Here in Eugene, college football can’t begin soon enough.
On my way home from a business trip in Seattle last night I swore I could hear the roar booming from the stands of Autzen Stadium as I drove by.
That’s how close football season is people.
And with the BCS now safely tucked away in the annals of college football history this looks to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. In preparation for perhaps the most highly anticipated season in years I’d like to preview another position of interest as we get set for kickoff on August 30th.
Last week I highlighted Devon Allen as a player to watch in Oregon’s young and unproven group of receivers. This week is a completely a different tale.
Once again, Oregon’s backfield looks to be a major strength. This is a group that could not only be the best in the conference but come December the best in the country. In addition to having the Pac-12’s leading returning rusher from 2013, Byron Marshall, this group is also led by home-state favorite and former 5-star recruit Thomas Tyner as well as California high-school phenom Royce Freeman.
With so much talent at the position it’s difficult to say who will literally carry the load this year.
Rushing for more than 100 yards a total of six times in 2013, Marshall became Oregon’s 20th 1,000 yard rusher and eighth in the past seven years earning honorable mention Pac-12 all conference. That success should merit him a hefty share of carries in 2014. However, I could also see Tyner being the premier back given he does boast the most explosiveness and big play ability of the three and uh, these are the Ducks. At the spring game Tyner seemed to enjoy the most playing time as he led all rushers with 58 yards as well as catching a pair of passes for 26 yards and a score. By the way, he also set a UO record last year with 711 rushing yards as a true freshman.
It really just depends what direction Mark Helfrich chooses for this team. I say share the love.
But, look for Freeman to also play an integral role in what should be per usual a very dynamic offense. As a senior at Imperial High School, Freeman rushed for 2,824 yards (11.0 avg.) and 41 touchdowns. Yeah, that wasn’t a typo, 41 trips to the end zone in one year. I don’t care if it’s high school or not. That’s just straight crazy. And when he lined up against the best of his peers at the U.S Army All-America Bowl in January he went off for three touchdowns in a 28-6 West win. I could easily see him contribute as Marshall did in his freshman year when he ran for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns. Oregon does have a history of giving highly touted true freshman ample opportunity to contribute, just as they did last year with Tyner. But, definitely expect for Marshall and Tyner to be the featured backs.
If you’re offensive coordinator Scott Frost, why just drive your Ferrari when you’ve got a Maserati and a shiny new Stingray parked right next to it? I expect he will. It’s easy to say this offense will go as far as these backs can take them. But, I will say regardless of the inexperience at wide receiver there will be plenty of openings down field for Marcus Mariota to capitalize on as teams will be forced to stack the box or pay the price against the Cerberus that is Marshall, Tyner and Freeman. With that, Mariota’s Heisman trophy chances likely ride on how balanced the rushing attack can be under Frost. He may get the numbers he needs because of the attention they draw or on the flip side they could be so productive that despite Mariota maybe being the best player in the country, he will fall short on the attempts he needs to post monster numbers. Either way, this offense looks to be explosive in his final year.
The question of whether Marshall or Tyner starts has in my opinion been the biggest storyline for the Ducks leading up to their opening game against South Dakota State. And really, I don’t think it will matter.
I’m saying now Marshall will “start” games and set the tone having more of a downhill style than Tyner. But definitely look for them to be used in tandem and to both put up big numbers in 2014. Could they possibly be better than Lamichael James and Kenjon Barner? Who knows for now. But as is the custom in Eugene, we once again see the Duck do about 1,000 pushups a game.
I wonder if he works out with the players?