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Today at No. 4: Oregon Ducks Coach: Mark Helfrich (11-2, entering second season; 11-2 overall) 2013 record: 11-2 (7-2 in Pac-12 Conference, tied for...

college football sports betToday at No. 4: Oregon Ducks

Coach: Mark Helfrich (11-2, entering second season; 11-2 overall)

2013 record: 11-2 (7-2 in Pac-12 Conference, tied for first in North Division)

Pictures: Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders 2015 Swimsuit Calendar

Look back: An 11-win season is normally viewed as successful for a program, but Oregon has much higher expectations. The Ducks won 46 games from 2009-12 under Chip Kelly while playing in four BCS bowl games, including the national-title tilt in 2010. So playing in the Alamo Bowl last season wasn’t looked upon favorably. Star quarterback Marcus Mariota was hobbled by injuries late in the season and another loss to Stanford hurt the team’s chances for success.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: WR Josh Huff, RB De’Athony Thomas, DT Taylor Hart, DT Wade Keliikipi, LB Boseko Lokombo, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Avery Patterson, P Alejandro Maldonado

Top returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, RB Thomas Tyner, C Hroniss Grasu, DE DeForest Buckner, DE Tony Washington, LB Rodney Hardrick, LB Derrick Malone, CB Ifo Ekpe-Olomu

Strengths: There’s no denying that Mariota’s return greatly enhances Oregon’s chances to compete for a national championship. In two seasons as Oregon’s starter, Mariota is 23-3 while passing for 6,342 yards and 63 touchdowns. His return makes him one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy.

Oregon returns 75 percent of its rushing attack from 2013, including the team’s leading rusher: Bryon Marshall (1,038 yards, 14 TDs). Along with Thomas Tyner (711 yards, 9 TDs) and Mariota (715 yards, 9 TDs), the Ducks have one of the best rushing trios in the country.

Oregon returns its entire offensive line, a group that allowed just 18 sacks.

Weaknesses: Long-time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired after the team’s Alamo Bowl victory and Helfrich didn’t have to look far for his replacement: linebackers coach Don Pellum. His first task will be beefing up a defensive line that has lost tackles Taylor Hart (75 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Wade Keliikipi (34 TT, 2 sacks). Then there is the secondary. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the unit’s only returning starter.

The only area of concern on the offense has to be at the receiver position. Oregon lost two of its top three wideouts in the offseason, then Bralon Addison (890 yards, 7 TDs) was lost for the season after suffering an injury during the spring. It doesn’t leave a lot of experience at the position.

Outlook: Oregon consistently has been one of the most explosive teams offensively in the country and that shouldn’t change much in 2014. It’s a good thing because the defense will need some time to adjust, with only five returning starters. Despite the weaknesses, Mariota should be able to help the Ducks earn a spot in the new College Football Playoff.

2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 South Dakota

Sept. 6 Michigan State

Sept. 13 Wyoming

Sept. 20 at Washington St.

Oct. 2 Arizona

Oct. 11 at UCLA

Oct. 18 Washington

Oct. 24 vs. California

Nov. 1 Stanford

Nov. 8 at Utah

Nov. 22 Colorado

Nov. 29 at Oregon State

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Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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