After blitzing through their regular season schedule and putting up an almost incomprehensible amount of points against the Pac-10, the Ducks were mostly shut down—and physically dominated —by the Auburn Tigers in the 2010-2011 BCS National Championship Game.
That game, along with the Ducks' Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State at the end of the 2009-2010 season, has exposed at least one glaring weakness in the otherwise powerful Oregon program: It seems this team just may not be strong enough.
That being said, this bunch still has to be considered a national title contender—maybe even the national title contender—in 2010-2011. Find out why here, in our 2010-2011 Oregon preview.
OVERVIEW: Oregon is a near-unanimous pick as a Top 5 squad heading into 2010-2011, and it's not hard to see why. The Ducks will return not only Heisman finalist tailback LaMichael James, but also star quarterback Darron Thomas and superstar punt returner Cliff Harris. There are a few key losses (wideout Jeff Maehl will be sorely missed), but it's hard to see this team losing more than one game next season. Yes, they're that good.
THE CEILING: This is a national title-caliber team that should expect nothing less than another appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. The offense will score a ton of points; of that, there is no doubt. The defense should again be solid, too. I've got this bunch at No. 1 for 2011--and they are, in my mind, a comfortable No. 1 at that.
REASONS FOR CONCERN: The Ducks will be good enough to outrun, outskill and outscheme their Pac-10 opponents. But here's the question: Is this program strong enough to compete with the big boys from the SEC? Like it or not, the SEC has established itself as the nation's premier conference--not only in speed, but also in size and strength. Two years running now, we've seen the Ducks bow out in a bowl game to a more physical opponent. They have to get stronger, or a national title may remain out of reach.
THE SCHEDULE (key games in bold): 9/3: vs. LSU (at Cowboys Stadium); 9/10 vs. Nevada; 9/17 vs. Missouri State; 9/24 at Arizona; 10/6 vs. California; 10/15 vs. Arizona State; 10/22 at Colorado; 10/29 vs. Washington State; 11/5 at Washington; 11/12 at Stanford; 11/19 vs. USC; 11/26 vs. Oregon State.
THE VERDICT: The entire season boils down to one game--the season opener against LSU. The Tigers have underachieved in recent years, but seem loaded for 2011; they will pose a significant challenge for the Ducks. If Oregon gets past that one, they may not be tested again until a mid-November showdown against Stanford. Man for man, I think this team is better than everyone they'll play in 2011. Another undefeated regular season should not just be the "goal." It should be the expectation. REGULAR SEASON PREDICTION: 12-0