference title. Both the Ducks and Trojans will be in the preseason top 10 for every major poll and that has their meeting Nov. 3 in Los Angeles among the most-anticipated games of the year.

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Oregon's schedule gives it a good shot to get to that game at 8-0.

The Ducks don't have to play a true road game during the first six weeks of the schedule and Arkansas State and Washington are the only opponents before USC that finished with a winning record last year.

The early schedule should give the Ducks an opportunity to see how they can replace two of their biggest playmakers from the past few seasons who left early for the NFL Draft -- quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James.

Quarterback is the biggest concern as sophomore Bryan Bennett saw limited action last year and will compete for the starting job with freshman Marcus Mariota.

The Ducks should be fine at running back with Kenjon Barner, who has run for more than 1,800 yards in three years as James' backup. He ran for 971 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

"I've been in this position before, quite a few times throughout my career," Barner said. "When my name is called upon, yeah, it will be called upon more often now, but it's nothing new. So not too much pressure at all."

The Ducks will also look for more from De'Anthony Thomas, who was spectacular as a freshman at running back and receiver. He had 595 rushing yards with seven touchdowns and 605 receiving yards with nine touchdowns.

"We were conscious in using him, that we didn't want to overload him, and we had him for a true freshman to come in and play receiver and running back," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "And to be able to handle both of those roles speaks a lot to his football acumen."

HEAD COACH: Chip Kelly, fourth year at Oregon, 34-6 record at Oregon and as a head coach

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Kenjon Barner -- The Ducks have ranked among the nation's top rushing teams in each of Chip Kelly's three years as head coach with LaMichael James leading the way each season. The Ducks ran for 299.2 yards per game last season. James left early for the NFL Draft and Barner is the starter after backing up James in the last three seasons. Barner ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns last season on just 152 carries. He figures to get about 100 more carries this season. In his three-year career, he has run for 1,856 yards and scored 27 touchdowns.

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BREAKOUT STAR: LB Boseko Lokombo -- The junior has yet to start a game, but he has made an impact during his two seasons with the Ducks. Last year, he had two interceptions and returned both for a touchdown to go with a touchdown on special teams. He had 36 tackles as a freshman and 33 last year to go with four career touchdowns. He is expected to replace Josh Kaddu, who was drafted by Miami, at linebacker.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DL Arik Armstead -- The 6-foot-8, 297-pounder was one of the top recruits in the nation last year and enrolled at Oregon in time for spring drills to learn the defense. He was a Parade All-American and competed in the U.S. Army All-American game. He had 42 tackles as a senior at Pleasant Grove High School in Sacramento, Calif. He could compete to start at defensive end.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: The defensive backfield should be a strength for Oregon, led by all-American senior John Boyett at safety. Oregon returns four cornerbacks with starting experience led by Terrance Mitchell, who started 11 games as a freshman. Troy Hill started five games as a freshman and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu started one while junior Avery Patterson has two starts in his career. The only new starter in the secondary is at rover and Brian Jackson had 27 tackles in a reserve role at that position.

AREAS OF CONCERN: The Ducks were surprised when quarterback Darron Thomas left early for the NFL Draft after leading Oregon to the BCS National Championship game as a sophomore and then helping the Ducks win the Rose Bowl last year. Bryan Bennett is the leading candidate to start the opener after throwing for 369 yards and six touchdowns while running for 200 yards as a freshman. However, freshman Marcus Mariota was the star of Oregon's Spring Game and established himself as a challenger to Bennett. The Ducks will likely give both playing time early in the year as Oregon will be heavily favored in each of its three non-conference games at home.

Notes

-- Sophomore wide receiver/running back De'Anthony Thomas has been named to the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Maxwell Award, given to the top player in the country. Thomas, the co-offensive freshman of the year in the Pac-12 last year, ran for 595 yards and caught 46 passes for 605 yards while scoring 18 touchdowns.

-- Senior safety John Boyett was named to the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back in the country. Boyett is a two-time all-American who ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 108 tackles, including a career-high 17 in the Rose Bowl. He is also on the watch list for the Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy.

-- Senior wide receiver Justin Hoffman had to give up football because of repeated concussions. He will remain with the team as an undergraduate assistant coach. Hoffman, a former walk-on, started six games last year before missing the final six games. He had 10 catches for 133 yards last season to finish with 13 catches for 148 yards in his career.

-- Redshirt freshman Koa Ka'ai is moving from defensive end to tight end for the Ducks. He battled hamstring injuries during his first year with the Ducks.

-- Redshirt freshman Christian French is moving from tight end to defensive end. He was a U.S. Army All-American at tight end, but also played linebacker in high school.

 
 
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