After months of obsessing over recruiting rankings, crucial missed plays and the saga of Johnny Football, the 2013-14 college football season is finally upon us. The season officially kicks off with the battle of the Carolinas set to the tune of that old South Carolinian ditty, “Sandstorm,”
on ESPN at 3pm this afternoon. Both Oregon schools, however, wait until Saturday to kick off their campaigns. The 3rd-ranked Oregon Ducks (12-1 last season), coming off perhaps the least satisfying #2 finish in the country, start with the Nicholls State Colonels (1-10 last season), who have agreed to climb into a body bag for the tidy sum of $450,000. The 25th-ranked Oregon State Beavers (9-4 last season) open with the powerhouse of directional Washington schools, Eastern Washington (11-3 last season). A new season brings with it hope, occasional despair, but most importantly it gives us all something new to talk about.
1). Goodbye visor, hello baseball cap
— After 4 years and 46 victories, Chip Kelly and his trademark visor have moved up to the professional ranks. Former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was promoted to head coach, while newly minted offensive coordinator Scott Frost will take over play-calling duties. The offensive play-calling will be different—perhaps imperceptibly so for us layfans. Regardless, the one thing will be noticeably different: Helfrich really is more of a hat man
2). Experience, experience, experience!
— With Oregon’s offense operating like a well-oiled machine last year, it was easy to forget that quarterback Marcus Mariota was a redshirt freshman playing his first season of college football. Then you remember the times when the offense fell into a lull, when it looked like the team spontaneously forgot how to play football (looking at you, 2nd quarter of the WSU game). The Ducks return most of their key skill position players, another year of experience under their belt, with the only question marks along the defensive line and linebacking corps.
3). Oregon has a legitimate Heisman candidate entering the season
— De’Anthony Thomas generated a lot of preseason hype before last season thanks to his highlight reel plays but there was one problem: He didn’t touch the ball enough to stay in the race. The BLACK MAMBA will see more touches this season but he’s not the leading candidate from Oregon. Mariota touches the ball every play. In fact, despite the Ducks only passing on 35% of their offensive plays, the Hawaiian QB threw 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He’s receiving the lion’s share of preseason Heisman hype on the West Coast.
4). Stanford’s giant tight ends are gone
— I tried to keep this list completely Oregon-centric. I really did. But when a team loses only one game—and wins the other 12 by double-digit margins—one is compelled to turn their eye toward that opponent. Stanford lost its pair of giant tight ends (including the one who made the controversial game-tying catch
). The Cardinal is also replacing their running back and receiving corps. The Cardinal’s vaunted “short run—short run—lob pass to 6’7” tight end—hope the other team misses a lot of field goals” offense might not prove as effective in 2013.
5). The season can’t come down to a field goal again, can it?
— I mean, it just can’t. The law of averages won’t allow it. To be fair, the 2011 and 2012 seasons were absolutely phenomenal—just thinking of the 2012 Rose Bowl makes me sploosh—but they’re marred with the what-ifs following missed field goals in losses to USC and Stanford. (Watching Notre Dame embarrass itself in last year’s title game only made the overtime loss to Stanford sting more.) For a crucial field goal miss to knock the Ducks out of the national title race for the third-consecutive season would be the equivalent of back-to-back-to-back Buckners.
Oregon State Beavers
1). Overlooked underdogs no more
— Coming off a 3-9 season, the Beavers were picked to finish dead last
in the Pac-12 North entering last season. This year they enter the season ranked in the top 25. Head coach Mike Riley’s crew of hard-working, scrappy lunch pail carriers now have to battle expectations to replicate their stellar 2012 season…
2). Favorable schedule
—… which should be easy given the schedule. The Beavers do not play UCLA or Arizona, and they get two of the three preseason top 25 teams at home (#24 USC and #4 Stanford). Their two most difficult road tests are unranked—and underrated—Arizona State and the Civil War in Autzen. But, let’s be honest here, the venue of the latter game will have little effect on the outcome.
3). No more musical chairs at quarterback (for now, anyways)
— Riley has named Sean Mannion the starter to start the season. Following Mannion’s injury vs. the Cooglings last season, unheralded backup QB Cody Vaz stepped in and played exceedingly well. Then Mannion came back and played poorly. The ensuing musical chairs at the position led the Beavers losing four of their final six games against Football Bowl Subdivision [Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
—Ed.] opponents. Both are back, more experienced, and coach Riley appears to have settled on one starter.
4). Less derp down the stretch
— Over the final six games against FBS teams, four of which were losses, the Beavers lost the turnover battle 11-17. It’s 3-15 if you factor out their games against the Bay Area schools. They turned the ball over six times alone in the Civil War without forcing a single turnover from Oregon. Quarterback continuity and an offseason focused on reducing turnovers should dramatically improve that problem.
5). A new spirit song
— After years of wallowing in the shadow of their southern rival’s immensely popular “I Love My Ducks”
, Oregon State has found a spirit song all its own: Family Force 5’s “Chainsaw.” This song and accompanying video, which are to be played in-between the 3rd and 4th quarters all season, have already been dubbed an “amazing new low for college football songs and dances” by thebiglead.com
. But hey, whatever gets your Beavers revved up, Oregon State.
(Note: I will be covering every Oregon football game this season. However, this post begins and ends Willamette Week’s coverage of the 2013-2014 Oregon State Beavers. Thanks for a great season, Beavs!