1. What are Oregon's goals for the season regarding recruiting? How many players are they looking to land? Who are their biggest targets that are still on the trail?
Heading into the 2013 season, it was an all too real possibility that do-it-all De'Anthony Thomas would take his final snaps in the Oregon offense. Now in the twilight of fall, the man Thomas' takes his handoffs from may be more of a lock to enter the NFL draft. Quaterback Marcus Mariota would leave a void that few prospects, even those already at the collegiate level, could fill. This scenario has been lost in the success of 2013 but none the less could become an issue as backups Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodriguez are no doubt talented, but have yet to exude Mariota-esque decision making, let alone athleticism.
Currently, Oregon has 11 verbal commits in the 2013 recruiting class. This is head coach Mark Helfrich's first full recruiting cycle and promises to be one of the best crops of speed and athleticism to come to Eugene in the past five years. In 2012, Helfrich did well to weather the storm of Chip Kelly's departure by keeping all but one commit; there's no reason to believe that he'll lose any this go around.
The Ducks will most likely round out this recruiting class with 18-21 prospects. With just over three months until signing day, look for Oregon to make a late run on several key recruits.
To call Eugene-bound running back Royce Freeman anything less than spectacular would be a disservice. A tabbed Army All-American, Freeman broke the California-San Deigo section's career rushing yards record (7,090) earlier this season. Producing visions of former great Jonathan Stewart, Freeman's 6-foot, 225 lb. frame echoes that of current running back Thomas Tyner and could give Oregon the option to pair two power runners in the backfield at any given time.
Mariota's growth elevates the importance of Oregon's lone verbal commitment at the quarterback position. Dual threat gunslinger Morgan Mahalak was an early cycle pickup Helfrich and has been nothing but stellar in his final prep season passing for 1,826 yards and 25 touchdowns. With his rapid development, Mahalak could challenge Lockie and Rodriguez for early playing time.
On defense, defensive backs coach John Neal faces losing both starting corners in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell. In early July, Neal netted ball hawk Arrion Springs who has the tools necessary to lead Oregon's secondary into the future. Spring's 4.48/40 time is second to his uncanny ability to read opposing receivers, a trait that will no doubt garner attention early in fall camp.
One would think that Oregon's biggest recruiting competition would be Stanford. However, UCLA, Cal, and Washington continue to pull preps despite marginal success. Geography seems to always play a role in recruiting on the west coast. Even despite sanctions and a coaching turnover, USC still has transcontinental appeal to preps.
Coming full circle, there's no denying what four straight BCS bowls can do for a team however. Oregon is no longer in the business of "getting that one five star" per class and fighting for the scraps that fall off the table. Prospects now consider Oregon the "It" school thanks in large part to success and continued innovation both on and off the field.
5. Which recruits do Oregon stand a really good chance at landing, regardless of rank or standing? Who's the top recruit with the best chance of becoming a Duck?
Senior receiver Josh Huff will exit following the season. Beyond sophomore Bralon Addison, Oregon' depth at wideout is largely unknown. Prep targets the likes of John "JuJu" Smith and Montae Nicholson could be the shot in the arm Oregon needs to elevate an already solid passing game.
Arguably the most coveted prospect on Oregon's big board, athlete Budda Baker, is close to pledging a commitment to the Ducks. Baker is in the same conversation as De'Anthony Thomas is regards to athleticism and playmaking ability. The bigger question may not be if he will be a Duck but where he will line up on the field as Baker is the true definition of a two-way player.