Which team will give Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' their toughest game in 2013?
The Pac-12 Conference appears to be on the rise and thus, weekly blowouts may not be so familiar by the time the season concludes. No longer will teams like UCLA, Oregon State or even Arizona be considered surefire victories.
It's hard to gauge how the season will play out in terms of tough games and easy games given that we've yet to see anybody play, but as of now, some games certainly appear to be harder than others.
Take a look at the 2013 schedule. You don't need a major in analyzing data to take an educated stab at which teams will bookend the list.
But click ahead to find out how the rest of the Ducks' schedule will shake out as we power rank the slate from the easiest game to the toughest one.
Nicholls State will be happy to collect a paycheck after its visit to Eugene. Getting the win, however, is unlikely.
If you're Nicholls State traveling to Autzen Stadium in late August, you're going to have a bad time.
The Colonels are an FCS program coming off a one-win season in 2012 that included a 77-3 defeat at the hands of the Oregon State Beavers.
Consider that in last year's opener, the Ducks were up 50-3 midway through the second quarter against Arkansas State, an FBS team coming off a 10-win season.
There isn't much else to be said. This game is as easy as they come and definitely the least challenging game on the Ducks' 2013 schedule.
Say what you want about Colorado, but its punter, Darragh O'Neill, is terrific.
Despite the relatively easy nonconference slate, it's a fellow Pac-12 foe that will give the Ducks their second-easiest game of the 2013 season.
The Colorado Buffaloes are in the midst of a coaching change, which can only be a positive thing after a one-win campaign in 2012.
But the team has major questions across the board, starting at quarterback and continuing on to the woeful defense which gave up more than 45 points per game last season.
On the bright side, standout receiver Paul Richardson will be back from injury, which should provide some life to what has been a completely inept offense for several years.
Still, while you never want to count on a blowout, it's safe to assume this matchup won't be very tight.
WR Gabe Marks is a playmaker for the Cougars.
The first two spots on this list were pretty easy to decide upon. These next few, however, could probably be rearranged without second thought.
Part of the reason Washington State makes the No. 10 spot is that the game will be played within the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.
The only factor that gives me pause in putting the Cougars so low is the fact that they seem to play the Ducks fairly tough regardless of what each team's record is entering the contest. And in Mike Leach's second year, there's a chance the offense will begin to click and become dangerous for even some of the conference's best teams, like the Ducks.
But the Cougars don't have anybody on defense that can really scare you, aside from safety Deone Bucannon, and the offense has no rushing attack to speak of. Given that the secondary appears to be the strength of Oregon's defense heading into the season, it's difficult to envision the Cougars making a game out of this one.
The Virginia Cavaliers are an interesting team, because on paper, they shouldn't come within 30 points of Oregon this fall.
Yet looking at the way the 2012 season played out, you'll find a stunning 33-6 beatdown of North Carolina State as well as a victory over Miami. For a team supposed to be near the bottom of the conference, the Cavaliers sure seem to have the ability to jump up and bite teams that aren't expecting a real challenge.
Then there's the issue of traveling to the East Coast, which has plagued Pac-12 teams before.
But at the end of the day, this is another game that Oregon should win comfortably even with its "C" effort. It may be interesting for a little while, but it remains one of the easiest games on the schedule.
QB Travis Wilson
The Utah Utes find themselves in the middle of this list for a couple of reasons: They play with heart, and the defense, while ineffective at times, won't ever give you anything easy.
The coach of the Utes, Kyle Whittingham, symbolizes toughness every time he steps on the field, and his teams play with passion.
But you typically see words like "heart" and "passion" describing teams where other adjectives don't exist, such as "offensive-minded" and "dangerous."
That's because the Utes don't really have much going on offense unless Travis Wilson can make some major improvements to his game. And despite the toughness on defense, the talent just isn't there to stop a team like Oregon.
This could be a game that stays close longer than expected, but look for the backups to be in by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. Utah probably doesn't have it within itself to steal a game in Autzen.
Tennessee celebrates after a rare bright moment during the 2012 season.
Tennessee is a historic program playing in the SEC, which would normally signal a tough challenge for anybody.
But the current version of the Tennessee Volunteers is nothing like the squad from even five or six years ago, let alone the elite teams of the late 1990s.
After a poor season in 2012, the Volunteers lost quarterback Tyler Bray to the NFL, as well as standout receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Both lines will be big and mean like you'd expect, but I don't know that they have the talent to match the attitude.
For perspective, Tennessee might not be as good as it was three seasons ago, when the Ducks rolled into Neyland Stadium and won 48-14. If that's the case, there's little chance of the Volunteers putting up a fight in Autzen.
UT gets the respect of not being lower on this list because you know it still has big-time talent and NFL athletes, but the Volunteers aren't one of the tougher games on Oregon's schedule.
Brendan Bigelow could be on of the best running backs in the conference.
You might be surprised to find a three-win team listed as the sixth-toughest game on the Ducks' 2013 schedule, but that's partly because of what Sonny Dykes will bring to the Bears, at least on offense.
