Lost in all the hubbub concerning the USC Trojans in the Pac-12? The Oregon Ducks are back and as strong as ever, and they're expected to be right there to challenge USC for the conference crown. Oregon might have lost starting quarterback Darron Thomas and starting running back LaMichael James, but Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas return in the backfield to provide a solid offensive support system, and the Ducks have a pair of solid QB options in Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett.
Additionally, Oregon may have the most underrated defense in the conference, a group capable of making it difficult for even the best Pac-12 offenses to score. And while head coach Chip Kelly is there, Oregon will continue to receive the respect afforded the nation's powerhouses, which is why they're ranked No. 4 in the country in Sports Illustrated's 2012 Preseason Top 25 list.
Here's what Sports Illustrated's George Schreoder had to say about the 2012 Ducks:
Oregon has much of its nucleus from 2011 intact. The defense, the strength of which is a veteran linebacking corps, could be the most effective that the Ducks have fielded in recent years. Though the exciting Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are gone, the offense features an experienced line anchored by redshirt sophomore center Hroniss Grasu as well as playmakers in running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas (who will also continue to play receiver).
You can read SI's full Oregon preview here.