Offensive: It was the type of news that ordinarily would crush a Top 10-level program. After pleading guilty to burglary charges in March, Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for this season, plunging the Ducks’ Pac-10 hopes into deep doubt. At least in the minds of some. Not the minds that are running Oregon’s program. The what-me-worry mindset can work fine when you have Oregon’s array of returning talent. Fifth-year senior Nate Costa, who won the starting job over Masoli in 2008 (only to get injured), appeared to be the first choice at quarterback, but sophomore Darron Thomas will get the start in the opener. Either way, the offense figures to revolve around sophomore running back LaMichael James, who galloped for 1,546 rushing yards and six games in which he surpassed the 150-yard rushing mark. There are several experienced receiving options, including senior Jeff Maehl (53 catches). The offensive line, one of the nation’s most formidable units, returns all five starters.
Defensive: Oregon has eight returning starters on what looks to be the Pac-10’s fastest defense. There are linebackers galore, led by seniors Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. The linebacking unit was deep enough to allow junior Eddie Pleasant to shift to strong safety, enhancing an already strong secondary. Senior defensive end Kenny Rowe, who led the Pac-10 with 11.5 sacks last season, is the headliner on an ultra-experienced defensive line.
Specialists: Kenjon Barner (24.9-yard average on kickoff returns, including a 100-yard score) returns as a major weapon. Sophomore punter Jackson Rice averaged 40.5 yards. The Ducks are looking for a No. 1 place-kicker and sophomore Rob Beard, who handled kickoffs last season, is the logical solution.
Coaching: Chip Kelly was confronted with a major test in his first game, but he remained firm and suspended running back LeGarrette Blount for most of last season after the player brawled following the opening loss against Boise State. This offseason was no less turbulent — highlighted by Masoli’s suspension — but Kelly has shown the ability to assert his leadership and make the tough calls.
Heisman hopefuls: James could make a run if Oregon captures the Pac-10.
Overview: Before Masoli’s suspension, Oregon was the Pac-10’s prohibitive preseason favorite. After Masoli’s suspension, Oregon is simply the favorite. It speaks to the depth of the Ducks’ roster (and, truthfully, what’s going on over at USC after the NCAA came calling). The Pac-10 used to be USC’s playground. No longer. Now everyone out West is looking up at the Oregon Ducks, who continue to assert themselves as the league’s new dominant program.
Next up: No. 6 Miami
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
NBCSports.com's Preseason Top 25
Video: Football from NBC Sports
The Hype: How early is too early for sports scholarships?
There's a disturbing trend afoot in college football -- the offering of scholarships to middle school students. Despite never playing a down of high school football, Lindell Stone, an eighth-grader who already has an offer from UCLA, is the latest hot commodity. Michelle Beadle and Carolyn Manno discuss the absurdity of this trend and consider the possibility of scholarships for embryos
BCS title game
Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
Check out the action from the postseason.
Check out which players were best of the best at each position.
Check out some of the college football cheerleaders from across the country.