Now that the calendar turned to July, college football teams around the country will soon be gearing up for fall camp. Oregon's starts Aug. 10 and the Ducks have to replace Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota. What will be the biggest challenge for their new quarterback?
Adams vs. Lockie
There figures to be a two-man battle to replace Marcus Mariota, easily the greatest player in Oregon history and one of the statistically best quarterbacks in NCAA history. He's probably a future College Football Hall of Famer.
The main competitors to replace Mariota, a three-year starter, are his former backup Jeff Lockie and Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams, one of the best players in the lower-level FCS the past three seasons. Most believe Adams will win the job, but as of this writing he isn't even an Oregon official student yet. Adams, who would be eligible to play immediately per the NCAA’s five-year transfer rule, still had one math class to pass at Eastern Washington before earning his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and joining the Ducks. Adams participated in graduation ceremonies in Cheney, Wash., on June 13 and moved to Eugene the next day. But he can't participate in any Oregon-related activities until that class is passed. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich recently said he didn't expect any "hiccups" in that process.
Lockie isn't just going to hand over the job. He looked very good in Oregon's spring game, throwing for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Oregon's four other quarterbacks were nowhere as efficient as Lockie so they really have no shot at the job. Lockie has 41 career regular-season attempts.
Adams is currently +4500 on 5Dimes' odds to win the Heisman and Lockie has no college football odds in the college football futures market, so clearly the sportsbooks expect Adams to win the job. So do I.
Two Defenses Stand Out On Schedule
Interestingly, Oregon is no longer the Pac-12 favorite at 5Dimes, as the Ducks are at +275. Southern Cal, which brings back perhaps the nation's best pure passing QB in Cody Kessler, is the +240 favorite. The Ducks are -125 favorites to win the North Division again. They have a wins total of nine, with the 'over' a -135 favorite at 5Dimes.
Perhaps fittingly, Adams would be set to begin his FBS career on Sept. 5 at home against Eastern Washington. Normally you might see starting quarterback pulled early in the game like that, but Oregon probably will want to give Adams as much experience as possible since he's arriving in the scene so late. Also, they need all the jitters/rust off because in Week 2 the Ducks visit Michigan State in what will be a Top-10 matchup. The Spartans are again expected to have one of the nation's top defenses even after losing coordinator Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh. Sparty played well defensively at Oregon last season before Mariota led a run of 28 straight points starting late in the third quarter as the Ducks won 46-27. Michigan State is an opening 3.5-point favorite this time and that's likely to be the biggest that Oregon is an underdog all regular season.
If Michigan State isn't the toughest test for Adams (or Lockie), it should be at Stanford on Nov. 14, with the winner likely claiming the Pac-12 North. The Cardinal always have one of the nation's top defenses. They led the Pac-12 in total defense (282.4 ypg) last season, allowing more than 100 fewer yards per game than the league’s No. 2 unit (Utah, 393.5 ypg). Stanford allowed only 16.4 points per game, No. 2 in the nation. True, only four starters are back, but the Cardinal just reload on that side of the ball.
Stanford's big, physical defense, especially up front, tends to give Oregon's small, quick offensive line problems. Yes, the Ducks rolled 45-16 last season. In 2013, the Cardinal upset No. 2 Oregon 26-20 and battered Mariota in that game. The final was a bit misleading because Stanford led 26-0 early in the fourth. In 2012, the Cardinal beat host Oregon 17-14 in overtime when the Ducks were No. 1 in the nation. Again, Mariota was largely beaten to a pulp.
College Football Free Pick: I don't see Oregon winning at both Michigan State and Stanford. At Arizona State will be tough, too, but the Ducks won't lose all three road games. Thus go 'over' the wins and I do believe they take the Pac-12 North.