NCAA Football Oregon Ducks

10 Questions Oregon Football Must Answer This Offseason

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10 Questions Oregon Football Must Answer This Offseason

marcus mariota
Steven Bisig - USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks survived the first year without Chip Kelly at the helm but suffered some disappointments in the process. Twice, Oregon was in command of the Pac-12 race before losing games and control of the division race. Marcus Mariota was a lock to win the Heisman Trophy before injuries and losses left him without an invite to the ceremony this December. Most disappointing, however, might have been the team’s lack of a BCS invite, despite finishing the season ranked No. 10, ending a four-year streak of BCS bids.

Despite those disappointments, however, Oregon still had a strong season even if it failed to live up to their own expectations. New head coach Mark Helfrich won 11 games in his head coaching debut and has a strong core of star players coming back in 2014 to improve on that record next fall. The pieces are all in place for the Ducks to continue to be a perennial contender for the Pac-12 title and perhaps even compete for a spot in the new college football playoff beginning next season.

But for this team to take that next step, they will have to buckle down and focus this offseason. There were many areas that the Ducks need to tighten up before they can truly get back on top of the Pac-12 and compete with the best teams in college football. That process starts in the offseason and will be key in how far the team goes next season.

But where should they start? Here are 10 questions that Oregon football must answer this offseason to succeed in 2014.

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10. Can they "Win the Day" again?

mark helfrich
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The mantra of the Oregon program under Chip Kelly was “Win the Day” and it helped make sure that the team was focused on coming out and competing every day. They weren’t worried about what was coming up down the road, only on putting their best foot forward each and every day. Watching Oregon in 2013, you could see there were some days that they certainly did not win. Focus and discipline was an issue and Helfrich has to get that under control to keep Oregon on the right path in 2014. Can he rekindle that WtD mentality?

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9. What will the defense look like?

avery patterson
Soobum Im - USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon defense ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and third in total defense in 2013, though they didn’t get much credit as a sound defensive team during the season. But for the first time in 17 years, someone other than Nick Aliotti will be calling the defense next season after the long-time Oregon assistant retired following the 30-7 victory in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Don Pellum, the linebackers coach in Eugene for 14 years, has been promoted to DC ensuring a smooth transition and continued continuity on the coaching staff. But what wrinkles will Pellum put on the defense next fall to make it his own?

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8. How will the running back rotation work?

byron marshall
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

When De’Anthony Thomas was hurt and missed a month of the season, the Oregon rushing attack was taken over by Byron Marshall. Marshall did a phenomenal job and did not relinquish the job back to DAT even after he returned from injury and ended up leading the team in rushing with 1,038 yards on 168 carries with 14 touchdowns. True freshman Thomas Tyner came on as well as the season went on and ended up third on the team in rushing last season, picking up 711 yards on 115 carries with nine touchdowns. How will Marshall and Tyner share touches in 2014 to make the most out of both of their talents?

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7. Is Bralon Addison ready to be a star?

bralon addison
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

Bralon Addison showed flashes of his playmaking ability in 2013 as a sophomore, finishing second on the team in receiving with 61 catches for 890 yards and seven touchdowns in the passing game. But he also provided a spark on special teams, returning two punts for touchdowns this season. As the most experienced receiver returning next season, he’s going to shoulder a much bigger responsibility in the passing game. And after showing what he can do in the return game, Addison is set up for a star-making junior season in 2014. Is he ready to take advantage?

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6. Who will be the next breakout freshman?

thomas tyner
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

Every season, it seems like Oregon has a true freshman who finds his way onto the field and makes an immediate impact with unreal athletic ability. This season it was Tyner in the backfield, delivering on the hype that he brought with him to Eugene. Who will it be in 2014? Oregon already has some excellent candidates verbally committed to the 2014 recruiting class who could make an immediate impact. Royce Freeman is a big-bodied running back at 6-foot, 227-pounds, who can run with power, patience, and balance. Bishard “Budda” Baker is a potential two-way star who has shown great instincts and elite athleticism. Tony James is a smaller running back who can cut on a dime and burn defenders with his speed. Will one of these three be the breakout freshman star of 2014?

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5. Who will replace Taylor Hart?

taylor hart
Steven Bisig - USA TODAY Sports

A major piece of the Oregon defense in 2013 was their big man in the middle of the line, Taylor Hart. The 6-foot-6, 287-pound defensive tackle made his presence felt in just about every game this season, recording 75 tackles, including six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. With him moving on this season, the Ducks will be looking for another big man to fill his shoes. 6-foot-7, 286-pound DeForest Buckner showed some nice ability in his sophomore season in 2013, recording 39 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Can he step up and fill Hart’s spot in 2014?

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4. Is Tony Washington an elite pass-rusher?

tony washington
Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

After recorded just one sack in his first two seasons, Tony Washington stepped up in a major way to lead the Oregon pass rush in 2013. He finished the year with 7.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles as he developed into a premier talent coming off the edge. As a senior, Washington needs to take his play to the next level as a leader of the Oregon defense to prove that he is truly an elite pass rusher in college football and not just a one-year flash in the pan. Will he prove he has staying power in 2014?

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3. Can Ifo Ekpre-Olomu carry the Oregon secondary?

ifo ekpre-olomu
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2013 season, the Oregon secondary was one of the most talented groups in the country. Heading into 2014, however, Oregon will have to replace half of that talented group after losing Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson off the roster. Luckily for the Ducks, their All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu chose to return to school for one more year, which takes the sting out of losing the eight interceptions and two touchdowns lost between Mitchell and Patterson. Can he step up and take command of the secondary to help them stay at the top of their game?

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2. Can Marcus Mariota win the Heisman Trophy?

marcus mariota
Soobum Im - USA TODAY Sports

After looking like a lock for the Heisman Trophy through the first two-thirds of the season, Marcus Mariota fell off the map after injuring his knee and losing to the Stanford Cardinal. The knee injury lingered and limited what Mariota could do down the stretch, further burying his once promising Heisman candidacy in 2013. Coming back healthy in 2014 with another year of experience under his belt and a wealth of offensive talent returning around him, can Mariota recapture that Heisman magic he had early in 2013 and take home the award next season?

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1. Can Oregon reclaim the Pac-12 title?

marcus mariota
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks appeared to be on the verge of building a Pac-12 dynasty just a few years ago, winning three straight conference titles from 2009-2011 and even playing for a BCS National Championship in 2010. But then Stanford showed up and muscled them out of the top spot in the conference and won back-to-back conference championships while the Ducks sat at home and watched. Will 2014 be the year that Oregon takes back the Pac-12?