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Preseason Rankings, 2010 Depth
Thursday, January 7, 11:30 a.m. PST

The 2009 college football season does not technically end until Alabama and Texas lock tusks and horns in the BCS title game tonight, but that hasn’t deterred media outlets from looking ahead to the fall of 2010.

Oregon’s Rose Bowl loss likely means a final ranking below last season’s No. 9 (Coaches) and No. 10 (AP ) marks, but the Ducks will surely be a top 10 and possibly even a top 5 preseason pick when they host New Mexico on Sept. 4. Incredibly, two of the three teams they lost to – Boise State and Ohio State – are also near locks for top 5 status, further exemplifying how impressive and difficult UO’s schedule was this past year.

There are several reasons why Oregon is poised to start the season as a bright blip on the national radar. The Ducks are coming off a Pac-10 title, back-to-back 10-win seasons and have a .769 overall winning percentage to go with a conference-leading 15 league wins over the past two years. But more than past achievements, pollsters and pundits, experts and analysts must factor in the future and they see a team with 10 returning offensive starters, including a running back and quarterback that will both be in the Heisman Trophy conversation, and an up-and-coming defense, down just three men from the Rose Bowl starting lineup.

Officially, Oregon will list 19 returning starters: 10 offense, 9 defense (T.J. Ward started the last six games of the year at multiple positions, but had fewer starts overall than John Boyett at free safety or Javes Lewis at rover). The offensive and defensive lines that were such big question marks heading into 2009 when they totaled three returning starters (2 offense, 1 defense), return seven of nine starters for ’10, including all five offensive linemen. If the Ducks decide to plug in five-game starter David Paulson at tight end for the departed Ed Dickson, they would essentially have 11 returning first-teamers on the field for the opening offensive possession of 2010.

My hunch is that doesn’t happen and there will be a new face or two in the season opening lineup. Too many things can happen between now and September, one of which will be position battles in spring practice and fall camp. The most intriguing may be at receiver, where the likes of Diante Jackson, Tyrece Gaines, Blake Cantu and Nick Cole are set to enter the fray after spending last fall on the scout team. Incumbent starters D.J. Davis and Jeff Maehl – both seniors – and junior Lavasier Tuinei will have their work cut out for them to fend off Jackson and Gaines, in particular.

On defense, there are immediate openings for an end and a tackle to replace Will Tukuafu and Blake Ferras, respectively. A combination of veterans Zac Clark, Terrance Montgomery and Terrell Turner is a possibility, but look for other options to emerge as well.

So the Ducks are reloaded, and as a result will be ranked accordingly. But do rankings matter? Yes.

Most coaches will brush away the subject when it’s brought up, and they have to. There are too many other things for them to worry about without adding something they have no control over to the mix. However, where you start can have a big impact on where you finish. Setbacks can be absorbed easier by a high preseason rank. Take 2007, when a 2-loss LSU team played for (and won) the BCS championship and a trio of 3-loss teams finished in the top 10 (all were preseason top 10 picks). As long as humans are involved in the BCS formula, the higher the preseason ranking the better.

Keep in mind, this is my personal projection, coming from someone who has spent enough time watching practice to formulate a reasonable guess, and should not be interpreted as anything but that. Any formal depth chart won’t begin to be accurate until some point in August.

Wide Receiver - D.J. Davis/Tyrece Gaines
Left Tackle – Bo Thran/Darrion Weems
Left Guard – Carson York/Bo Thran
Center - Jordan Holmes/Everett Benyard
Right Guard – Mark Asper/Nick Cody
Right Tackle – C.E. Kaiser/Jamaal Burrell
Tight End – David Paulson/Dion Jordan OR Brandon Williams
Wide Receiver – Jeff Maehl/Lavasier Tuinei
Wide Receiver – Diante Jackson/Garrett Embry
Quarterback – Jeremiah Masoli/Nate Costa OR Darron Thomas
Running Back – LaMichael James/Kenjon Barner

Defensive End – Terrell Turner/Taylor Hart
Defensive Tackle – Brandon Bair/Anthony Anderson
Defensive Tackle – Zac Clark/Terrance Montgomery
Defensive End – Kenny Rowe/Tyrell Irvin
Outside Linebacker – Eddie Pleasant/Josh Kaddu
Inside Linebacker – Casey Matthews/Michael Clay
Outside Linebacker – Spencer Paysinger/Kiko Alonso
Cornerback – Cliff Harris/Anthony Gildon
Free Safety – John Boyett/Talmadge Jackson III
Rover – Javes Lewis/Marvin Johnson
Cornerback – Talmadge Jackson III/Avery Patterson

Placekicker – Mike Bowlin/Rob Beard
Kickoffs – Rob Beard/Mike Bowlin
Punter – Jackson Rice/Rob Beard
Kickoff Returner – Kenjon Barner/Cliff Harris
Punt Returner – Kenjon Barner/Cliff Harris
Long Snapper – Michael Clay
Short Snapper – Jeff Palmer
Holder – Nate Costa

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