CULVER CITY, Calif. — If preseason predictions are any indication, no one is expecting the Oregon Ducks to quack up in the wake of head coach Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was elevated to the top post and the Ducks find themselves ranked No. 3 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll. Less than a week earlier, they were tabbed as the team to beat in the Pac-12 — finishing on top of the conference’s preseason media rankings.
The transition, thus, appears to be relatively seamless. It’s a pattern that Helfrich noted has been repeated often at Oregon. The Ducks' new coach pointed out the links between Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Kelly and himself.
“It’s a unique thing in college football and the most important thing is all of our guys believe in our program and we don’t look at it as someone replacing someone,” Helfrich explained. “We look at it as ‘the next guy up.’ And we were just talking this morning if the guy that followed John Wooden quoted him every once in a while would that have been a bad thing?”
Very little change is planned in Eugene, Ore.
“We’re going to talk the same; work the same; practice the same. We’re going to tweak the margins. We have guys that grow up, get better,” said Helfrich, who pointed out that Oregon has more wide receivers and tight ends this season. “These changes are going to happen and we’ll adjust accordingly. But we have a bunch of great guys that believe in what we do and that’s the most important part.”
The Ducks went 12-1 last season. Their only loss was a 17-14 overtime setback to eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford. They scored 35 or more points in every other game.
OFFENSE: Wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas headlines a quick and efficient attack that isn’t expected to miss a step with Helfrich’s promotion to head coach. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year, is back after throwing 32 touchdown passes last season. Sophomore tailback Byron Marshall and junior center Hroniss Grasu are among several other players to watch.
DEFENSE: An experienced secondary that topped the nation with 26 interceptions last season has all four starters returning. Senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a first-team all-conference honoree in 2012, headlines the group. Senior defensive tackle Taylor Hart leads the line. He had a team-high eight sacks last season. The Ducks are relatively inexperienced at linebacker. However, it may just be a matter of reloading.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Although the Ducks lost their primary kicker and punter to graduation, they still have an explosive special teams weapon in Thomas. He averaged 24.3 yards on kickoff returns and 17.1 yards on punt returns.
EXTRA POINTS: Oregon just unveiled a new $68 million football facility filled with amenities. ... The Ducks have an 89-game sellout streak going at 54,000-seat Autzen Stadium. ... Oregon was placed on three years of probation in June by the NCAA for major rule violations in recruiting. The penalty did not include a bowl ban or a harsh reduction in scholarships.