The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2016 season with more uncertainty surrounding the program than it has seen since 2009 when former coach Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti. UO went 9-4 last season, the program's worst since 2007 (9-4). This week we will take a look at five things that must go right in order for the Ducks to avoid another 9-win season (or worse), win the Pac-12 championship and contend for a national playoff berth.
No. 3: Wide receiver Darrington Carrington Jr. must be special.
The situation: Oregon has had some very good receivers over the years.
Most recently, Josh Huff, Jeff Maehl and Demetrius Williams stand out among the rest.
But none were ever that dominant, "you can't cover me," future potential first-round NFL Draft pick that other teams had to fear at all times.
Carrington, a redshirt junior, has the ability to be that guy. The Ducks will need him to realize that potential in order to contend in the Pac-12 conference.
Oregon will be stacked at receiver even after losing Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall to the NFL. Senior Dwayne Stanford and junior Charles Nelson return. Redshirt junior Devon Allen hopes to be completely healthy after not behing quite the same last season. Sophomore Kirk Merritt and redshirt sophomore Jalen Brown have star potential.
But none are on Carrington's level as an all-around, impact receiver. At least not yet.
Carrington began to blossom as a redshirt freshman in 2014 when over the final four games of the season he caught 18 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
The last two performances came in the Pac-12 championship game (seven receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown) and the Rose Bowl win over Florida State (seven receptions for 165 yards with two touchdowns).
But just when Carrington's star had risen on a national level, he came crashing back down to earth after testing positive for marijuana during an NCAA adminstered drug test. The results led to a six-game suspension, which included the national championship game.
Carrington returned to action in game seven of last season and the rest of the way amassed 32 receptions for 609 yards and six touchdowns.
Over that entire 11-game stretch dating back to 2014, Carrington caught 50 passes for 999 yards and nine touchdowns.
Fully focused, not entering a season midstream and being highly motivated to raise his NFL Draft stock, Carrington is fully capable of putting up even greater numbers over the course of a full season.
What he could give Oregon is that true No. 1 receiver that commands being accounted for by the defense as an every-down weapon. Sure, Oregon has had many good playmakers, but most put up numbers by virtue of the offense's ability to create openings. Not to take away from their abilities, but there is a reason Oregon hasn't had a receiver taken in the first round since Ahmad Rashad in 1972 (Patrick Johnson went in the second round in 1998).
Carrington certainly has first-round ability but his baggage might keep him out of the top two rounds when next year's draft rolls around (Carrington is expected to make this his final season at Oregon). Still, that doen't mean he can't perform like a first-rounder and that makes everyone else in the offense better by being a constant threat. The type of threat where it almost doesn't matter what the defense does, he's going to make plays.
A potent triplet combination of quarterback Dakota Prukop, running back Royce Freeman and Carrington all meeting their potential would certainly make Oregon's offense a unit capable of leading the Ducks team into contention.
Now, about that defense...
Next up: No. 4 - Defensive secondary must go from serving up touchdowns to being lock down.