By Jim • 

Beavers and Ducks open season with high expectations

Ah, glorious August — except for the fires burning around the state. It’s still summer, not quite fall, with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. There’s an ambience in the air in August, and football is just around the corner.

That’s another reason why August is a glorious month — football.

While the colleges have already begun their fall practices in preparation for the season, high schools are jumping into the practice season, too, with daily doubles to start soon. After a summer with no high school and college sports, I’m already looking forward to the 2013 football season. The good news is that for fans of NCAA Division I teams like Oregon and Oregon State, the projections are that both schools will again have successful seasons.

The Ducks are picked in the number three spot nationally in the coaches’ preseason poll while the Beavers are ranked 25th. With all their tools, Oregon should compete for another conference title — and the national championship as well — while OSU, if the improvement continues from last year’s 9-4 season, could finish as high as second or third in the Pac-12 North Division and receive a decent bowl bid.

Since I’m a Beaver fan first and foremost, I’ll admit I’m more than a little concerned about the quarterback situation at OSU. Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz? That is the question all sports writers and fans have been asking Beavers coach Mike Riley since last season. The answer, he said, will come in due time, sometime during the fall camp. I’m in the camp leaning toward the 6-foot-4 Mannion, but like all fans, I have no choice in the matter: that’s Riley’s job.

In Eugene, new head coach Mark Helfrich has one of the top quarterbacks in the land, Marcus Mariota, who will return for his sophomore season to lead the Ducks, who also seem to be loaded at the running back position and have depth throughout the lineup. Oregon also has one of the top-rated rookies in the country on board, Thomas Tyner, out of Aloha High School. Tyner, who set all kinds of records in high school, could be one of Oregon’s all-time top running backs by career end — if he stays healthy and academically eligible. He has speed, agility and a the ability to find daylight and break into the open field, so Ducks’ fans are salivating as they await his first carry in Oregon’s opener against Nicholls State University on Aug. 31 at Autzen Stadium.

The good news for both teams is they return a large number of starters on both sides of the ball and have just a few holes to fill. Oregon will operate the same offensive system as Chip Kelly, now at the helm of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ducks’ lightning-paced offense should suffer no loss of potency under Helfrich, and Oregon’s defense could be even better than last year’s, with lots of speed in the defensive backfield and a tough corps of linemen and linebackers.

So, yeah, I’m looking forward to Aug. 31 when the Beavers take on Eastern Washington in a 3 p.m. nonleague matchup at Reser Stadium. Hopefully, both teams will rise to the occasion and compete with the best teams in the land for top bowl games at season’s end, but this year, I’m especially hopeful that in the Civil War battle, OSU will finally make a game out of it for the first time in several years.

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