The Oregon Ducks are overrated, ranked in the top five of preseason polls.
That doesn't mean Oregon can't have another great season, and perhaps contend for the Pac-12 championship game and berth in the Rose Bowl. But too many questions surround the Ducks as they prepare to open the season Saturday against LSU in the Cowboys Classic (5 p.m. PT, ABC). It feels like more of a No. 12-ranked team that is coming out of Eugene.
It was a special season in 2010, with an experienced Ducks squad built for the national championship run. Go back 365 days, and the only concern was how well Darron Thomas would fare as the new starting quarterback. To his credit, he played fantastically.
We'll find out much about the 2011 Ducks on Saturday:
• Can Thomas be effective, given the Ducks' new set of receivers and offensive line? Last year, the units provided veteran support through the season. And, the Ducks ran the ball so well, it took pressure off Thomas.
• Clearly, the Ducks have some rushing talent - with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and their quarterback. But, how well will the Ducks block? I'm not just talking about blocking at the point of attack; I'm talking about the perimeter and second-level blocks, which have sprung so many runs in recent years.
• Does the passing game click? How much do the Ducks miss the departed playmaker Jeff Maehl, especially early - such as, against LSU?
• Is De'Anthony Thomas as good as hyped? Can he make an immediate impact, against LSU in his first game?
• Who steps up to be formidable on the defensive line? Tackle Ricky Heimuli? Is it going to be a stout unit? I'm not seeing a dominating player there, especially in the pass rush. Brandon Bair and Kenny Rowe are going to be missed.
• How good are the linebackers? It looks like a mediocre bunch without Casey Matthews.
• Which young cornerback steps up, especially given the suspension of ball-hawker Cliff Harris on Saturday? Do teams pick on Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill, or even senior Anthony Gildon, starting Saturday? Surely, safety John Boyett and rover Eddie Pleasant are good players, but teams will find corners in one-on-one-coverage.
Louisiana State enters the game with its own issues, namely at quarterback, where senior Jarrett Lee replaces the suspended Jordan Jefferson. He's a drop-back passer, but he's also a senior who has played in key moments. And, LSU as a program has been in many big moments over the years - more than Oregon - and have been built to contend for the SEC and national titles. Enough said.
In my mind, this is how the game plays out: LSU moves the ball on the UO defense, keeping possession and putting points on the board, because the Ducks can't come up with stops and big plays; the uptempo UO offense also moves the ball, but with a big-and-fast defensive line and talented secondary, the Tigers make more stops and plays.
For the Ducks, it'll be like facing USC in its prime, or Ohio State and Auburn the past couple years. The other team will have too much firepower to contend with, too much talent to overcome.
THE PICK: LSU 34, Oregon 24