Stevens: High-Flying Ducks Picked To Soar Over Pac-10 Foes
July 30, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The bonding, the focus, the chemistry that Lobo Coach Mike Locksley will be seeking to take to a higher level during preseason drills take on even a higher sense of urgency when you glance at the UNM 2010 schedule.
It's a beast. It starts off tough. It maybe ends even tougher. It's not soft in the middle.
Depending on how you evaluate the nasty foes awaiting Locksley's Lobos, you might say the Lobos start and finish with the two nastiest opponents on the schedule: Oregon and TCU.
Both these squads have been picked to win their conferences: TCU in the Mountain West; Oregon in the Pac-10.
The Horned Frogs of Fort Worth already are talking about an undefeated season and a better ending in the postseason. TCU lost to Boise State 17-10 in the BCS Fiesta Bowl and that spanking did not sit well with the Frogs. They should enter the 2010 season in the Top Ten - and motivated to produce the undefeated season they missed by a single game last year.
But the Lobos are several months and 11 foes away from TCU and since athletes and coaches live by the "one game at a time" motto, it's more appropriate to glance at the first team on the UNM schedule - those high-flying Ducks of Eugene, Ore.
The Ducks aren't exactly the surprise pick to win the 2010 Pac-10 title because they snapped USC's seven-year domination last year by beating the Trojans to the title. However, the 2009 Pac-10 title was a bit of a surprise. The Ducks, under a first-year coach, were picked to finish third behind No. 1 USC.
The Ducks were good in 2009 and maybe overachieved a bit, but 2010 was projected to be their big year. Maybe it will be. The Lobos visit Oregon on Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m. (MT) looking to be spoilers.
Obviously, this is not an easy start for a UNM program in its second year. However, it is a game that should help prepare the Lobos for some of the monsters on their schedule including Texas Tech, Utah, Brigham Young, Air Force and TCU.
If there is good news for any team on the Oregon schedule, it's that Oregon lost its star quarterback from 2009, Jeremiah Masoli, who was dismissed from the team by Coach Chip Kelly.
Masoli had a solid junior season with 2,147 yards and 15 TDs. He led the Ducks to a league crown and to the Rose Bowl where Oregon lost 26-17 to Ohio State.
The good news for the Ducks is that the loss of Masoli doesn't look all that bad with fifth-year senior Nate Costa playing healthy. Costa was the Duck starter two seasons back and lost the huddle due to a knee injury and three surgeries.
The Lobos will be looking at a Ducks' offense minus Masoli and also minus LaMichael James, who ran for 1,546 yards and 14 TDs in 2009. James, the league's Offensive Freshman of The Year, is suspended for the game against New Mexico. James is on pace to break most of Oregon's rushing marks, but he will get no yardage against UNM.
With James on the bench, it will be interesting to see if the Ducks throw some playing time at freshmen Lache Seastrunk or Dontae Williams. Seastrunk, a five-star recruit, was listed as the nation's No. 2 overall prep recruit last season - regardless of position. Williams, a high school All-American and four-star prospect, is considered to be a bruiser even as a first-year D-I back.
It's probable, likely, that the Ducks will be looking past a New Mexico team that was picked to finish ninth/last in the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos should be much improved in 2010, but this is still a young team with a few depth issues.
The Lobos' first practice will be Aug. 5 beginning at 2:30 p.m. The Lobo Media Day will be held August 4 at 11:30 a.m.
The Lobos are expected to set up an out-of-Albuquerque camp for approximately 12 days (Aug. 10-21). The sojourn is designed to isolate the Lobos to increase team bonding.
The Lobos' home opener is Sept. 11 against Texas Tech.