The conventional wisdom is that the Oregon Ducks 2012 non-conference football schedule is a complete powder-puff start to the season.
I've been going along with that assumption, but I realized I don't really know much about the three teams we are dismissing. So, before I'm willing to accept conventional wisdom, let's analyze our first three opponents.
Arkansas State (Sept. 1)
I'm about to tell you two things that will make you feel a little uneasy.
The Red Wolves of Arkansas State had a nine-game winning streak in 2011, before losing to Northern Illinois 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on January 8. They swept through the Sun Belt conference, going 8-0, and ended with a 10-2 overall record.
Until their bowl loss, the Red Wolves had only been defeated by Illinois in their first game (33-15 at Champaign, IL), and to Virginia Tech (26-7 at Blacksburg, VA), who was ranked No. 13 when Arkansas State played them.
But, I can hear you asking—the Sun Belt Conference? Northern Illinois? Yes, their opponents were hardly Stanford or USC.
Now I'm about to tell you the second thing. Guess who the Red Wolves' new head coach is? Gus Malzahn, former Auburn offensive coordinator and QBs coach, is returning to his home state of Arkansas to take over. You may remember Auburn and a QB named Cam Newton, and a little meet-up the Ducks had with them in Arizona in 2011.
To sum up, this team knows how to win, and they have a proven winner, splashy new head coach who has recent experience beating the Ducks.
Will it be enough on Sept. 1 in Eugene? Probably not. But I don't believe this game will be a complete laugher for the Ducks either.
Coming off the high of winning the Rose Bowl and with the return of Chip Kelly, Autzen Stadium will be rocking on Sept. 1. Returning key players will be eager to show that the Ducks can lose LaMichael James and Darron Thomas and not miss a beat. I wouldn't want to play the Ducks that day, and I don't like Arkansas State's odds.
And, Mr. Malzahn has his hands full because, after a home game on Sept. 8, Arkansas State must travel to Lincoln, NE, to play the Cornhuskers (I know we say "Huskers" now, but, being a vegetable gardener, I like saying "Cornhuskers").
I hope the Arkansas State athletic department is getting healthy checks for these two non-conference games because I see the Red Wolves 1-2 to start off their season.
Fresno State (Sept. 8)
Everyone reading who can remember the Ducks playing two exciting overtime games against Fresno State, raise your hand. Yep, me too.
The first one in 1996 was either the very first college football overtime, or among the first—there are differing opinions on this matter.
The 2012 version of Ducks vs. Bulldogs will not go to overtime. The only thing about this game that should make you the least bit nervous is that Fresno State's starting QB is Derek Carr. Yes, he is the younger brother of David Carr, former Bulldog QB and No.1 NFL draft pick in 2002, who wreaked havoc on several BCS teams during his college career.
Like Arkansas State, Fresno State also has a new head coach who was hired in December. The Bulldogs fired long-time head coach Pat Hill (15 years) at the end of their dismal 4-9 season, and hired Texas A&M assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.
In his hiring press conference on Dec. 14, DeRuyter said he wanted to have the hardest working, most disciplined, best conditioned team in the nation. Oh, and he also wants the Bulldogs to become a player on the national stage once again. Which they would take a giant step toward if they could beat Oregon on Sept. 8.
Not gonna happen, however. DeRuyter has lofty goals of returning Fresno State to a conference and national powerhouse, but it's not going to start on Sept. 8 in Eugene. While five of their nine losses last season were by seven points or less, it's safe to say 2012 will be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs.
Tennessee Tech (Sept. 15)
So, now the Ducks are 2-0 and awaiting the arrival of Tennessee Tech at Autzen Stadium.
Youch, this one might be ugly.
The Golden Eagles (not to be confused in the least with "War Eagle") play in the Ohio Valley Conference where they were 7-4 in 2011. I'm not even sure I knew this conference existed.
Tennessee Tech played such college football powerhouses as Eastern Kentucky, Tenn-Martin and Maryville (Tenn) last season. They beat them, but who cares?
On top of this, Tennessee Tech's colors are purple and gold. You know what the Ducks do to teams who come into Autzen Stadium wearing purple. I suspect this game is going to be the realization of my all-time favorite Oregon T-shirt, "I See Dead Purple."
The Golden Eagles are going to have a very long flight home after an embarrassingly large loss to the Ducks, probably something in the neighborhood of 65-7.
In conclusion, is the Ducks non-conference schedule a walk in the park? In a word—yes.
While the Arkansas State game might be a titch closer than people expect, and while Fresno State will be competitive for a half, if the Ducks lose any of these first three games, Chip Kelly has some 'splainin to do.
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