Cal has long had defenses laden with NFL talent and versatile athletes, but the offense failed to keep up, which ultimately resulted in the firing of head coach Jeff Tedford.
With Dykes in the picture, you can expect Cal football to be much more exciting than it has been. Whether that excitement translates into more wins remains to be seen, but I don't think the Ducks can get away with the same slow starts they've had against the Bears the past few seasons.
Cal won't necessarily be better than any of the previous teams to make this list, but it should be much tougher offensively than Ducks fans are accustomed to seeing. In Autzen, I can't see the Bears making a tight game out of it, but Oregon's first conference game should nevertheless be an interesting one.
Up until this point, every team on the list shouldn't really put a scare into Ducks fans. From here on out, we're looking at teams that have a realistic chance of beating the Ducks should they fail to bring a solid effort.
That starts with Arizona and, of course, with running back Ka'Deem Carey. Carey is the complete back and a guy who can shake a tackle before outrunning an entire defense. He's one of the best backs in the country and will be a thorn in everybody's side next season.
But he can't do it by himself, and the Wildcats must figure out a solution at quarterback before the season begins. The unfortunate part about this matchup for Oregon is that it occurs in late November, and there's a decent chance that whomever is lining up behind center will have found his groove.
But the Wildcats haven't been able to stop Oregon's offense, and although the game takes place down in the desert where Ducks fans have had a few too many nightmares over the past decade, this one shouldn't hand out any white knuckles late in the fourth quarter.
Will Sean Mannion be the guy at QB for the Beavers next season?
Those pesky Beavers aren't just an annoying fly anymore. Yes, the Ducks won 48-24 in Corvallis last season but recall that it was 20-17 in the third quarter before a circus grab by Josh Huff on third down led to a touchdown, and the game was never close again.
Oregon State has two solid options at quarterback, a proven playmaker at running back, an experienced offensive line and one of the best receivers in the conference in Brandin Cooks.
The defense is also coming off a solid season, and it's safe to say they've watched tape of the Ducks a few times.
The game will be played in Autzen Stadium where the Ducks have lost just one Civil War since 1993, but it's a rivalry game and the stakes will be high.
The Beavers will definitely provide one of the more challenging tests of 2013.
QB Keith Price needs a bounce-back season in 2013.
The Washington Huskies are a touchy subject for Duck fans. Not because they've done anything recently, but because anytime they've received offseason hype the past few seasons, they've failed to deliver. So it's natural for one to question why next season would be any different.
I'm not fully in that camp, and I think next season will be different.
Consider that before last season, the Huskies had no proven running backs, fledgling pass-catchers in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams and a defense coming off a terrible season. This time around they'll boast Bishop Sankey, who may be the second-best back in the conference behind Carey (not counting DAT, of course), and both ASJ and Williams are elite at their positions.
The defense, led by freshman standout Shaq Thompson, was way better statistically in 2012 than it's been in quite some time. And Washington will opening up a newly renovated Husky Stadium as well. It's a do-or-die kind of season up north.
Those points have been countered with the fact that Oregon still won in blowout fashion last season, and that's true. I'll also admit that for the Huskies to have any real chance of keeping up with the Ducks, Keith Price cannot look anything like the quarterback from this past season.
But there's plenty of reason to believe that the 2013 Huskies will have a lot more bite than usual. I still don't think it's enough to hang with the Ducks, but don't say I didn't warn you when this one ends up being a nail-biter.
Brett Hundley shows off his cannon arm.
Many are projecting a two-horse race in the South Division between UCLA and Arizona State (with USC potentially sneaking in as well), and personally, I'm inclined to believe the Sun Devils are the team to beat.
But the Bruins are on the rise, and there's no doubt about it. Discount their 2011 Pac-12 title game appearance for a moment and just look at last season when Brett Hundley emerged as a star and the defense actually began to make plays.
The Bruins have one of the most athletic front seven's in the nation and a fast-paced offense to match it.
The team is coming off a humiliating defeat to Baylor, but that should only fuel it more for the upcoming season.
This game makes the No. 2 spot despite the fact that it will be played in Autzen Stadium, where Hundley will get a taste of just how loud a college football crowd can get. But UCLA is one of the few teams that has the talent to hang around with the Ducks, and if Oregon isn't careful, it could mean a home loss for the third straight season.
LB Shayne Skov is a terror on defense.
The top spot on the list is occupied by the only team to beat the Ducks last season—the Stanford Cardinal.
The picture, fittingly, is of linebacker Shayne Skov, who was a major reason the Cardinal defense held the Ducks to just 14 points in Autzen Stadium.
I don't know that I'm sold yet on the Cardinal offense, because it lacks any proven firepower. The defense, on the other hand, will be as good as there is in the country, and it should keep Stanford in every game on the schedule.
The fact that it's a road game doesn't matter considering the loss last season took place at home, but what does matter is that Stanford's defense might be even better.
The Ducks are going to have to make some serious adjustments from the 2012 game if they hope to achieve victory against Stanford in what is clearly the toughest game on the schedule next season.