Pac 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#71 Colorado Buffaloes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#71

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 71 Colorado

Previewing Colorado’s Offense for 2014:

Sophomore Sefo Liufau will be the opening-day starter at quarterback barring a dramatic drop-off in performance in fall camp. There is no other QB on the roster who has even taken a snap in a college game at the FBS level. Sophomore Jordan Gehrke will likely be the backup. Gehrke played well at the junior college level during the 2012 season. True freshman Cade Apsay will compete for playing time when he arrives in the summer, but he’s likely ticketed for a redshirt season.

Christian Powell led the team in rushing the past two seasons and could do so again in his junior year, but he might have a hard time fighting off sophomore Michael Adkins II, who averaged more than five yards a carry and led the team with six rushing touchdowns last season. The Buffs averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and 120.8 yards per game on the ground last fall.

Junior wide receiver Nelson Spruce was second on the team in receiving last season after leading it in 2012. Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo had a big spring and is the likely starter opposite Spruce, with senior D.D. Goodson, sophomore Devin Ross and speedy freshman Shay Fields likely to get opportunities in the slot. CU also should be improved at tight end, with sophomore Sean Irwin poised to move into a starting role. 

The talent is there at the skill positions, but those players are only going to be as effective as the offensive line allows them to be. There could be as many as three new starters.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense for 2014:

The Buffs have struggled big time on defense since joining the Pac-12, but they have pieces in place for improvement.

Tackle Josh Tupou, an all-conference-caliber player, will anchor the defensive line. The Buffs are young at end, especially if Samson Kafovalu isn’t available (due to academics). If Kafovalu can’t go, Jimmie Gilbert would be the most experienced end on the roster after playing 261 snaps as a true freshman last season.

Sophomore middle linebacker Addison Gillam, who led the team in tackles as a true freshman last season, will be joined by Woodson Greer and Kenneth Olugbode in the starting lineup, giving the team much more speed at linebacker than it has had in the recent past.

Second-year coach Mike MacIntyre returned to his roots by working with the cornerbacks during spring drills and may continue to do so during the season. His secondary is loaded with depth. Greg Henderson is the best corner on the team entering his senior season. That leaves potential starters Chidobe Awuzie, Kenneth Crawley and Ahkello Witherspoon fighting for two jobs — the other cornerback spot and the nickel back. The starting safeties should be senior Jered Bell and sophomore Tedric Thompson, but they have plenty of competition, too.

Previewing Colorado’s Specialists for 2014:

This can accurately be described as an area of strength. Punter Darragh O’Neill and placekicker Will Oliver are entering their senior seasons and will be four-year starters. O’Neill, who can punt with either foot, set a school record with 22 punts inside the 20-yard line last season. Oliver has been dependable throughout his career, though he hit a rough patch for a stretch last season.

Final Analysis

The depth and talent are improving in Boulder under MacIntyre. But the program is still in rebuilding mode. The Buffaloes have won a combined four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league, including one win in each of the past two years. Last season, the Buffs’ average margin of defeat in their eight conference losses was 29 points. More wins would be nice, but simply being competitive on a consistent basis would show progress in the short term.




Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Arizona Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Rich Rodriguez, 16-10 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Casteel

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 45 Arizona.

Previewing Arizona’s Offense for 2014:

In a sense, it is Groundhog Day at Arizona. After getting remarkable production from one-year quarterback starters Matt Scott in 2012 and B.J. Denker in 2013, coach Rich Rodriguez will open with his third QB in three years. Next in line is USC washout Jesse Scroggins, who is in his fifth year of college football. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, a four-time state champion from Las Vegas, challenged strongly for the No. 1 job in spring camp.

Two-time consensus All-America tailback Ka’Deem Carey — who became Arizona’s first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year — left for the NFL after his junior season. A mix of four young players, including Zach Green, Nick Wilson and Jonathan Haden — none with a college carry — could share the tailback job.

Six players are in the receiving rotation, all of them starter-quality. Senior Austin Hill, who missed 2013 after undergoing knee surgery, caught 81 passes a year earlier and is the dean of the group. DaVonte’ Neal, a transfer from Notre Dame and two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, has game-changing explosiveness and will be difficult to keep off the field. Cayleb Jones, a transfer from Texas, who has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver.

