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Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon
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Wisconsin's Nick Toon, left, scores a touchdown as Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu defends during the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Pac-12 football preview: Oregon hopes to stay in top gear for a full season

With No. 3 Oregon, there is always the assumption that, if you wait long enough, there will come a time when the Ducks’ high-octane offense will stall.

Because that’s what’s happened.

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In 2010, it happened during the BCS Championship game, against Auburn, when they scored 19 points.

In 2011, it was Game One, against No. 4 LSU, when they scored just 13 through the first three quarters.

In 2012, Stanford held them to 14.

Last year, it was the Cardinal, again. Oregon was scoreless through three until a hobbling Marcus Mariota led them to 20 points in the fourth quarter.

No team is going to score 50 points every game, but Oregon tends to lose when they don’t. And that’s somewhat hard to explain when you consider the steps forward their defense has taken in recent years. Last year, they allowed just 20.5 points per game — 13th in the nation, despite serving up a healthy portion of possessions to their opponents.

Specific to last season, a knee injury took away Mariota as an elite rusher, and Oregon’s offense became more one-dimensional.

But maybe, over the course of the last few years, there’s something larger at play. Maybe, when you’re used to scoring 50 by halftime, it kind of freaks you out when you don’t.

If that’s the case, Mark Helfrich’s team is experienced enough now to know that they don’t have to score 50 in every game to win.

And with nine starters back on offense, they might score 50 every game, anyhow.

2013 IN REVIEW » 11-2, 7-2 Pac-12

RETURNING STARTERS » 14 total (9 offense, 5 defense)

TOP RETURNING PLAYER » All eyes are on Marcus Mariota and the offense, and rightly so. Mariota is one of the favorites to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, and if he returns to the pre-knee injury form that had the Ducks averaging 58 points per game in 2014, he’ll have earned it. Oregon’s defense was no slouch last year either, though, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has seven interceptions and seven forced fumbles over the past two seasons. A strong senior season will dispel any doubts caused by his stature (5-foot-10) and make him another first-day Duck.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK » Can they shed the "soft" label? With Oregon, somehow, every loss seems to come against a bigger team that wins the battle in the trenches. They still have just one player — Hamani Stevens — above three bills on the offensive line. Whether or not that "soft" storyline is somewhat manufactured, that’s what they’re going to hear if their perfect season unravels against Stanford or a burlier SEC team in the playoff.

SCHEDULE OUTLOOK » Oregon gets an early test, with No. 8 Michigan State visiting Eugene. Then they get a month to rev up (and avenge last year’s embarrassing loss to Arizona) before a four-week stretch that includes No. 7 UCLA, No. 25 Washington, and No. 11 Stanford. The good news for the Ducks: Of their four games against ranked teams, all but UCLA will be played in Autzen.

— Matthew Piper


Twitter: @matthew_piper

PAC-12 Links
Links from around the Pac-12
Arizona (Tucson Citizen)
» Wildcats gear up for Washington State
» Arizona Wildcats: Red versus blue highlights
» Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Kindall's UA baseball legacy goes deep
» UA football: Cats inch up in rankings

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» Graham expects QB Kelly to start at Washington
» Graham plans to stick with ASU's DL rotation
» Tracy Smith talks about opening fall practice
» Norvell: Mike Bercovici continues to improve

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Cal, Stanford game times for Nov. 1 in Oregon set
» Cal receiver Trevor Davis watches practice day after scary injury in UCLA game
» Cal falls to UCLA 36-34
» Cal receiver Trevor Davis taken to hospital after injury on kickoff return

Colorado (Denver Post)
» Speedy freshman Donovan Lee gives CU Buffs another playmaker
» Colorado coached to avoid coin-toss glitches, MacIntyre says
» Colorado's MacIntyre gratified Buffs practiced hard Monday
» CU Buffs tackle Jeromy Irwin might play vs. Hawaii after concussion

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» Notre Dame and Oregon back are in the top four; how I voted in the Advance Publications 'First Four' poll
» Best offensive player, best Hail Mary and more Pac-12 football midseason superlatives
» Heisman Trophy: Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota hangs in at No. 2 among the hopefuls, Prescott continues to impress

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» OSU giving away football tickets as part of ‘BeaversSalute' effort
» Celebration of Life for Paul Valenti to be held Oct. 18
» OSU promotes Macy to associate AD for sports performance
» Oregon State roundup (Sept. 19)

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Cal, Stanford game times for Nov. 1 in Oregon set
» Top 25: Stanford Cardinal falls out of poll
» Stanford woeful in loss to Arizona State
» Matchup: No. 23 Stanford at No. 17 Arizona State

UCLA (Los Angeles Daily News)
» UCLA Football Notebook: Running back Malcolm Jones loses appeal for extra season
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Improving UCLA has questions to answer during preseason football camp
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: UCLA's prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes cleared to play by NCAA after leaving Notre Dame
» Pac-12 Media Day: Eyes on Anthony Barr for UCLA's 2013 hopes

USC (Los Angeles Daily News)
» USC Football Notebook: Marqise Lee's injury not too serious
» USC Football Notebook: QBs Max Wittek, Cody Kessler present dilemma for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel thinks Trojans might not miss QB Matt Barkley
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Dion Bailey says it's 'now or never'

Washington (Seattle Times)
» Washington women's soccer shuts out Oregon State
» UW opponent outlook: Arizona State
» Cyler Miles will get start for Huskies if he is cleared from concussion-like symptoms
» Huskies add two big men to 2015 men's basketball recruiting class

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» This Fall Classic should be classic
» USC at WSU to kickoff at 1:30 p.m.
» WSU vs. Arizona game notes, depth chart
» Video: Jamal Morrow speaks to the media

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