Oregon had a terrific 2009 season, dethroning USC as the Pac-10 champion and playing a thrilling brand of offensive football. Then the calendar turned.
It's been pretty much nothing but bad news since Jan. 1, when the Ducks lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 26-17. After that came a series of off-field problems, including court-room drama involving starting running back LaMichael James and starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- two easy candidates for preseason All-Pac-10 honors.
Scratch that for Masoli, who has been suspended for the entire season after he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree burglary for stealing two laptops and a guitar from a fraternity house in January. Coach Chip Kelly has said Masoli could stay on with the team and redshirt, returning as a senior in 2011.
Meanwhile, James pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment and is suspended for the season-opener. Linebacker Kiko Alonso is suspended for the season because of a DUI arrest.
Combine this with the LeGarrette Blount stuff from last season, and Kelly has spent a lot of time dealing with discipline and explaining his responses to all the problems.
Spring practice was set to begin March 30, a welcome diversion to the legal issues.
"Whether you had a tumultuous offseason or not, we haven't done football since Jan. 1," Kelly told the Eugene Register-Guard. "To get back out on the field, run around and coach, that's the fun part of the job."
That probably sounds good to someone else, too.
Kelly's sounding board -- athletic director and former Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti -- resigned in March to become a TV analyst. Bellotti hasn't ruled out a return to coaching.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The Ducks hope to have a little relief from off-field stresses. On the field, Oregon has an unexpected quarterback battle after the season-long suspension of senior Jeremiah Masoli. Senior Nate Costa was able to play as a backup last season after undergoing major surgeries on both knees. He definitely knows the offense, and got a win in his only start -- against UCLA, when Masoli was injured. There is also Darron Thomas, a sophomore who was able to redshirt last season after being forced into action as a true freshman. He came off the bench against Boise State to complete 13 of 25 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Both fit the spread-option offense, although the quarterback run game might not be as emphasized. And Masoli's experience and toughness will be easy to replace.
With 17 returning starters, there aren't a lot of other holes to fill, although TE Ed Dickson is a big loss, and the defensive line has to replace DT Blake Ferras and DE Will Tukuafu.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The running game has an overload of speed, led by sophomores LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. James was a blur last season, rushing for 1,546 rushing yards and posting six games with more than 150 rushing yards. He will miss the season opener, but the Ducks shouldn't need him against New Mexico; Game 2 at Tennessee is a different matter. Barner rushed 61 times for 366 yards and is a dangerous returner. Five starters return on the line.
DE Kenny Rowe is coming off a huge Rose Bowl, when he sacked Ohio State's speedy Terrelle Pryor three times, finishing the season with a Pac-10 best 11.5 sacks. The defense, again, will have plenty of speed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have enough playmakers at the other spots that the quarterback of this offense does not have to be the focal point. He has to be like the point guard in basketball, distributing the ball to the right guys at the right time." -- Coach Chip Kelly, in the Eugene Register-Guard, on his quarterback situation heading into spring.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: As soon as last season ended, the Ducks were pegged as the preseason Pac-10 favorites and a potential top 10 team in the nation. Now, there are a lot more questions. Oregon still has 17 returning starters, although if the team had 18 -- including suspended QB Jeremiah Masoli -- everybody would feel a lot better about Oregon's chances. The rough offseason means that USC could again be the league's preseason favorite, even though the Trojans have had some offseason turmoil as well.
RB Lache Seastrunk -- More speed, for sure. He has a time of 10.33 seconds for 100 meters and the five-star recruit is plenty productive on the field, with 4,127 yards and 52 touchdowns in his high school career. Was rated the No. 3 running back in the country by Rivals.com and the No. 4 running back by Scout.com.
DT Ricky Heimuli -- Oregon lost starter Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina at defensive tackle, and two other deeper reserves left the team after the 2009 season. Given all that, Heimuli has a chance to play and make an impact as a true freshman before, possibly, leaving on a two-year Mormon mission. Was rated the No. 8 defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com.
TE Curtis White -- The hometown kid, who was rated the third-best tight end in the country by Rivals.com, could help fill an area of need after the departure of Ed Dickson, who was key to the team's 2009 success. White had 44 catches for 773 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Junior college tight end Brandon Williams is already enrolled.
--TE Dion Jordan will move to defensive end in the spring to help shore up a line that is a bit thin. LB Brandon Hanna also is moving to the line.
--Three freshmen are expected to enroll in time for spring drills -- CB Dior Mathis along with James Scales and Terrance Mitchell. There might be one or two more to announce, Kelly said, by the time practice begins Tuesday.
--Starting LB Eddie Pleasant will move to safety, which isn't a major change in Oregon's system, coach Chip Kelly said.
--Three players left the program, coach Chip Kelly announced in early February. They are WR Garrett Embry (a backup and special teams player), DL Andre Iupati (transferred to Division II Humboldt State) and DL Terrance Montgomery (two tackles last season). Embry was dismissed from the team in January and was being investigated for an alleged theft at a fraternity house.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010