Four offensive line starters return, including three-year starting tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. Both have been durable and effective in Rodriguez’s fast-paced scheme.

Previewing Arizona’s Defense for 2014: 

The defensive line is troublesome and thin. Sophomore Dwight Melvin, with no career starts and little playing time, is the leading candidate to open at nose guard. The defensive ends are capable, if not standouts. Seniors Dan Pettinato and Reggie Gilbert aren’t skilled pass-rushers, which is what Arizona’s defense lacks. The Wildcats added LSU transfer Jordan Allen after spring practice. The former four-star recruit is an end but might be able to slide inside and play nose guard as well.

Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman and made 83 tackles, fourth-best on the club. He will now be a leader on the defense. The rest of the linebacking crew will need introductions. Sophomores DeAndre’ Miller, Derrick Turituri and Jake Matthews are challenging for full-time jobs. Incoming freshman linebacker Jamardre Cobb is one of the school’s top recruits.

Arizona cut its points allowed from 35 per game in Rodriguez’s first year to 24 last year, and most of the secondary players partially responsible for that performance return. Safety Jared Tevis isn’t blessed with NFL size and speed, but he’s an effective college player. Three-year starting cornerback Jonathan McKnight is a possible all-conference back, and hybrid linebacker/safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant will be starting for the fourth season. Arizona won’t be shy to use its bench.

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists for 2014:

Junior punter Drew Riggleman averaged 40.1 yards in his first year as a starter, but incoming kicker Josh Pollack is expected to challenge for the job immediately. The placekicking job is a mystery. Junior Casey Skowron ended spring drills on top of the depth chart, but he hasn’t kicked in a Pac-12 game. The return game, which has been a problem for Arizona in the Rodriguez years, should improve significantly.

Final Analysis

Rodriguez has twin 8–5 seasons in two years at Arizona, and he has more Pac-12-ready players on the roster for Year 3. The uncertainty at quarterback hovers over the entire operation, but the strengths at receiver and on the offensive line create an optimistic feeling about another winning season. The Wildcats are faster and deeper on defense. The schedule — four winnable games to open the season — sets up favorably.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#56 Washington State Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#56

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 9-16 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 56 Washington State.

Previewing Washington State’s Offense for 2014: 

Washington State returns many of the components of a passing offense that ranked second in the Pac-12 with 368.0 yards per game. Connor Halliday had 410 passing yards and six touchdown passes in the New Mexico Bowl, but the most impressive part of his day? He threw only one interception in 58 attempts. Halliday enters his senior season with a chance to break all of the school passing records. That’s impressive when you think of the QBs who have played at Washington State — Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Ryan Leaf, Jack Thompson and Jason Gesser, among others.

But Halliday has a tendency to throw too many interceptions. Along with 34 touchdown passes and 4,597 passing yards last year, he threw it to the opposing team 22 times.

As you’d expect with an offense that stresses the passing game, the Cougars are loaded with guys who can stretch the field. It’s their strongest position, led by Gabe Marks, who had 74 receptions for 807 yards and seven TDs last year. Four other wideouts had at least 40 receptions.

Offensive line could be a source of concern with the loss of two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 center Elliott Bosch, right guard Matt Goetz and right tackle John Fullington.

Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2014:  

Washington State will need to improve on this side of the ball after ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense (458.0 ypg) and scoring defense (32.5 ppg). The defense did, however, force 30 turnovers, second in the Pac-12 in that category.

WSU had one of the more solid defensive lines in the conference last year and returns the three standouts from that unit — Xavier Cooper, Kalafitoni Pole and Destiny Vaeao. Cooper registered five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last year. Pole’s numbers don’t match those, but he will be the 290-pound key to WSU’s run defense this year.

At linebacker, the Cougars have a hard-hitting group featuring Kache Palacio, Cyrus Coen, Darryl Monroe and Tana Pritchard. Palacio led the linebackers with four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Monroe, a junior, finished third on the team with 94 tackles.

The Cougars will need to shore up a secondary that lost three of its four starters to graduation, including All-Pac-12 strong safety Deone Bucannon. Daquawn Brown might be the best defensive back, but his status was unclear coming out of spring practice. He was arrested in the offseason on felony second-degree assault and misdemeanor assault charges.

