The beginning of the 2011 football season saw the Ducks in unprecedented position; ranked #3 in the pre-season polls. With an opening game against #4 LSU in Dallas, the hype for Oregon was at an all-time high. Win, and the Ducks would hold the keys to a second consecutive BCS National Championship Game in their own hands. Lose? Something Duck fans did not want to ponder.
Yet, in the much less than neutral Dallas site, the Ducks did lose. Their lack of experience at several positions proved to be more difficult to overcome than Duck fans had hoped. It seemed there was a little bit of let down in fans excitement following the LSU game.
Returning home, the Ducks licked their wounds and began a run through the Pac-12 with convincing early victories. As had been predicted, the Ducks and Stanford were once again battling for a spot as the conference champion.
This season was one unlike any other as the Ducks fought through a lot of adversity on the field with key injuries they had not suffered in their previous two BCS seasons. LaMichael James missed two games; Kenjon Barner missed two games; Michael Clay missed three games; Darron Thomas missed 1 1/2 games. Injuries took their toll.
Fortunately for the Ducks, though, the injuries were absorbed due to depth better than the Ducks had ever known. LaMichael James misses two games? Simple, plug in Kenjon Barner who gains 286 yards during his absence. Darron Thomas misses the second half of Arizona State game and the Colorado game? Plug in redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett and whet the appetites of Duck fans for what the future holds.
The biggest story for the Ducks 2011 season began as a secret back in January of 2011 as highly touted running back De'Anthony Thomas came to Oregon for a visit. The long time USC commitment was so impressed with the Ducks that he switched his commitment and became a Duck at the last minute. His talent was evident from highlight tapes, but it really began to show in fall camp as the Duck freshman was simply too good to keep off the field.
Thomas had a forgettable debut with two fumbles, but the explosiveness was there. It was obvious he would have an impact as a Duck. It was just not possible, though, to see just how big of an impact he would have. Though LaMichael James once aga9ns led the Ducks in rushing and all-purpose yards, he now had a companion near the top of that category in Thomas. Thomas led the Ducks in receiving and was one of the best kick returners in the nation averaging 27.7 yards per kick off return. His 16 touchdowns is a record for a Duck freshman.
As a team, the Ducks accomplished a feat no other team outside of USC has ever accomplished in the Pac-10/12; three consecutive outright conference championships. Given the rich history of the conference this may surprise many. There have been some great coaches and great teams in this conference during it's storied history, and yet this is the second best run in the history of the conference. And some, like me, say that the best is still yet to come for this team. The depth is better than it has ever been at Oregon, but this 2011 team was very young on defense. With a year of experience for three freshman cornerbacks and a defense returning 7 starters, the 2012 Ducks might be even better than the 2010 or 2011 teams. Can you imagine that?