The Oregon Ducks had preseason expectations that were not met. They started out #3 in the country, and many had them as a favorite to win the National Title (including me). Oregon was undefeated and looked like the best team in the country up until they met up with #6 Stanford. They ended the year 11-2 with a 30-7 Alamo Bowl victory over Texas.
Oregon was one of the best teams in the league the past 5 years or so, and last year it almost looked like it faded away after the loss to Arizona. They didn't win the Pac 12 or make a BCS Bowl game, so this offseason has a different taste than the past couple of years. With that being said, let's take a look at the biggest questions Oregon will have to answer before the 2014 college football season rolls around.
Will Byron Marshall come out like he owns the runningback job? Marshall will no doubt be the starter in the opener. However, that doesn't mean there necessarily be competition. Marshall is being joined by Royce Freeman. A true freshmen who was offered by nearly every major running school in the country. Wisconsin, Alabama, Stanford, Oregon State, USC, and UCLA were some of the names that offered. He signed with the Ducks. If Marshall doesn't come out with the swagger and intensity like he should, there's a young gun who would love to have his spot.
Will the run-defense improve enough in order to become a contender? Oregon suffered two losses this past season. One was against Stanford, which shoved Oregon on their way to a victory. The other was an inexcusable loss to Arizona at the hands of Heisman candidate Ka'Deem Carey. He ran for over 200+ yards on 48 carries, and rushed for 4 TD's. The Ducks ranked 70th in rushing yards allowed last season, and if they want to compete for a national title then the run-defense must be answered. Derrick Malone needs to get his squad pumped up as he is now the leader on defense, and he will be a huge factor in the running game at LB.
Is Marcus Mariota's knee really okay? I thought he was truly going to win the Heisman last year before the Stanford game. I also thought Oregon was playing like a national championship team. His knee injury changed my opinion on both. He was never really himself after injuring his knee and getting a torn MCL. It was during the UCLA game, but you couldn't tell he was hurt until about 5 minutes into the Stanford-Oregon game. His durability wasn't the same, and he played like he was afraid to get hurt (which he was right in doing so) but is his knee truly 100% now? He sure looked like it during the Alamo victory against Texas, but you never know with these types of injuries. If there is some sort of a lingering effect, then Mariota might not get a chance in the NFL either. Considering Mariota might just be the best QB out there in college, you really hope it doesn't effect him starting next season, for Oregon's national-title-hopes-sake.