Previewing Washington State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Michael Bowlin held the punting job for most of the 2013 season but was replaced late in the year by Wes Concepcion, who will hold the job on a full-time basis this year. Reliable Andrew Furney made 16-of-20 field goals last year, but he graduated. Now it’s freshman Erik Powell’s job. The left-footed Powell had an outstanding spring, showing accuracy and range. The Cougars have a variety of candidates for kickoff and punt returns. Dom Williams or Rickey Galvin should handle kickoffs, while Robert Lewis is the likely frontrunner for punt returns. 

Final Analysis

Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#54 Utah Utes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#54

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 76-39 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Christensen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 54 Utah.

Previewing Utah’s Offense for 2014: 

Utah’s best moment of the 2013 season also became the start of a downward spiral that created a complicated quarterbacking situation in 2014. While leading the Utes past Stanford, quarterback Travis Wilson injured his hand. He struggled in the next three games, then was diagnosed with a concussion. Further tests revealed a pre-existing condition that sidelined him for Utah’s final three games. Wilson was cleared to participate in spring drills, without being tackled, and reclaimed his No. 1 position. He’ll be re-evaluated in July.

Regardless of Wilson’s status, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will compete for the starting job. He’s listed No. 2, prior to arriving on campus as a graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining. “Finding out about Kendal will be job one,” coach Kyle Whittingham says.

The Utes also are adjusting to new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s fast-paced scheme. The spread offense is similar to what the Utes have used, but the tempo is “drastically different,” Christensen says.

Leading rusher Bubba Poole returns, but the Utes need help at receiver to complement the dynamic Dres Anderson. Much is expected from Kenneth Scott, who caught 32 passes in 2012 before being injured in last season’s opener, and Kaelin Clay, who will have one season to play as a junior college transfer.

Utah’s offensive linemen were asked to lose weight to thrive in the up-tempo offense, and left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi has responded well.

Previewing Utah’s Defense for 2014: 

Utah will miss Trevor Reilly, a versatile athlete who played end and linebacker in various alignments and led the team with 8.5 sacks as a senior. Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake hopes senior Nate Orchard can fill Reilly’s void as a disruptive lineman who also can move around in the scheme.

Utah appeared loaded at linebacker in their 4-3 scheme until Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul sustained significant injuries during spring drills. Hale recorded 6.5 sacks last season, helping the Utes lead the Pac-12 with 3.25 sacks per game, and Paul was making a great impression as a transfer from Miami. Each is expected to become available at some point this season, but for now, Uaea Masina is listed as the starter at one position and as the backup at another spot. Orchard may be asked to spend more time at linebacker.

The Utes were tied for last in the country with only three interceptions in 2013, and they hope Brian Blechen’s return at strong safety will make an impact. Blechen, who has eight interceptions in 35 career games, missed last season with tendinitis in his knee. Eric Rowe is a returning starter at free safety, but Sitake hopes Tevin Carter establishes himself at that position, enabling Rowe to move to cornerback.

Previewing Utah’s Specialists for 2014:

Andy Phillips became a big story as a former international ski racer who tried out for the team and earned the placekicking job as a freshman at age 24. Phillips made three field goals in his first football game at any level and finished 17-of-20 for the season, including a 51-yarder against Arizona State. Tom Hackett excelled as a short-punting specialist in 2012 and earned the full-time job in 2013, when he averaged 43.4 yards and the Utes led the Pac-12 in net punting.

Final Analysis 

Whittingham believes the Utes are improving their talent level and depth in their fourth season of Pac-12 membership. They were competitive in every conference game in 2013, including an upset of eventual champion Stanford, but the Utes need to double last season’s total of two conference wins for 2014 to be judged as any kind of success.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#53 Oregon State Beavers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#53

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 88-73 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Garrett | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 53 Oregon State.

Previewing Oregon State’s Offense for 2014:

The Beavers breathed a sigh of relief when quarterback Sean Mannion elected to return for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft. Mannion was inconsistent his first two years with the Beavers and was benched at the end of his junior season, but he re-established himself as the starter heading into 2013 and had a record-setting year. Mannion broke the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 passing yards, and he threw 37 touchdowns.

