Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011 Will Be a Good Year, But 2012 Should Be a Very, Very Good Year

In yesterday's post-practice interview Chip Kelly pointed out the Ducks have just eleven seniors.

There are fifteen on the roster, but four are walk-ons.  By contrast, Oregon has 19 redshirt freshmen practicing this spring, 21 juniors, 29 sophomores. 

Which suggests, purely by numbers, that Oregon's best year may be 2012, when the talent, depth and experience Kelly has accumulated reaches its peak.
Consider this:  In 2011, Oregon reached the National Championship Game with recruiting classes ranked an average of about 25th.  Oregon's last two classes have been ranked 9th and 10th.  Classes from prior years suffered some terrible attrition.  Defensive tackles Miles Wade and Simi Fili washed out.  Think about the current gap at wide receiver.  Last season Oregon lost three highly-touted wideouts due to grades and misbehavior, Jamere Holland, Diante Jackson, Tyrece Gaines.  The Ducks are not only recruiting better athletes; they are recruiting better people.  The current classes are more likely to remain relatively intact.
Next year, LaMichael James and Cliff Harris are likely to leave early for the NFL.  Darron Thomas won't--his draft evaluation won't warrant it; he has his best chance at the next level as a four-year college player and a three-year starter with a gaudy won-loss record.  He'll fill out a bit more (he's a workout warrior, a former member of the Oregon Iron Club) and continue to work on his footwork and throwing mechanics.

If James and Harris declare and Thomas and Boyett don't, the Ducks will lose 11 starters at the end the of 2011, same as this year, but the backload of talent in the Oregon system will soften that blow. The Ducks play a lot of people.  It speeds development and deepens motivation.

By 2012, the superb speed in the freshman class should be fully ready to contribute.  The outstanding strength and agility in this year's offensive line recruits could be felt.  Heimuli, Lokombo, Clay and Jordan form the nucleus of a fierce defense.  A secondary of Boyett, Mathis, Dargan and Mitchell might be the most talented in school history, with the three younger members getting valuable reps this season on special teams and Oregon's deep defensive rotation.

Kenjon Barner, Lache Seastrunk, DeAnthony Thomas and Tre Carson will make an excellent complement of tailbacks and TZRs.  White and Lyerla are two incredibly gifted athletes in the H-back role, the fab four freshman wide receivers will know the offense by then, and Josh Huff will have completed his rehab and redshirt year, entering the lineup as a sophomore after an excellent freshman season (no announcement's been made, but anyone who saw that brace, wrap and swollen leg would project that young man is headed for surgery).

The immediate future of Oregon football looks strong, but 2012 looks like the intersection of recruiting, planning, teaching and talent.  With a senior starting quarterback and a deep stable of skill and athleticism throughout the roster, 2012 looks the finest team the Webfoots have ever produced.

Which doesn't in any way mean 2011 can't be an exceptionally successful year.  It just means it keeps getting better.

Of course, a lot can happen in a year. The Buffalo Bills could offer Chip Kelly seven million dollars to be their new coach. The NCAA could hand down draconian penalties for the Lyles brouhaha and various as-yet undiscovered infractions. They nose around, they're in a reforming, crusading mood, and those flashy Ducks make a good target. Two or three key players could get injured or do something stupid. But this group has shown resilience and determination in the past. They've forged a winning tradition, and aren't likely to let go of it without a fight.

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