The Oregon Ducks will open the new campaign at No. 13 in ESPN’s preseason power rankings.

It’ll be head coach Dan Lanning’s first year running a program after coming over from the Georgia Bulldogs to replace Mario Cristobal this offseason. Lanning won a national championship at Georgia by helping construct one of the greatest defenses college football has seen in recent years. There are few who question his ability to construct another top-flight defense in Eugene given the talent he has to work with.

The biggest question for Oregon, however, is the running game. That’s according to ESPN’s Paolo Uggetti:

It flew a bit under the radar, but the job Travis Dye did to keep the running (and pass-catching) game afloat for the Ducks after CJ Verdell suffered a season-ending injury will be hard to replicate. Verdell declared for the NFL draft and Dye decided to bolt for greener (or cardinal, in this case) pastures and transfer to USC. Between Byron Cardwell and Sean Dollars, the Ducks are not without talent at the position. But given the turnover there and at quarterback, there will need to be a quick learning curve to get the offense rolling. 

Oregon was a top-15 rushing outfit a season ago, finishing 13th nationally in yards per carry on the ground (5.3). The aforementioned Dye was a big part of that. His 1,673 all-purpose yards led all Pac-12 players for the year. His departure for USC came as a stunner, but Oregon has responded nicely at the position this offseason.

Cardwell, a second-year back, is expected to be the lead runner for a group that is just as deep as it is talented. Dollars will factor into the rotation alongside Minnesota transfer Mar’Keise Irving and Western Kentucky transfer Noah Whittington. True freshman and former blue-chip recruit Jordan James might make his way into the picture as well.

Running backs coach Carlos Locklyn said last week the competition in the room has been good early in fall camp.

Guys are focused on improving, Locklyn is telling them every day the rotation will sort itself out as long as their attention is in the right area.

“I always say those things take care of themselves,” Locklyn said when asked about figuring out how to distribute carries and snaps. “You won’t have nobody being complacent out there on the field. I tell the kids, ‘You’re gonna take to my personality.’ I’m not a complacent person. I come here to work just like I was the guy volunteering at Memphis. I’m trying to pour the same thing into them. Just because of whatever stars you had in high school, that doesn’t mean anything in my room. When you get out there on that field, you better come to work. If you don’t, the next man’s gonna step up. Nobody’s gonna be complacent in there.”

The Ducks open their season against No. 3 Georgia in Atlanta on Sept. 3. We’ll see right away just how capable the Oregon backfield is.