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The Oregon Ducks (And Not The USC Trojans) Are The Team To Beat In The Pac-12, According To ESPN

There is little doubt that the 2012 season could be a special one for the USC Trojans. They will have the odds-on Heisman Trophy candidate with Matt Barkley under center, multiple players capable of making big things happen on the outside, and a defense that should be improved after an average season in 2011. Despite all the things to like about this team, one writer at ESPN believes the Oregon Ducks are the team to beat in the conference next season.

(This is the part when you start shaking your head.)

We'll take a look at the article after the jump...

You can find the whole article ($$) from ESPN's KC Joyner here. He listed numerous reasons why the Ducks should be the favorites; here are a few of the more noticeable ones:

Reason No. 1: Oregon's offensive losses are not as great as generally thought.
This was covered in an article I wrote in January that showed how the combination of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas look to be more than capable of replicating the production James brought to this offense.

It also highlighted how Bryan Bennett could bring skills to Oregon's run-first scheme that Darron Thomas did not offer, and that is before taking into account that Bennett will have tough competition for the starting job from Marcus Mariota. Any way you slice it, this is not an empty-talent cupboard situation for the Ducks.

Here's another:

Reason No. 2: The USC pass offense has consistency issues.
There is a strong case to make for Barkley being the best returning quarterback in college football this season, but the Trojans' passer is not without his weaknesses.

Chief among these is the consistency issues the USC passing offense had last year. One way to illustrate this is by noting that Barkley had three games with a passer rating of lower than 130 and two games with a passer rating between 130 and 136 (the 130-mark being the rough midline for average performance in this metric).

A similar way of looking at this is to note that the rough midline in yards per attempt (YPA) for an FBS passing offense is 7 yards, and Barkley was below that level in six games.

Some of this has to do with the Trojans' play calling, which tends to lean on subterfuge too often instead of relying on winning with superior talent, but in the end all that matters is that this offense has to prove it can move the ball through the air on a week-to-week basis.

And a third:

Reason No. 7: Oregon's schedule strength is very similar to USC's.
Both of these teams have favorable schedules, but it is assumed USC's schedule is more favorable because Oregon has to travel to Los Angeles this year.

That is a big advantage, but it should be noted that Oregon gets to play the Washington Huskies -- a very dangerous sleeper team in the Pac-12 -- at home, while USC has to travel to Husky Stadium. The Trojans also have to play UCLA on the road in a potential revenge game against what should be a much-improved Bruins squad. Those contests aren't quite enough to push the schedule edge in favor of Oregon, but they certainly help close the gap. And, the Trojans have a season-ending nonconference showdown with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, while the Ducks' nonconference schedule doesn't feature a single BCS conference opponent.

All of these items do not guarantee that Oregon will win a national championship or its fourth straight Pac-12 title, but they should illustrate why their chances to achieve these goals are just as good as, or even better than, USC's.

This is quite the statement from the columnist and one that most would disagree with. As a fan of neither the Trojans or Ducks, I see USC as being the better team in 2012, but a lot can happen from now until bowl season.

The way I see it, Matt Barkley will be the best player on the field every single week and has a ton of talent surrounding him. The Ducks may have speed and athleticism, but without a proven go-to guy on the roster, I don't think they have as good of a chance as the Trojans do this upcoming year.

But, hey, what do I know?

To discuss the article with other fans, head on over to our USC blog, Conquest Chronicles.