Top 25 countdown
The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:
No. 18 Oregon
The Ducks have hired a new team doctor: Phil.
No group out there deserves a bigger group hug.
While California’s free fall from No. 2 last year was inexplicable and, if you want to get harsh, unforgivable, Oregon’s collapse from No. 2 deserved context and a get-well card.
The Ducks appeared headed to the national title game until Dennis Dixon, playing with a torn knee ligament, which the school had kept secret (oh, what a tangled web they wove), hobbled off the field against Arizona on a Thursday night.
Oregon lost that game, and then to UCLA, and then to Oregon State.
The Ducks looked like completely sinking stock until, with Justin Roper at quarterback, they bounced back with a 56-21 thrashing of South Florida in the Sun Bowl.
Oregon didn’t land Pennsylvania prep star Terrelle Pryor, the next great spread offense quarterback, who opted for Ohio State, but life without Dixon was not going to be tragic.
Real tragedy struck in July when freshman Todd Doxey died during a river outing with teammates.
“We’re working for Todd,” defensive back Patrick Chung said. “We’re working for him.”
Football becomes the emotional outlet.
Roper was sensational in the Sun Bowl but he’ll be challenged by Nate Costa, returning from a knee injury.
Tailback Jonathan Stewart left early for the NFL, but senior Jeremiah Johnson is back after rushing for 344 yards in six games last year before a torn ACL ended his season.
Mike Bellotti, entering season No. 14, is the dean of Pac-10 coaches, and Chip Kelly is one of the nation’s best young offensive coordinators.
The Ducks’ defense should be strong, with seven returning starters led by Chung, who pondered an NFL move before deciding to return.
The problem on the schedule is the “ats”: at USC, at Cal and at Oregon State.
But other than that . . .
The countdown so far: No. 25, Notre Dame; 24, California; 23, Fresno State; 22, Florida State; 21, Rutgers; 20, Illinois; 19, Penn State; 18, Oregon.