Oregon has the biggest shoes to fill in college football this season in replacing the school's best player ever: Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. Can the Ducks return to the College Football Playoff without him? Odds from 5Dimes.
Battle To Replace Mariota
If you believe that the up-tempo offensive system is bigger than any one player at Oregon and actually makes the player, then I suppose the Ducks will be just fine. It's likely that Marcus Mariota's replacement will be a guy who has never taken a snap at the FBS level, however: Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams threw for 10,438 yards, rushed for 1,232 and accounted for 121 touchdowns in three years at Eastern Washington, which is a powerhouse at the lower level. And Adams had a few monster games against some FBS opponents. The fifth-year senior was a two-time Big Sky Conference offensive player of the year, two-time All-American and twice a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS' Heisman.
Adams, at +3500 college football odds to win the Heisman, is the odds-on favorite to win the starting job, although he will have some catching up to do this summer against Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup last season. Obviously the junior Lockie has the advantage of being in the system for years. Adams wasn't on campus yet this spring as he had to wait to graduate from Eastern Washington. Lockie (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) looked great in the Oregon spring game, completing all nine of his passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns in leading his team to a 35-29 victory. In 19 career regular-season games in mop-up duty, Lockie has completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards, one TD and one interception.
Oregon lost three excellent offensive linemen as well in Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher but the skill position talent returning is the best in the Pac-12 (outside of the QB questions) with running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and receivers Byron Marshall, Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford all due back. Freeman is +3800 to win the Heisman.
Seven starters are back on offense overall and five on defense.
Oregon 2015 Schedule Analysis
The Ducks open against, ironically enough, Eastern Washington. No opening line on that because it's an FCS school. EWU won't be a total pushover but obviously Oregon will win that game at home by a good three touchdowns or so.
Week 2 is a huge non-conference game on national TV at Michigan State, with the Spartans as opening 3-point favorites. MSU brings back one of the nation's top quarterbacks on Connor Cook. The teams met in Eugene early last season and Oregon won 46-27 -- thanks to scoring the final 28 points of the game. Mariota finished with 318 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Allen had three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks. Cook threw for 343 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Oregon is only 5-5 ATS in its past 10 against Big Ten opponents.
Oregon returns home in Week 3 vs. Georgia State and then hosts Utah in Week 4. Those will be wins as will Oct. 3 at Colorado and Oct. 10 at home vs. Washington State. Then the challenging part of the Pac-12 schedule begins: Oct. 17 at Washington, Oct. 29 at Arizona State (Ducks opened at -1.5), Nov. 7 vs. high-powered Cal, Nov. 14 at nemesis Stanford, Nov. 21 vs. USC (Ducks are -5) in a potential Pac-12 title game preview, and Nov. 27 at home against Oregon State in the Civil War.
Not an easy schedule as certainly Michigan State, Arizona State, Stanford and USC should be ranked. Then perhaps the conference title game vs. one of USC, Arizona State, UCLA or Arizona most likely. The Ducks are 13-7 ATS in their past 20 conference games and 17-3 straight up.
Oregon is +1900 to win the national title, a +250 favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champion, +260 to make the College Football Playoff and -380 to miss, and with an 'over/under' wins total of 9 (regular-season games only). The 'over' is a -135 favorite at 5Dimes.
NCAAF Free Picks: I don't see Oregon running the table in the regular season, with possible losses at MSU, Stanford and ASU. The Ducks shouldn't lose a home game. I would go 'over' the 9 wins with my college football picks as 10-2 looks right. That will be enough to return to the Pac-12 title game but not for the College Football Playoff.