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Ducks — if focused — will be more dangerous than ever

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

They don’t know who their quarterback will be. They’re not sure how good the defense is going to perform. Both situations might be complete failures or pleasant surprises in 2016.

They also just barely cracked the preseason Top 25 poll.

Oregon football faces a lot of uncertainties this season… and that is actually a good thing.

Say what?

No, it’s true.

The Ducks have been the hunted for a very long time, and it’s time for a little role reversal. Stanford and Oregon have ruled the Pac-12 North ever since the conference expanded. While Stanford was still picked to win the division, a lot of people think Washington, not Oregon, will challenge the Cardinal for that top spot.

Selecting the Huskies, a team that hasn’t been relevant in many years, might be a surprise, but the Ducks have put themselves in this situation. They haven’t found a suitable replacement for Marcus Mariota since he went to the NFL. The defense has been on a downward slide for quite some time, culminating with one of the worst defensive performances in program history a year ago.

The story of 2015 has been written about to no end. The Ducks didn’t have anyone to run the offense outside of Vernon Adams, and the defense was a sieve. It’s easy to see why something similar might happen in 2016.

Everyone outside the state of Oregon thinks Washington will finally beat the Ducks after a 12-year losing streak to its bitter rival. Outsiders are also saying basketball is the best team on campus, not football.

Ever since Chip Kelly arrived in Eugene, the Ducks have been famous for saying that they block out outside influences and do not pay attention to the opinions of anyone outside the program. While most of that is true, social media’s reach makes it hard to stay completely out of touch with national commentary and analysis from the past year. The Ducks buckled under outside pressures in a new and terrifyingly uncertain post-Mariota universe.

This year would be a good time, if possible, to once again block out the outside world — not because of the negativity that is heading their way, but because Oregon football needs to embrace its identity. It’s still a brand of football that’s difficult to handle for opponents, and while many try to imitate the offense and the speed at which the Ducks run it, no one has been able to run it as effectively.

Before anything was expected out of the program, the Ducks were good at upsetting the apple cart. They pulled off upsets under Mike Bellotti. Kelly and Mark Helfrich brought an elusive consistency, conference championships, and New Year’s Six (formerly BCS) bowl appearances to Eugene. Oregon can still upset the status quo. It’s the oldest and probably lamest cliché out there, but actually practicing that cliché — one game at a time — took the Ducks to their first national title game.

It’s doubtful this particular Oregon team will reach the College Football playoff, but despite the disappointing year that was 2015 (disappointing means a 9-4 record), the Ducks were able to show that they could still upset another team’s season. Ask Stanford.

Even with two brand-new coordinators who have never held those jobs, it would be a mistake to dismiss the 2016 Ducks. Oregon still has one of the best receiver corps in the country, and one would think the defense is going to be better. It couldn’t get worse.

If the Ducks can once again block out external noise and truly focus on themselves, they’ll become the hunter and not the hunted. It’ll make Oregon — with its signature brand of football — more dangerous than ever.

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