He lost his top target when Brandin Cooks opted to leave early for the NFL after leading the nation with 1,730 receiving yards and winning the Biletnikoff Award. Junior Richard Mullaney started across from Cooks and is the top returning receiver with 52 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns. No other returning wide receiver had more than seven catches. Oregon State has a strong group of tight ends, led by Connor Hamlett, who was fourth on the team with 40 catches for 364 yards and five touchdowns. Caleb Smith also started several games and finished with 25 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns.

The Beavers have to give Mannion more help in the running game after ranking 11th in the conference with only 94.4 rushing yards per game. OSU does return its top two rushers from last season, Terron Ward (521 yards) and Storm Woods (477).
Oregon State returns only two starters on the offensive line, guard Sean Harlow and center Isaac Seumalo. This could be a problem area.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense for 2014:

The Beavers return a wealth of experience at linebacker, where Jabral Johnson, D.J. Alexander and Rommel Mageo combined for 29 starts last season. Michael Doctor started 25 straight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the second game last year. He received a medical redshirt from the NCAA to return for one more year. Doctor, who has 185 tackles in his career, will start at outside linebacker along with Alexander.

Safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back along with cornerback Steven Nelson. Murphy and Nelson both received honorable mention, All-Pac-12 honors last season.

OSU will need to rebuild its defensive line after Scott Crichton left early for the NFL Draft, leaving defensive end Dylan Wynn as the only returning starter. Senior Siale Hautau and junior Jalen Grimble are the projected starters inside, while Jaswha James is expected to start on the end.

Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists for 2014:

Trevor Romaine will be the kicker for the fourth season in a row as he looks to bounce back to the form he showed as a sophomore. Romaine was 16-for-18 in 2012 before going 14-for-20 on field goals last season. Punter Keith Kostol was also better as a sophomore when he averaged 41.9 yards per kick before falling to 40.5 yards last year. Victor Bolden was seventh in the conference with 20.7 yards per kickoff return as a freshman and could also be a candidate to replace Cooks as the punt returner.

Final Analysis 

The Beavers return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Mannion, but he will be operating without Cooks and must adapt to new offensive coordinator John Garrett, who spent the last seven seasons in the NFL. The defense, with seven returning starters, should be better under veteran coordinator Mark Banker.

The Beavers should get off to a good start with non-conference home games against Portland State and San Diego State along with a trip to Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at USC and Colorado. This looks like another bowl team, but Oregon State doesn’t figure to pose too much of a threat to the top teams in the tough Pac-12 North.

The Debate

Who Will Lead the Pac-12 in Passing Yards in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#6 Oregon Ducks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#6

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich, 11-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Frost | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Pellum

A late-season knee injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota ended Oregon’s national title hopes last year, but the Ducks are poised for a run at a spot in college football new four-team playoff in 2014. Mariota turned down the NFL for another season in Eugene, and the junior is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including five starters back on the offensive line. The defense is under the direction of a new coordinator (Don Pellum), but five starters are back, including likely All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback. It's a close call for the favorite in the Pac-12 North, with Athlon Sports picking Oregon as a slight favorite over Stanford.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.

Previewing Oregon’s Offense for 2014:

A leading Heisman candidate until his knee injury in 2013, Marcus Mariota was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he decided another year of college seasoning was better for his long-term future. He’d do well to stay healthy, because there’s no obvious replacement on the depth chart.

It’s a different story at running back, where junior Byron Marshall is the Pac-12’s top returning rusher after a 1,038-yard season. Young backups Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman may be even more gifted, if less consistent or experienced.

All five starters are back on the offensive line, led by centers Hroniss Grasu and tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt will look to be more physical in 2014, to help address Oregon’s red-zone woes last fall. All the depth and experience in the backfield and on the line could signal a more run-based attack this season, particularly considering the loss of the top four receivers from last season, including junior Bralon Addison after his knee injury in the spring. Keanon Lowe and Dwayne Stanford look like solid if unspectacular starters, and Devon Allen and Darren Carrington look like future playmakers out wide.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Oregon Ducks for 2014:


Previewing Oregon’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The Ducks will need to prove on the field in 2014 that their defense can stop powerful, pro-style rushing attacks, and will do so under a new coordinator, with Don Pellum having replaced longtime assistant Nick Aliotti. Pellum pledged to improve Oregon’s fundamentals, demand more discipline and streamline things schematically so that the Ducks can play faster.

