Eugene -- It has been almost eight months since the University of Oregon football team has taken the field to play a meaningful game. The wait is over this weekend when the Ducks will host the University of South Dakota in what looks to be a tuneup game for the highly anticipated matchup between the Ducks and Michigan State. The Ducks offense will be led by junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, but who he will be sharing the backfield with is still yet to be determined. Before fall camp started, it looked like junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner were the two that would split carries this season. As camp progressed, freshman Royce Freeman became part of the conversation because of his performance in drills and scrimmages.
"I got it as a three-way tie right now," running backs coach Gary Campbell said after Monday's practice. "They're all pretty similar. Obviously Byron has had a little bit more experience, Tyner is a little faster than the other two and Royce is probably a little stronger, but less experienced."
The running back position isn't the only group of players still competing for touches this season. The tight end starting job has been heavily contested with veterans Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt, and Evan Baylis all competing to earn the starting reps.
Besides Freeman, there are four other true freshman that were listed on the two-deep. Tyrell Crosby will start as a back up lineman and Charles Nelson will be one of the first receivers to come off the bench. The other two freshman will be making appearances solely on special teams as Aidan Schneider will be the back up placekicker and Tanner Carew will be the starting long snapper.
Although only five freshman were on the two-deep, it won't be a surprise if more freshman will see action early on against South Dakota. Injuries play a major factor in football and it is common for players to burn their redshirt year if they are needed to play.
The Ducks will kickoff the season Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.