Chris Dufresne’s preseason college football top 25: No. 9 Oregon

The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 9 Oregon

Oregon edged USC by four points for the top spot in this year’s Pacific 10 Conference preseason football media poll.

The off-season Sears Cup for distractions race was just as close.

The Ducks, who ended the Trojans’ seven-year run as conference champions last year, extended the battle into a postseason war of headlines.

USC took home the crown by hiring Lane Kiffin, going on NCAA probation and replacing its football and baseball coaches, as well as its athletic director and university president.

But it was a heckuva game.

Oregon was enjoying one of the finest stretches in its program’s history right up to kickoff against Ohio State on Jan. 1.

The Ducks got tangled-footed in the Rose Bowl and then set out for the Eugene nightlife, where fistfights broke out, computers were stolen, depositions were taken and Oregon went from a top-five team with national title aspirations to one trying to decide between two quarterbacks who combined to throw 71 passes last year.

Incredibly, both Oregon and Tiger Woods got through horrible off-seasons without losing their Nike sponsorships.

The fall fallout: Running back LaMichael James, the 1,000-yard freshman flash who earned his chance after LeGarrette Blount’s infamous opening punch last year against Boise State, will sit out the New Mexico opener after a misdemeanor harassment charge.

Star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is in good shape, taking snaps and looking forward to a great year … at Mississippi.

Masoli wrecked a decent chance of leading Oregon to the national title and winning the Heisman Trophy by foolishly getting himself involved in a computer caper and then initially lying about it.

The plan for him to sit out a year and try again in 2011 was derailed when Masoli was caught in a car with marijuana, taking him from Mary Jane to Ole Miss.

Yet Oregon only slipped from preseason top five to borderline top-10. That’s how much talent Masoli left behind. With Coach Chip Kelly calling the plays in the spread offense, Oregon should not want for points.

Along with James, the Ducks’ backfield returns Rose Bowl star Kenjon Barner and introduces Lache Seastrunk, one of the nation’s top recruits.

The defense should also be stout, led by end Kenny Rowe and linebacker Casey Matthews.

The question is at quarterback, where senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas are in a snap-to-snap battle for Masoli’s spot. Costa’s return after three major surgeries makes him the inspirational story; Thomas is more of a run-throw guy in the mold of Dennis Dixon.

The play at quarterback will determine whether Oregon makes a run at big prizes or takes a giant backward waddle.

“It’s always a question mark when you lose your quarterback,” Kelly said at Pac-10 media day. “We have two competent players in Nate Costa and Darron Thomas … both are prepared and worked really hard for it. All of our offensive line, receivers and running backs are back. They will have a supporting cast around them.”

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas; 16. Oregon State; 15. Florida State; 14. Georgia Tech; 13. Wisconsin; 12. Oklahoma; 11. Miami; 10. Iowa; 9. Oregon.