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No. 18 OREGON

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Basics

2007 record

9-4 (beat South Florida, 56-21, in the Sun Bowl)

Returning Starters

5 offense, 7 defense

Key Game

at Southern California, Oct. 4

Player to Watch

Jaison Williams,

senior wide receiver

The physically gifted Williams likely will finish as the school's career leading receiver. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder's stats dropped from 2006 to 2007, but a potential NFL contract likely will resharpen his focus.

Why They're Worth Watching

The Ducks might possess the top secondary in the Pacific-10. Senior strong safety Patrick Chung tallied a team-leading 117 tackles last season and also blocked two kicks. He's just as capable of covering the slot receiver as he is of supporting the run defense. Cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III are third-year starters. Thurmond may not be physically imposing at 6 feet and 185 pounds, but his quickness puts him in position to nab interceptions and help bring down ballcarriers. Byrd, meanwhile, struggles to keep up with faster opposing wideouts but makes up for it by utilizing a little more muscle. He led the team with seven interceptions in 2007. Senior linebacker Jerome Boyd covers the strong side and blankets tight ends with his quickness. Oregon's passing defense ranked 86th in the nation last season (249.2 yards per game), but that should improve dramatically this year.

Why They're Vulnerable

Quarterback Justin Roper tossed four touchdown passes during Oregon's Sun Bowl victory last December, and he will need to use the confidence and momentum gained in that contest entering this season. Roper and Nate Costa, both sophomores, will fight to replace the departed Dennis Dixon as the team's starting quarterback. Costa has dual-threat abilities similar to Dixon's, but he is still recovering from torn knee ligaments suffered last October. Roper is the only one of the two to have started a game, but he remains relatively inexperienced, having thrown just 61 passes in his collegiate career. The only other quarterback on the Oregon roster who has started a game is sophomore Cody Kempt. The ground game will be limited until a replacement for Jonathan Stewart emerges, meaning the Ducks need either Roper or Costa to emerge quickly so that they can find a rhythm in the passing game.

-- Steve Yanda

Tomorrow

No. 17 Illinois.

Previously

No. 25 Arizona State, No. 24 Alabama, No. 23 California, No. 22 Penn State, No. 21 Wake Forest, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 19 Tennessee.

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