Oregon comes into the 2012 season as one of the most athletic teams in the nation. Chip Kelly has been an offensive guru since becoming the Head Coach before the 2009 season. Oregon has gone 34-6 overall, 26-2 conference record, in Kelly's first three seasons. They have won the Pac-10 (now Pac-12 after last season) all three years. Oregon won the Rose Bowl last season, and Kelly helped Oregon get to the BCS National Championship in 2010.
Kelly will depend heavily on diminutive sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas this year. As a true freshman, Thomas rushed for 595 yards on only 55 carries, which averages out to a ridiculous 10.8 yards/carry and seven touchdowns. He also had 605 yards receiving and nine receiving touchdowns. He also had two more touchdowns as a kick returner and is one of the most explosive special team players in the country. Thomas' shared Offensive Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors with Marquise Lee. In the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, Thomas showed how explosive he can be. He had two carries for 155 yards and two TD's.
He is expected to be part of a dangerous two-headed monster in the backfield along with senior, Kenjon Barner. Barner rushed for 939 yards on 152 carries last season. He also had 11 rushing TD's and three receiving TD's. They will provide Oregon with one of the best rushing attacks in 2012.
Quarterback Darron Thomas left Oregon early hoping he would get drafted. He didn't. Luckily, for Oregon and Chip Kelly's offense, he has guys he can plug in to his system. The Ducks' still have not decided who will be their starting quarterback.
Sophomore, Bryan Bennett, is the leading candidate over red-shirt freshman, Marcus Mariota. Both of these guys are tailor made to run the Ducks dangerous spread offense. Bennett appeared in seven games last season and threw for 369 yards and six TD's. He rushed for 200 yards on 23 carries averaging nearly nine yards/carry.
Bennett will probably be the starting quarterback for their opening game against Arkansas State, but expect Mariota to see some action too. Oregon could use a two-quarterback system this season, at least until one of these two show why they are the best man for the job.
The Oregon Ducks should be a very stout group on defense. Senior, John Boyett, leads the way defensively. The former Napa High School star has become one of the best safeties in the nation since he started as a true freshman. Boyett led Oregon with 108 tackles last season. He ranked third in the Pac-12 in total tackles last season, and his 69 solo tackles were tops in the Pac-12. He is the quarterback on the defense (He knows the quarterback position well too, he led Napa to a High School sectional title as their starting QB). Boyett is one of the smartest players in the country, and expect him to contend for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.
Senior, Dion Jordan, is one of the best pass rushers in the country. He is an Aldon Smith-defender. He can line up on the defensive line and he can line up on the outside as a linebacker. His 7.5 sacks last year were fourth best in the Pac-12 and tops for the Ducks. He also had 13 tackles for loss which were tied for second in the Pac-12 and led Oregon. He was named to the All Pac-12 First Team last season. He started his career at Oregon at tight end, but the Ducks made a great move and put him on the other side of the ball before the 2010 season. Expect junior, Taylor Hart, to be a big time playmaker this season.
Five-star freshman Arik Armstead will be a force for the Ducks defense. He was rated as a top-20 player in the nation coming out of Pleasant Grove HS. He is 6'8" 280-pounds, and is drawing comparisons to another former Duck: Haloti Ngata. Jordan and Hart will be the main cogs on the defensive front for the Ducks' defense.
Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti will look to use a 3-4 scheme a lot this year and keep opposing offenses off balance. With Jordan's athleticism, it will allow Aliotti a lot of room to work with this season. Armstead is expected to be a huge force among Oregon's front seven. Watch out for this guy to be one of the best defensive players in the Pac-12 this season.
The linebackers have lost some talent. Josh Kaddu was one of the best linebackers last season. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins. Senior, Michael Clay, will be the main piece for the Ducks' linebackers. He was second on the team with 102 tackles last season. He had three sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one defensive touchdown.
Senior, Kiko Alonso, will be a big contributor for the Ducks' defense this year. Alonso and Clay will be the two inside linebackers for the Ducks in their new 3-4 defensive scheme this season. If Oregon's defense plays up to par this season, they should battle USC for the Pac-12 Championship this season.