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Oregon's 2015 National Title Hopes Filled With Question Marks

Mark Helfrich

Mark Helfrich

Oregon fell short of claiming its first national championship with a 42-20 loss to Ohio State on Monday night. The Ducks have played in college football’s title game in two out of the last five years but lost both matchups. The lack of a championship trophy shouldn’t minimize the run Oregon has been on in recent years. The Ducks have won at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons, including a 24-4 start to coach Mark Helfrich’s tenure in Eugene.

As the Ducks turn the page from 2014 to 2015, Helfrich and his staff have some significant question marks to address. Will Marcus Mariota return? If Mariota doesn’t return, who steps up to fill the void under center? Can Oregon replace a few key contributors on defense?

Let’s take a look at what Oregon returns in 2015 and a few question marks for this team to address before the opening kickoff next year:

Offense

Key Returnees:


QB Marcus Mariota (may leave early for NFL)

RB Royce Freeman

RB Thomas Tyner

RB/WR Byron Marshall

WR Devon Allen

WR Darren Carrington

WR Dwayne Stanford

WR Bralon Addison

TE Pharaoh Brown

OT Tyler Johnstone
RG Cameron Hunt

OT Tyrell Crosby

Key Departures:

WR Keanon Lowe

LT Jake Fisher
LG Hamani Stevens

C Hroniss Grasu

Defense

Key Returnees:

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DE Arik Armstead (may leave early for NFL)
DE DeForest Buckner (may leave early for NFL)

NG Alex Balducci

LB Rodney Hardrick

LB Joe Walker

LB Tyson Coleman

LB Christian French

LB Torrodney Prevot

CB Chris Seisay

S Reggie Daniels

S Tyree Robinson

Key Departures:

LB Tony Washington

LB Derrick Malone

CB Troy Hill

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

S Erick Dargan

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QB Decisions

Will Mariota return to Oregon next season? If he doesn’t, coach Mark Helfrich and coordinator Scott Frost will have big shoes to fill under center. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been rumored as a possible transfer, but if the Ducks lose Mariota and fail to land any additions in the offseason, Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak, Ty Griffin, Taylor Alie and incoming freshman Travis Waller will compete for the starting job.

Fill the Voids Up Front

The Ducks are loaded with skill talent next season, but the offensive line has a few holes to fill. The unit’s top players – left tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu – have expired their eligibility. There’s some experience coming back, and this group will get a boost from Tyler Johnstone’s return from a knee injury. A major drop in production would be a surprise, but this unit has some significant work to do in the offseason.

Getting Defensive

Considering Oregon’s style of play on offense, it’s unreasonable to expect the defense to be a shutdown unit. However, the Ducks were an opportunistic group in the first season under coordinator Don Pellum and navigated the loss of standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in a Rose Bowl win over Florida State. But Pellum could have some major holes to address in the offseason if defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bolt to the NFL. Additionally, the secondary loses standouts in cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, along with safety Erick Dargan. If Mariota leaves for the NFL, the Oregon offense will take a small step back on the stat sheet. While the defense could suffer a few significant losses, the Ducks will need more out of this group, at least until a quarterback is found to replace Mariota.