For cold-hearted objectivity, nothing beats an oddsmaker. Those guys outguess the public for a living. Yesterday online bookmaker bovada.com set the odds for for the PAC-12 Championship, and the Ducks come in as the favorite at 6-5.
From a bookie, that’s staggering optimism in a 12-team league. California and Colorado were the long shots at 100-1. The Beavers, who have never lost less than 4 games in any season with Mike Riley as head coach, go out at 33-1. The league, alphabetically:
It isn’t a perfect barometer but it’s an assessment uncolored by fan loyalties, rivalries, regional bias or reputation–bookies just want to make money. Their expectation is pretty clear: the Ducks are odds-on favorites to win the PAC-12. It makes sense that they’d see it that way, with the conference’s best quarterback, a veteran offensive line, and a three-headed monster at running back in Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman. Offensively, the Ducks will come at opponents in furious waves, and the defense should be solid also with a veteran leader at each level, Tony Washington on the defensive line, Derrick Malone at linebacker, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in the secondary.
The key to Oregon success may come in the dramatic improvement of two players, one on each unit.
Thomas Tyner is going to emerge as a star on offense. He had a solid freshman season with 711 yards, 6.2 yards a carry and 9 rushing TDs, but the Ducks will feature him as a sophomore. The most significant play of the Oregon Spring Game came when Tyner blasted around left end and leveled defensive back Dominique Harrison. Ran right through him. Tyner is faster than De’Anthony Thomas, with the power of J-Stew or LeGarrette Blount. He worked hard in the off season, visibly stronger in the arms and legs. He’s running with more authority, accelerating the moment he gets the ball.
Tyner will give the Ducks the productivity and explosiveness they got from Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James, but he’s 25 pounds bigger. The Ducks will be more effective on third down and at the goal line. The tandem of Tyner and Marshall will keep each other fresh, and both are capable receivers, shoring up the passing game and improving the completion numbers. There aren’t many linebackers in college football that can cover them. Both have the athletic ability to line up in the slot, go in motion, run a pattern, trail on the pitch, used in all the ways Chip Kelly used to feature The Black Momba. A simple swing pass can be a 60-yard play. Gary Campbell could have a pair of 1,000 yard rushers, each with 15-20 total TDs.
Defensively, fans should look for a big year from DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, 6-7, 286 and 6-8 296 respectively. Buckner had 35 tackles last year, six against Stanford, four in the Alamo Bowl, five against Arizona. He’s another player who has gotten quicker and stronger. Alex Balducci at 305 and Tua Talia, the junior college transfer, provide depth. The defensive line will be more physical this year, and more athletic. There’s experience at linebacker behind them with Rodney Hardrick and Malone returning. The secondary is never a worry. Ekpre-Olomu is a first-round draft pick, Dargan has played a lot, and John Neal is just too good at developing his players. Dior Mathis and Tyree Robinson are ready for the starting lineup, or will be.
The Ducks have a lot of confidence in sophomore kicker Matt Wogan, who made 7 of 9 field goals as a freshman, including three in the Alamo Bowl.
In addition, there’s a bonus reason for optimism. In a story for his hometown paper, wide receiver Bralon Addison told reporter Corey Roepken of the Houston Chronicle that he still hopes to get back on the field for the Ducks season opener on August 30th. “As a competitor if you’re not trying to get back on the field as soon as you can then you’re rehabbing the wrong way,” Addison said. That may be overly optimistic, but the gifted, versatile junior has stunned doctors with his progress so far. On June 10th, just two months after surgery, he was already walking normally. Health comes first, but getting Addison back, even by mid-October, in time for UCLA, Washington and Stanford, would be a major boost in the Ducks’ chances of completing a storybook run to a conference championship and the college football playoff.
Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings tore his ACL in a game on Christmas Eve in 2011 and had surgery six days later. Nine months later he was in uniform for the Vikings home opener, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns. That’s about the upper limit of recoveries for ACL tears, though Peterson employed controversial stem cell treatments to do it.
At the very least, Addison’s attitude and engagement will inspire his teammates. Whether he’s able to play or not in 2014, he’ll be a leader, a resource for a young wide receiver group.
For him or the Ducks, exceeding expectations, no matter how high, has become a standard.