For the second time in five seasons, Oregon came up 60 minutes short of a national championship.
This time the Ducks have to rebuild without arguably the greatest player in the history of their program. Five starters are back on defense and seven are back on offense, but the loss of Marcus Mariota obviously cannot be understated.
Mark Helfrich still might have the team to beat in the Pac-12 but will have to address some major issues with his roster this spring if he wants to win a second consecutive conference title.
5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon’s Spring Practice:
1. Keep the seat warm
Vernon Adams threw for 10,438 yards, rushed for 1,232 and accounted for 121 touchdowns in three years at Eastern Washington. He’s likely Oregon's next starting quarterback but won’t show up until June. That leaves Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and Taylor Alie to run the offense this spring. Having a backup plan ready before Adams arrives would be advised. Keep an eye on true freshman early enrollee Travis Jonsen as well.
2. Fill massive gaps along the line
Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher all earned All-Pac-12 honors and all three must be replaced this spring. Tyler Johnstone returns to anchor the unit but the rest of this group is extremely inexperienced and unproven. Look for guys like Doug Brenner, Matt Pierson and Jake Pisarcik to step into bigger roles this offseason. This might be the biggest concern for Helfrich this spring.
3. Develop the secondary
Veterans Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are gone at cornerback while Erick Dargan departs at safety. And the backups stepping into bigger roles are very young. Reggie Daniels needs to be a leader while Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Khalil Oliver and others will need to step up. Even true freshman early enrollee Ugo Amadi and former wide receiver Charles Nelson could see first-team reps this spring.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
4. Defensive line rotation
DeForest Buckner is back for Oregon and could be the best player on the entire roster. He likely won’t be a part of spring ball, as he recovers from an unknown leg injury, so Don Pellum needs to establish a defensive line rotation. This unit is stacked with depth but needs to replace Arik Armstead and Sam Kamp while accounting for Buckner’s absence. Alex Balducci and Tui Talia are excellent veterans, but the rest of the unit needs to be organized this spring.
5. Keep playmakers happy
Oregon has a lot of guys who will touch the football this fall and keeping them all happy will be important. Organizing the workload in the backfield is an enviable task with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and hybrid Byron Marshall returning. Bralon Addison returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury and will fight for reps with a deep collection of young playmakers on the outside. There is only one football and the Ducks have 8-10 guys who could be stars with the ball in their hands.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Oregon:
The Ducks are loaded with young talent and are returning a core group of players who have won a ton of games. But critical positions — quarterback, offensive line and defensive back — are glaring concerns for Helfrich and staff that need to be addressed this spring. In a brutal conference with loads of quality programs, the Ducks might still be considered the front-runner, provided they can answer a few questions this spring.