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College football top 25 countdown: No. 4 Oregon

The Ducks avoided major NCAA punishments and off-season headaches and are national-title contenders.

August 24, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota runs during the Ducks' spring scrimmage in Eugene, Ore. on April 26, 2013.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota runs during the Ducks' spring… (Don Ryan / Associated Press )

Those weren't "quacks" you heard all off-season as much as they were sighs of "whew."

Whew One: The NCAA did not drop the hammer on Oregon as many people expected in the Willie Lyles case.

The headline said "major probation" in June, but behind the scenes there were even longer all-night parties in Eugene.

Oregon's duck appeared cooked when it appeared clear former coach Chip Kelly paid Lyles $25,000 for a bogus recruiting service that may have actually been designed to steer Texas-based players to the Northwest.

The NCAA ticketed Kelly and the school with a "failure to monitor" citation, which sure beat the heck out of "lack of institutional control."

Oregon was hit with three years' probation, but it amounted to only two scholarships lost and no postseason punishment.

USC fans were rightly (probably) outraged as their team labors through a 30-scholarship ban that will affect the program for years.

Oregon, no question, got off easy. It was lucky to catch the NCAA as it was suffocating under its own weight of paperwork and general ineptitude.

In any event, the news made Oregon instant national-title contenders.

Whew Two: Johnny Manziel transferred out of Oregon. This was the greatest thing to happen to Oregon since Phil Knight.

Could you have imagined the headache of Lyles AND Manziel under the same roof?

Incredibly, Kelly had verbal commitments from Manziel and Marcus Mariota out of high school. Manziel ended up transferring to Texas A&M and Oregon was left with Mariota.

It may not have seemed like a great thing after Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last season, but Oregon fans are confident in thinking they got the better quarterback and person.

Mariota had a tremendous freshman season and his numbers could have been better had he not been pulled from so many lopsided victories.

Mariota not only completed 68.5% of his passes for 2,677 yards, he also averaged 7.1 yards per carry for 752 yards and five touchdowns.

With Manziel engulfed in off-season controversy in Texas, the "boring" Mariota said at Pac-12 media day, "My main focus is to continue to get better with my team and look forward to the season."

Whew Three: Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles and there was barely a ripple on the Willamette River. Everyone knew that day was going to come and that assistant Mark Helfrich was going to seamlessly get promoted from within.

One of Oregon's great strengths has been its seamless transitions. Helfrich is only the Ducks' fourth coach since 1977, following Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti and Kelly.

Helfrich isn't as East Coast edgy as Kelly, for sure, but the offense probably won't notice.

"We're going to talk the same, work the same, practice the same," Helfrich said.

Oregon loses only two starters from an offense that finished No. 2 in scoring last season at 49.5 points per game.

Mariota and junior multi-threat back De'Anthony Thomas should both be worthy Heisman candidates. Colt Lyerla is one of the league's biggest loads at tight end.

Nick Aliotti's always-underrated defense has to replace all-world Dion Jordan but should be particularly strong in the secondary, which returns all four starters.

The schedule has enough beef with a trip to Virginia and Tennessee coming to Eugene on Sept. 14, but Oregon should be 8-0 heading into the big Nov. 7 showdown at Stanford.

Top 25 so far: 25. Oklahoma; 24. Wisconsin; 23. Fresno State; 22. UCLA; 21. Texas A&M; 20. Notre Dame; 19. Oregon State; 18. Oklahoma State; 17. Arizona State; 16. Nebraska; 15. Louisiana State; 14. Florida State; 13. Michigan; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas; 10. Northwestern; 9. Florida; 8. Louisville; 7. Clemson; 6. South Carolina; 5. Georgia.

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