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The Times' preseason college football rankings: No. 3 Oregon

The Ducks are flying under the cloud of an NCAA investigation, but Oregon's fast-paced offense has it zeroed in on a third straight conference title and a return to the national championship game.

August 28, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, one of several offensive weapons for the Ducks, celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Oregon State in a 37-20 victory last fall.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, one of several offensive weapons for… (Jason O. Watson / US Presswire )

Chip Kelly said "We'll be back," in response to:

A: Losing last season's national championship game to Auburn.

B: Oregon being put on major NCAA probation in connection with Willie Lyles.

The answer is "A" because "B" hasn't happened, and might never happen.

That said, it drizzled overcast news all winter, spring and summer in Eugene. It was a constant, persistent patter, the kind of soak that seeps into artificial turf seams.

Last season's last-second loss to Auburn was supposed to be the start of something big, and might still be, yet there is no getting over the uncertainty of it all.

Getting investigated is all part of becoming part of the big-time program. Auburn righteously fended off Cam Newton charges all the way to last season's triumphant title.

Maybe you expected more out of Oregon, but, then again, why?

Nothing may come of the Lyles case. The NCAA might say the Houston-based scouting service provider did not steer recruit Lache Seastrunk to Oregon.

Rhetorical question: Was it worth $25,000 to watch Seastrunk transfer to Baylor?

The NCAA might conclude that Kelly told the truth, and nothing but the whole truth, when he was interrogated.

Either way, the way you can't un-chop down a tall fir, Oregon will be hard-pressed to get its reputation back.

Either way, Oregon enters this season zeroed in on a third straight conference title and a return trip to the national championship game.

The Ducks' blur offense, all the rage last year, still rages. Oregon returns rapidly rising quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. New receivers need to be introduced and a retooled offensive line needs bonding, but Oregon is in the position of reloading now.

Five-star athlete De'Anthony Thomas, who was seemingly set to sign with USC, instead committed to the Ducks. That's the kind of juice Oregon is drinking.

The Ducks have to replace six starters on defense, but that's less important than it looks because of the heavy rotation system used last season by coordinator Nick Aliotti. Oregon needed multiple bodies to keep pace with the fast-paced theme.

Staying on top is hard. Oregon opens the season in Texas against Louisiana State in a game with huge national implications. Oregon will be playing without star cornerback Cliff Harris, who is really fast … in a car. Harris was suspended indefinitely (translation: one game) after being pulled over for going 118 mph on a suspended license.

The Pacific 12 Conference schedule has a trap element. Two years ago, Oregon walloped USC in Eugene but lost at Stanford the next week.

Last year, Oregon took revenge on Stanford in Eugene but has to play in Palo Alto on Nov. 12. That's followed by home games against USC and Oregon State and, possibly, a berth in the first Pac-12 title game.

Oregon, as a franchise, has arrived. There's good that comes with that and some bad. This up-tempo, over-caffeinated, fidgety outfit sprints into an uncertain future while the NCAA combs over the evidence.

If we've learned anything from those hair-replacement ads: Nobody likes a comb-over.

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian; 12. South Carolina; 11. Notre Dame; 10. Louisiana State; 9. Oklahoma State; 8. Wisconsin; 7. Nebraska; 6. Stanford; 5. Florida State; 4. Boise State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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