SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Oregon Ducks

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Mike Bellotti (9th year, 67-29)
2002 record: 7-6 (Lost to Wake Forest 38-17 in Seattle Bowl)
Pac-10 finish: 8th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 145.6 ypg
(2nd in Pac-10, 60th in nation)
Pass: 227.6 ypg (9th, 53rd)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 118.2 ypg (6th, 25th)
Pass: 291.2 ypg (10th, 115th)
Projected Starters
Offense (8 returning starters in bold)
WR   1   Samie Parker   Sr.  
WR  Demetrius Williams  So. 
LT   72   Adam Snyder   Jr.  
LG   74   Nick Steitz   Jr.  
C   63   Dan Weaver   Sr.  
RG   60   Joey Forster   Sr.  
RT   77   Mike DeLaGrange   Jr.  
TE  85  Tim Day  So. 
QB   12   Jason Fife   Sr.  
TB  27  Ryan Shaw  Jr. 
FB   32   Matt Floberg   Sr.  
Defense (6)
DE  92  Devan Long  So. 
DT   96   Haloti Ngata   So.  
DT   53   Igor Olshansky   Jr.  
DE  47  Chris Solomona  Jr. 
OLB  21  David Martin  Sr. 
MLB  52  Jerry Matson  Jr. 
ILB   39   Kevin Mitchell   Sr.  
CB   4   Steven Moore   Sr.  
CB   5   Aaron Gipson   So.  
FS   16   Keith Lewis   Sr.  
ROV  23  Marley Tucker  Jr. 
Special Teams
25  Jared Siegel  Jr. 
93  Drew Larson  Fr. 
KR  31  Justin Phinisee  So. 
PR  Steven Moore  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at Mississippi State 
Sept. 6  Nevada 
Sept. 13  at Arizona 
Sept. 20  Michigan 
Sept. 27  Washington State 
Oct. 4  at Utah 
Oct. 11  at Arizona State 
Oct. 25  Stanford 
Nov. 1  at Washington 
Nov. 8  California 
Nov. 15  at UCLA 
Nov. 22  Oregon State 
The progression was working out remarkably well for the Oregon football program -- six wins in 1996, seven in '97, eight in '98, nine in '99, 10 in 2000 and 11 in '01.

It ended with a thud last season. Instead of winning 12 games, the Ducks fell to 7-6 with a loss in the Seattle Bowl to Wake Forest, and a disappointing 3-5 in the Pac-10. As Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti has pointed out this offseason, seven wins and a bowl appearance is a heck of a showing considering the mediocre history of the Ducks. Given the aforementioned streak in recent years, though, the reaction from fans was loud and clear: turn things around, and quick.

The current seniors never have faced a rebuilding process. They've never experienced a season in which their record failed to improve over the year before. They do remember 2001, though, when the Ducks beat Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season ranked No. 2 in the country. They also remember the accountability demanded by a group of seniors that was led by Joey Harrington, one of six members of that class drafted into the NFL. That accountability was missing in 2002, and the Ducks have stressed leadership during the offseason in an effort to again reach the level of play the program has established for itself during Bellotti's tenure.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Oregon had open competition in the offseason at both quarterback and running back, with no clear leader emerging. Jason Fife started all 13 games under center a year ago, but Kellen Clemens got the majority of the snaps in the Seattle Bowl, and the two were neck-and-neck in the spring. There are several running backs in the mix to replace Onterrio Smith, the most intriguing being LSU transfer Chris Vincent.

Besides Smith, starters must also be replaced at tight end and receiver. George Wrighster left after his junior season along with Smith, prompting Bellotti to sign a junior college tight end, Eddie Whitaker. He'll team with athletic sophomore Tim Day in Oregon's frequent two-tight end sets. Samie Parker returns at receiver after choosing not to leave after his junior year, and he'll be a focal point of the offense.

All five offensive line starters return, along with key backup Robin Knebel. Anchored by center Dan Weaver and right guard Joey Forster , the thin line is very talented, and will be a big factor in the Ducks increasing their point production.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The Oregon defense is strong up front with questions at the skill positions. Tackles Igor Olshansky and Haloti Ngata will be one of the best tandems in the country. Olshansky likely also will play at end, at least early in the season, as Quinn Dorsey serves an expected suspension for using complimentary game tickets to help pay rent.

At linebacker, Kevin Mitchell returns on the inside, and though he is hampered by his size (5-foot-11, 220 pounds), he may have the best football instincts of any player on the team. Middle linebacker is unsettled after the graduation of Dave Moretti, while David Martin has his last chance to prove himself on the outside after a career plagued by injuries.

Oregon was one of the worst teams in the country against the pass last season, when the Ducks relied on first-year starters at both cornerback positions. This year Steve Moore, Aaron Gipson and Marques Binns will need to prove themselves early, or risk being passed up by freshman Ryan Gilliam or a pair of junior college imports. They'll have help from the safeties, though, particularly standout Keith Lewis, who was second-team All-Pac-10 last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Bellotti expects nothing less than an All-American season from kicker Jared Siegel, who booted a school-record 59-yard field goal at UCLA last season. True freshman Paul Martinez was recruited to take over the punting duties immediately.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Oregon finds itself in just about the same position as last season -- basically set everywhere but quarterback and cornerback. Everyone at both positions is back, and the Ducks are welcoming in a large group of signees to bolster both positions. In 2002, Fife at quarterback and Moore and Gipson at cornerback basically won the starting jobs by default; the challengers simply didn't materialize. This season, the hope will be that someone at each position plays well enough to demand the job. If that happens, and is sustained throughout the season, Oregon can get back into the Pac-10's upper division. If it's more of the same from last season, the Ducks may find themselves out of the bowl picture.

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