E. Washington-Oregon Preview
Replacing the most prolific quarterback in school history is no easy task for Oregon, though handing the reins over to one of the FCS' most productive signal-callers is a good start.
Mariota is gone after a historic three seasons at Oregon. He won 35 games, going 13-2 as a junior in 2014 while leading the Ducks to the College Football Playoff championship game, where they fell to Ohio State. The Heisman Trophy winner was the second overall pick by the Tennessee Titans after setting Pac-12 single-season and career touchdown records at 58 and 146, respectively.
As eye-popping as Mariota's numbers were, his replacement put up video game-like numbers for Eastern Washington, too. Adams accounted for 11,670 total yards and 121 TDs in 37 games for the Eagles, winning Big Sky offensive player of the year twice and finishing runner-up twice for the Walter Payton Award as the FCS' top player - even in 2014 despite missing four games with a broken foot. His 173.8 career passer rating is second-best in FCS history, trailing only San Diego's Josh Johnson (176.7) from 2004-07.
Adams declared his intentions in February to transfer to Oregon, though he wasn't eligible to join the team until completing his degree at Eastern Washington. He passed the final necessary exam four days into the Ducks' fall camp and was named the team's starter last week over Jeff Lockie, who backed up Mariota last season and impressed many in the spring game.
"It happened," coach Mark Helfrich said of Adams winning the quarterback competition. "It happened in front of everybody and it was time to go."
Adams more than held his own in three career games against FBS opponents in which he attempted a pass, throwing for 1,212 yards and 14 TDs with one interception, as he faced No. 25 Oregon State and Toledo in 2013 and Washington last year.
Oregon needs a passing touchdown to tie Texas Tech's NCAA record for consecutive games with at least one at 69. The Red Raiders set the mark Sept. 23, 2006-Oct. 22, 2011.
Adams comes from one tradition of excellence to another after winning at least a share of three straight Big Sky titles. Helfrich's 24-4 record through 28 games matches Stanford's David Shaw (2011-13) as the best by a Pac-12 coach since Pappy Waldorf went 26-2 at California beginning in 1947.
Per usual, the Oregon offense presents plenty of toys for Adams to play with. Junior receiver Bralon Addison is among the most intriguing options after missing last season with a torn ACL. He caught 61 passes for 890 yards and seven TDs in 2013.
Sophomore Royce Freeman leads what figures to be another dynamic running attack after rushing for a Pac-12 true freshman-record 1,365 yards last year.
"Now that I know more within the offense, I expect more out of myself, both performance-wise and leadership-wise," Freeman said. said. "It's just something I'm progressively working on."
Oregon beat Portland State 69-0 in 2010 in its last matchup with a Big Sky opponent and has averaged 55.1 points in winning 10 straight home openers. The Ducks have won 13 straight home meetings against non-conference, unranked teams by an average score of 57.7-16.2, including a margin of 110-27 against South Dakota and Wyoming last year.
Eastern Washington figures to present a challenge, though. The Eagles are ranked sixth in the STATS FCS preseason poll and are a co-favorite along with Montana State to win another conference crown after going 11-3 last season, losing to Illinois State in the FCS quarterfinals.
Taking over for Adams is Jordan West, who threw for 1,010 yards with a 143.7 passer rating in four games while Adams was injured. He'll be looking for top receiver Cooper Kupp, who has racked up 3,122 yards and 37 TDs on 197 receptions in two seasons.
Defensively, the Eagles will look to contain Oregon's spread attack with a new-look 4-2-5 defense, hoping to capitalize on an abundance of talent in the secondary.
"You have to look at the players you have and be able to adjust as a coach," coach Beau Baldwin said of the scheme change. "If you say 'This is what I'm going to do,' then you better recruit perfectly. Some years you run into situations where you might be senior-driven or talent-driven in a particular area, and you have to make adjustments.
"Sometimes having that fifth defensive back on the field gives us the best chance to win. It has a lot to do with our depth and where our talent lies."