Projected defensive line starters DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Arik Armstead average about 6'6" and 295 pounds, but after being pushed around by Stanford and Arizona they worked hard to get stronger in the weight room this winter. “It’s a big priority,” Buckner says. “You look at us and we don’t really pass the eyeball test. It’s a really big emphasis.”

Veterans Tony Washington and Tyson Coleman should hold down the two outside linebacker spots, and in the middle starters Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone return along with 2013 backups Rahim Cassell and Joe Walker. They’ll work on getting better penetration this season.

The surprising decision by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return for his senior season saved the Ducks from needing to replace all four starters in the secondary. Seniors Dior Mathis and Erick Dargan seem poised to finally win starting spots at corner and safety, respectively, and the Ducks believe they have a future star in redshirt freshman safety Tyree Robinson.

Previewing Oregon’s Specialists for 2014: 

Matt Wogan capped an inconsistent true freshman season with three field goals in the Alamo Bowl, giving him confidence entering 2014. He’s also expected to handle punt duties as a sophomore. Addison’s injury cost the Ducks their punt returner. De’Anthony Thomas will be missed on kickoff returns, though Tyner’s speed makes him an intriguing option there.

Final Analysis

With 11 wins, a bowl victory and a No. 9 final ranking, Mark Helfrich experienced unprecedented success for a first-year Oregon coach. It’s a reflection of how high the bar is now set that there are still whispers around Eugene about whether Helfrich really was the right guy to replace Chip Kelly. An Alamo Bowl victory over Texas allowed Oregon to finish on a high note, but listless losses to Stanford and Arizona, in which the Cardinal and Wildcats pushed the Ducks around at the line of scrimmage, lingered in the minds of coaches, players and fans alike.

“Those two losses hit us last year,” Hardrick says. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at.”

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Oregon No. 6:

1. Marcus Mariota is back
Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the No. 1 quarterback in college football, but Marcus Mariota isn’t far behind. Despite a knee injury late last year, Mariota threw for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 715 yards and nine scores. Mariota also tossed only four interceptions on 386 attempts and averaged 9.1 yards per play. After considering the NFL Draft, Mariota decided to return to Eugene for his junior year, ensuring the Ducks will be a factor in college football’s new playoff format.

2. Favorable schedule
Deciding between Stanford or Oregon as the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 North is no easy task. However, one key factor in the preseason debate was the schedule. The Ducks have an easier path to a division title, as the Cardinal must play five of Athlon’s top 25 teams for 2014 on the road. Oregon misses USC and Arizona State in crossover play and hosts Washington and Stanford.

3. Who steps up at receiver?
With Bralon Addison out with a knee injury, the Ducks are missing their top three receivers from last year. Talent certainly isn’t an issue here, but Oregon will have some transition in the passing attack. Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and Chance Allen must become a bigger part of the offense, along with one of the nation’s top trios at tight end in Johnny Mundt, Evan Baylis and Pharaoh Brown. With a matchup against Michigan State in Week 2, this unit needs to develop in a hurry.

4. Transition on defense
Veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired after Oregon’s win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Long-time assistant Don Pellum was promoted to defensive play-caller, and he will have only five returning starters to work with in 2014. While the Ducks have transition on defense, this unit has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The line returns potential breakout players in DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, and the linebacking corps will be among the best in the Pac-12. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu should be a first-team All-American in 2014. Stopping the run has to be a priority for Pellum, and his tweaks for the defensive scheme will be important with Michigan State coming up in Week 2 and then Stanford on Nov. 1.

5. Improving offensive line
With five returning starters, Oregon’s offensive line could develop into one of the best in the nation. Of course, that assumes tackle Tyler Johnstone is able to return at full strength from a knee injury suffered in the Alamo Bowl. Improving the play from the guard position is a priority, especially as Oregon needs to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota upright and healthy for a full season.

The Debate

Oregon or Stanford: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2014?

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