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Ducks expect to soar without Kelly

The SportsXchange

EUGENE, Oregon -- Even with coach Chip Kelly gone to the NFL, enthusiasm and expectations at Oregon include the Ducks' season to start with the biggest blowout of the weekend, if not school history.

The third-ranked Ducks, coming off a 12-1 season that culminated with a win in the Fiesta Bowl, open the season at home Saturday against Nicholls, an FCS school that has gone 1-10 in each of the last two seasons with a win over Evangel University both years.

In two games against FBS schools last year, the Colonels gave up 66 points against Tulsa and 77 against Oregon State, and Oregon has much more firepower than either of those teams.

It figures to be an easy first game for new head coach Mark Helfrich, who was promoted from offensive coordinator when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, he said it is business as usual as the Ducks prepare for Nicholls.

"We're full speed on Nicholls," Helfrich said. "Our scout team is out there simulating their offense and defensive stuff that you can predict. You can look at previous film to know what their coaches have done in the past. I am sure they have tweaked and adjusted just as we have this summer, so there will be some newness.

"In the first game, there is always the question of 'what if, what if?' That will start Friday at about 10 p.m. and I will be thinking about it overnight."

One concern that Helfrich has is that Nicholls will have a new quarterback after Landry Klann was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Junior Beaux Hebert, the son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert, and Kalen Henderson, a transfer from Tulsa, are battling to be the starter.

"They are conventional in terms of their formations and some of the stuff they do, but they did a bunch of quarterback runs last year," Helfrich said. "The unknown is exactly what their quarterbacks strengths and weaknesses are this year, because it is a new guy."

Oregon doesn't have many new guys in the starting lineup as they return eight starters on offense and seven on defense.

The Ducks need to replace both guards on offense, but Mana Greig started two games last year before being injured and will fill one spot. The other starter, Hamani Stevens, played in 12 games last year.

The Ducks also must replace running back Kenjon Barner, but return De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall, who combined to rush for more than 1,100 yards last season.

Oregon lost linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, its top two tacklers from last year, but Oregon rotated plenty of players at those spots so Rahim Cassell, Derrick Malone, and Rodney Hardrick can all step in and start.

Lineman Dion Jordan was the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft by Miami, but Tony Washington replaces him after backing up Jordan all last season. Senior Ricky Havili-Heimuli likely takes over at defensive tackle after starting three games last season.

Oregon has made it to four straight BCS bowls and is picked to win the Pac-12 Conference and be in the race for the national title once again.

Helfrich welcomes those lofty goals.

"Being a part of a program like this, those are great things," Helfrich said. "If nobody is interested, it probably means are you are not doing what you want to do on the field, in the classroom, or in the community. The excitement level is great, expectations are great. Chip had an incredible career here and we celebrate that and hope we can get better."

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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