Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

College Football Countdown: No. 3 Oregon

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 3: Oregon

Coach: Chip Kelly (34-6, fourth season)

2011 record: 12-2 (8-1 in the Pac-12 Conference, tied for 1st in the North Division)

Look back: Oregon opened the 2011 campaign with a difficult loss to 4th-ranked LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Ducks’ explosive offense was neutralized by a tough Tigers defense that pushed Oregon around. The team went on to win its next nine games before losing late to USC, 38-35 in Eugene. The loss snapped a 21-game home winning streak for the Ducks. Oregon captured the newly-created North Division and went on to defeat UCLA, 49-31 in the first Pac-12 Championship Game. The Ducks went to their second Rose Bowl in the past three seasons and defeated Wisconsin, 45-38.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 6-5

Defensive starters lost/returning: 4-7

Key losses: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, ROV Eddie Pleasant, LB Dewitt Stuckey

Top returnees: W De’Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, LB Michael Clay, S John Boyett

Strengths: Oregon’s defense took a minor step back last season finishing fifth in the Pac-12 in total defense (390.1 yards per game). This year’s squad is much better. The front line is loaded with defensive tackles Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi. The end position is solid with Dion Jordan, who led the team in sacks (7.5) and was tied for first in tackles for loss (5.5). Linebacker Michael Clay is one of the best in the Conference at his position. He was second on the team in total tackles (102) and interceptions (2) and is the only starter returning in the middle. The secondary returns two starters including safety John Boyett, who led the team in tackles (108) and Terrance Mitchell, who led the team in passes defended (10).

Weaknesses: Oregon loses its leading rusher in LaMichael James and its record-breaking quarterback Darron Thomas and finding a replacement for close to 4,500 yards of offense will be difficult. The duo also combined for 55 total touchdowns. Senior Kenyon Barner (939 yards/11 TDs) and sophomore De’Anthony Thomas (595 yards/7 TDs) will share duties in the backfield. Thomas has blazing speed and his ability as a receiver and punt returner make him an early candidate for Heisman Trophy consideration. Sophomore Bryan Bennett was suppose to step into the quarterback spot but redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota could steal the spot out from under him. Mariota outplayed Bennett this spring and a strong fall camp could make the job his.

Outlook: The offseason has been a difficult one for Oregon. The school is in the middle of an NCAA investigation and sanctions could come down anytime. Chip Kelly considered bolting for an NFL job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but changed his mind in an 11th-hour decision. The defense is good enough to be as good as it was in 2010, when the Ducks played in the national championship game. The offense is loaded with talented players but there’s no question that the quarterback position will be key to this team’s success.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Arkansas State

Sept. 8 Fresno State

Sept. 15 Tennessee Tech

Sept. 22 Arizona

Sept. 29 at Washington State

Oct. 6 Washington

Oct. 18 at Arizona State

Oct. 27 Colorado

Nov. 3 at USC

Nov. 10 at California

Nov. 17 Stanford

Nov. 24 at Oregon State

Rest of the countdown:
No. 4 Alabama
No. 5 Oklahoma
No. 6 Georgia
No. 7 Florida State
No. 8 Michigan
No. 9 South Carolina
No. 10 Ohio State
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Michigan State
No. 13 Arkansas
No. 14 Nebraska
No. 15 Clemson
No. 16 Auburn
No. 17 Virginia Tech
No. 18 West Virginia
No. 19 Texas
No. 20 TCU
No. 21 Wisconsin
No. 22 Texas A&M
No. 23 Oklahoma State
No. 24 Washington
No. 25 Baylor
No. 26 Florida
No. 27 N.C. State
No. 28 Stanford
No. 29 Notre Dame
No. 30 Louisville 
No. 31 Missouri
No. 32 Iowa
No. 33 Cincinnati
No. 34 Utah
No. 35 Penn State
No. 36 Rutgers
No. 37 Boise State
No. 38 Mississippi State
No. 39 Georgia Tech
No. 40 SMU
No. 41 Wake Forest
No. 42 Houston
No. 43 Virginia 
No. 44 Northwestern
No. 45 Miami
No. 46 Southern Miss
No. 47 USF 
No. 48 North Carolina
No. 49 Illinois
No. 50 Tulsa
No. 51 California
No. 52 UCF
No. 53 Pittsburgh
No. 54 Arizona
No. 55 BYU 
No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

Follow me on Twitter: osmattmurschel

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun