Impending Doom in Oregon?

Can the Ducks repeat as Pac-12 champs amidst swirling NCAA allegations?

Can the Ducks repeat as Pac-12 champs amidst swirling NCAA allegations?

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Dez Bryant saw his college career ended by dinner with schmucks. Bruce Pearl lost his job at Tennessee because of a backyard BBQ. Reggie Bush and USC “lost” the BCS championship and Heisman Trophy because some sleazeball wannabe agent was lurking in the shadows. Jim Tressel’s time in Columbus was cut short, well, because of stupidity and arrogance.

As usual, the NCAA is wildly inconsistent and terribly opaque. However, the only uniformity coming from college football’s governing body appears to be the heavy-handed sentencing of the past 18 months.

Which is why, if I were heavily invested in the Oregon Ducks football team, I would be extremely nervous at the moment. The fact that the NCAA, at times, makes no sense at all should only magnify the trembling throughout Duck nation. The petty shoplifting charges incurred by Bryant, for example, make the Oregon allegations look like first-degree homicide.

If you do not know by now, the NCAA began a preliminary investigation of the Oregon Ducks in March because of a $25,000 payment made by the school to Houston-based recruiting consultant Willie Lyles of Complete Scouting Services for a 2011 national recruiting package covering 22 states. Lyles received the payment weeks after elite recruit Lache Seastrunk inked his letter of intent with Oregon. Lyles had been mentoring Seastrunk. The 140-profile “national” report highlighted 134 players from Texas — including one player from the class of 2009 and another who is deceased.

If charges of a purported recruiting scheme designed to funnel Texas prep stars to Eugene holds any water whatsoever, the rest of 2011 may be as exciting for The Duck as it will be for Brutus Buckeye.

The bigger issue as the calendar flips to July and summer camps are weeks from beginning is this: How do the Ducks, amidst swirling potential NCAA violations, stay focused on defending their Pac-12 championship?

It was a tall order before the NCAA got involved.

The five best players from a defensive front seven that couldn’t slow Auburn’s power rushing attack are gone. The receiving corps returns little experience, and the offensive line is replacing two starters from a group that also got pushed around by the Tigers. Add to it a newly minted conference championship game and a collective target aimed at Eugene from every campus west of the Rockies, and Chip Kelly has his hands full.

“Auburn finally showed the rest of the Pac-12 how to slow down Oregon — control the line of scrimmage,” an anonymous Pac-12 assistant coach told Athlon Sports.

Which is also exactly what Ohio State was able to do two seasons ago in the 26-17 Rose Bowl win over Oregon. If you are counting at home, that is two BCS bowls in a row where the most explosive rushing attack in the nation was stymied by a more physical, more powerful line of scrimmage. Since Heisman finalist LaMichael James — who is from Texas — took over the starting tailback duties, his two lowest rushing totals came against the Buckeyes (70 yards) and the Tigers (49 yards).

No worries, Oregon fans — you only start the season against LSU in, of course, the Lone Star State. LSU’s strength in 2011 will undoubtedly be its power rushing game and stingy defense. And Les Miles’ bunch has enough talent to justify its own National Championship aspirations.

Additionally, Oregon’s biggest competition in the league will be Stanford — who has the best player in the nation in quarterback Andrew Luck and the best offensive line in the league. The Cardinal power rushing attack is the Pac-12’s closest approximation to an SEC-type ground game.

Stanford also hosts the big North Division showdown this fall on November 12 in Palo Alto, and other than USC (32), no one scored more points against the Ducks (31) than the Cardinal last fall. Luck threw 46 times for 341 yards and totaled three touchdowns in Oregon’s 52-31 win in Eugene. The conference — and potentially national — championship could be on the line when Oregon flies south in November.

At this point, the NCAA investigation is far from over and has left fans, media, coaches and administrators to speculate.

For the time being there is plenty to Ducky about. With a returning star in quarterback Darron Thomas, a Heisman candidate toting the rock and loads of play-making ability in the secondary, the defending Pac-12 champion still has the crosshairs fixed firmly upon its feathery back. Not the other way around.

However, a brutal battle with an SEC power, added conference championship game and totally rebuilt front seven was going to make repeating in 2011 difficult enough without Mark Emmert keeping close aim on every maneuver.

It’s Duck-hunting season on multiple fronts. How long can the mallard drakes out-run the laser-clay zappers?

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

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