The Oregon Ducks only had one game in 2012 where they scored less than 35 points.
Unfortunately, it was that game, a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford, that kept the Ducks from playing for the BCS Championship.
2013 will be a time of transition for the Oregon Ducks, as former head coach Chip Kelly has left the program, taking his talents to the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly's imprint has been left on the program, to be sure.
So much so, in fact, that Oregon decided to promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach, marking the third straight time that Oregon's head coach came from the OC position. Helfrich is the Ducks fourth head coach since 1995.
The Good: Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas return for another season in the backfield. The loss of Kenjon Barner and his 1767 yards and 21 touchdowns will hurt a bit. But with Thomas and Mariota, plus more of rising sophomore tailback Byron Marshall, the Ducks running game should be just as dangerous.
In the passing game, top targets Thomas, tight end Colt Lyerla and wide receiver Josh Huff all return for another season. Defensively, the secondary should return intact, led by cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell.
The Bad: The defensive front seven loses some experience, with linebacker Kiko Alonso being a key loss. Some shuffling may happen on the offensive line as well, as both guard positions will lose experienced players off of the depth chart due to graduation/exhausted eligibility. Fortunately, Oregon did not have any players delcare early for the NFL draft, so depth shouldn't be a problem, although slight game action inexperience may be.
The Uncertain: Can he continue to build on the success achieved by Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti, which Kelly took to the next level? Or will the promotion of Mark Helfrich be a mistake? Nick Aliotti will return for his 14th straight season (and 21st overall) so the defensive continuity should be there. The question is, how much will the identity change for the Ducks with a new head coach and new offensive coordinator in Scott Frost? How much influence will Frost have over the game planning and who is calling the plays?
Verdict: The Ducks are helped by having a schedule that seems to favor early success. Nicholls State as the opener, and then four straight games against programs also going through coaching changes. Oregon should have more than enough talent to beat all of those opponents, although two of those games (Nevada, Colorado) are on the road.
Even undergoing their own coaching transition (which is never an easy thing), it looks like the Ducks should be a fixture in the top five. Games against UCLA (in Eugene) and on the road on a Thursday night against Stanford look like the hardest challenges on the schedule right now. Mark Helfrich should find his team in contention for the Pac-12 North title at a minimum and should be a factor in the BCS title chase.
Be sure to check out the rest of CBR's "Way Too Early" Top 10:
10. Florida Gators
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
8. Clemson Tigers
7. Georgia Bulldogs
6. Louisville Cardinals
5. Ohio State University Buckeyes
4. Stanford Cardinal
3. Texas A&M Aggies