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TODAY at No. 2: OREGON Coach: Mark Helfrich (24-4, entering third season; 24-4 overall record) 2014 record: 13-2, 8-1 in Pac-12; first in North...

college football pickTODAY at No. 2: OREGON

Coach: Mark Helfrich (24-4, entering third season; 24-4 overall record)

2014 record: 13-2, 8-1 in Pac-12; first in North Division

Look back: No college football program has won more games (60) since 2010 than Oregon. Last season, the team soared through the regular season with just one hiccup – a 31-24 loss to Arizona – on its way to another Pac-12 championship. An impressive 59-20 dismantling of Florida State in the Rose Bowl during the College Football Playoff semifinals sent the Ducks back to the national title game for the second time in five years. Once again though, Oregon fell short and lost 42-20 to Ohio State.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 6

Defensive starters lost: 5

Key losses: QB Marcus Mariota, OL Jake Fisher, OL Hroniss Grasu, OL Hamani Stevens, WR Keanon Lowe, DE Tony Washington, DE Arik Armstead, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, S Erick Dargan, CB Troy Hill

Top returnees: OL Cameron Hunt, WR Dwayne Stanford, WR Devon Allen, WR Byron Marshall, TE Pharaoh Brown, RB Royce Freeman, DE DeForest Buckner, DT Alex Balducci, LB Rodney Hardrick, LB Joe Walker, LB Tyson Coleman, S Reggie Daniels

Strengths: Royce Freeman ran for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, helping Oregon lead the Pac-12 in rushing with an impressive 235 yards per game. Expect the Ducks to lean on Freeman a lot early, especially with Oregon adapting to a new starting quarterback and Thomas Tyner suffering a season-ending injury during preseason camp.

Byron Marshall returns to anchor the receiving group after leading the team in receptions (74) and receiving yards (1,003). He’ll be joined by junior Dwayne Stanford and sophomore Devon Allen, providing plenty of targets for the Ducks in 2015.

Senior defensive end DeForest Buckner returns to anchor the Ducks’ front line on defense, while Rodney Hardrick (75 tackles/6 tackles for loss) and senior Joe Walker (81 tackles) will solidify the middle of the pack.

Weaknesses: All the euphoria surrounding Oregon’s impressive run to the national championship game quickly waned with the realization the Ducks will have to play this season without one of its most impressive players of all time — Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy winner’s exit to the NFL, leaving the program with questions at quarterback. Several players are vying for the spot, including junior Jeff Lockie and graduate transfer Vernon Adams. Lockie saw limited action as Mariota’s backup, while Adams put up staggering numbers at Eastern Washington.

Whoever starts this season will have to do it behind a rebuilt offensive line after the Ducks lost four-year starter Hroniss Grasu and tackle Jake Fisher to the NFL.

If you could find fault with Oregon’s defense last season, it was in the secondary. The group gave up more than 264 yards per game through the air and five times gave up 300 or more yards in a game. Junior Reggie Daniels (83 tackles) is the group’s only returning starter.

Outlook: You don’t win the most games during the past five years by luck. But despite a roster loaded with talented players, Oregon is a program in transition after the departure of Mariota. Finding his replacement is crucial if the Ducks hope to finally win the national championship.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Eastern Washington

Sept. 12 at Michigan State

Sept. 19 Georgia State

Sept. 26 Utah

Oct. 3 at Colorado

Oct. 10 Washington State

Oct. 17 at Washington

Oct. 29 at Arizona State

Nov. 7 California

Nov. 14 at Stanford

Nov. 21 USC

Nov. 29 Oregon State

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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