Mark Helfrich has a manageable schedule in year one
Now that we've had a chance to watch the Oregon Ducks in spring practice, a spring game, summer workouts and two and a half weeks of fall camp, it's time to take a look once more at how the 2013 schedule could play out.
Okay, so maybe we didn't get to actually see all of this, but through various beat writers and player profiles, fans should have a pretty good idea of what the current team is all about.
And with just a week and a half to go until game day, most of the playbook should be set. Coaches probably have a pretty good idea of what the depth chart will look like, and preparations for Nicholls State will begin in just a few short days.
The team will be focused solely on the August 31st date with the Colonels, but winning the day in my world means taking a look at every game and predicting what will happen. It's only August, and how certain matchups look today could be very different from how they look on the day they're played.
Nevertheless, the crystal ball is out and the tea leaves are begging to be read. Here are your game-by-game predictions for the Ducks 2013 season.
The Colonels were last seen getting crushed by the Beavers, 77-3
I'll make this short and sweet: This one will be well in hand by halftime. It could possibly be over by the end of the first quarter.
If Oregon can hang a 50 spot midway through the second quarter on a bowl-bound team (as they did to Arkansas State in last year's season opener), imagine what it will do against a 1-win squad from the Football Championship Subdivision. Ouch.
After the Ducks build up a big lead, you'll see plenty of Thomas Tyner (depending on his health, of course) and some of the other heralded freshman who won't be redshirting. Then you'll see the entire depth chart getting playing time. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost may even head out to run some routes (kidding).
After some thrilling first-quarter highlights, the Ducks cruise to an easy win.
Nicholls State: 6
Can Virginia keep up with the Ducks?
On paper, this game appears to be another easy victory for the Oregon Ducks. In real life, it probably will be.
But the challenge of this one involves traveling 3,000 miles across the country to play football in an unfamiliar environment.
However, the Ducks have plenty of leaders on both sides of the ball and haven't lost a true road game since 2009. After cruising in the previous week, I think this game could start out a little sloppy for both teams. But after some opening jitters, the Ducks will build a nice lead by halftime. After Marcus Mariota leads his team on a touchdown drive to open the second half, the game will be all but over.
I've heard a lot of speculation that this game could be close in the second half, and that the big guys up front on Tennessee will give the Ducks all they can handle, at least for two or three quarters.
I'm thinking the exact opposite. Three years ago, the Ducks traveled to Neyland Stadium to square off against the Volunteers. While the game was tied at halftime, it was over soon after.
The 2013 Ducks should be better than the 2010 team that went undefeated, and I'm not quite sure what to make of Tennessee. The excitement seems to be back with new head coach Butch Jones, and the recruiting trail is hot. But I don't see this year's group being anywhere near ready to hang with a polished operation like the Ducks.
This will be Marcus Mariota's first signature game, as he'll throw for 300 yards, toss 3 touchdowns and run for a fourth. I think the defensive line will show off its might and the visiting Vols fans will have to settle for simply enjoying the atmosphere in the second half.
The exciting Brendan Bigelow is going to have his fair share of highlights this season
Cal will travel to Autzen stadium in late September and will be led by new head coach Sonny Dykes, an offensive guru many Bears fans are hoping will revive a team struggling to score.
The Bears defense has always had the talent, but it has underperformed in recent years, something no doubt aided by the offense failing to score. In short, there have been bad vibes on both sides of the ball, which culminated in a 3-win season last year.
But with Dykes at the helm, we can expect immediate improvement. It won't be enough to clip the Ducks' wings in Autzen, but this will be the first way-closer-than-you-expect game for Oregon. A close game isn't always a bad thing, especially when it can serve as a reminder that anybody in the Pac-12 can jump up and catch you if you aren't ready.
WR Paul Richardson (left) is a major weapon for Colorado
The measuring stick for Colorado football will probably come in the second year of Mike MacIntyre's system when a few of his recruits begin to make a name for themselves.
Right now, the Buffaloes just don't have nearly enough speed to keep up with the Ducks, something we've seen each of the past two seasons. Last year, the score was 56-0. At halftime.
I can't say that things will get out of hand that quickly, but it's hard to see the defense improving enough to even slow down the Ducks.
On a side note, watch out for wide receiver Paul Richardson. After being sidelined in 2012, the stud athlete is going to return as one of the best playmakers in the conference. Even against the Ducks, he's going to have his moments.
Will QB Keith Price return to 2011 form?
I can't begin to count how many conversations I've had with Duck fans about how the game against Washington is going to play out.
A typical opinion: Have you seen the last nine seasons? Did you even watch last season? Easy victory.
My response: The game could very well be another blowout. But I'm not buying it. The team shouldn't either. The Huskies' season depends largely on whether Keith Price can get his confidence back. If so, the Huskies are armed and dangerous.
You know about tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. Running back Bishop Sankey burst onto the scene as one of the league's best backs in 2012. Even the defense, aided by youngster Shaq Thompson, showed marked improvement (no, not against the Ducks however).
All of that doesn't mean the Huskies are going to win, but this game isn't a walk in the park by any stretch. It may be the toughest true road environment the Ducks have played in recently (especially if Washington beats Boise State and/or Stanford in the first part of its schedule).
Ultimately, the Ducks offense is going to be too much for the Huskies, but the hostile environment will play a factor and the game won't be over by halftime. Duck fans, blowouts over rivals are fun, but a win is a win. And trust me, you'll take this one any way you can get it.
Washington State QB Connor Halliday
When you think of Washington State football, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Hapless? Pathetic in recent years?
For Duck fans, the word is probably similar to pesky. As in, the pesky team that always seems to play the Ducks tighter than many are expecting. Just last year, the game was 23-19 heading into halftime, which was surprising given the large leads Oregon had built up in other contests.
Will the same be true again in 2013? I don't know, but we can certainly make some educated guesses. The Cougars have an experienced signal-caller in Connor Halliday, who may see major improvement in year two under coach Mike Leach. They are deep at wide receiver, but they have virtually no running game.
The defense, as usual, has some athletes but it probably doesn't have enough to stop good offenses like the one Oregon figures to boast this season.
After a tight contest at Washington, this one should be a breeze. Look for the Ducks to jump out of the gate and then ease up while the score becomes closer than fans would like. Not close enough to scare anyone, but close enough that detractors of the defense can point to the game after the season and say "yeah, but you allowed X amount of points to wazzu!" Oh well.
Washington State: 27
Brett Hundley's passes are usually prettier than this one
October 26th brings us a battle of heavyweights featuring your Oregon Ducks and the reigning Pac-12 South Division champion UCLA Bruins.
Despite the Ducks' impeccable road record in recent years, this is a game fans are glad to see go down at Autzen, because Brett Hundley hasn't heard anything like it. However, the sensational sophomore is still going to put more than a few scares into the hometown faithful.
The real question for UCLA is do they have multiple playmakers capable of stepping up? No clear running back has emerged as a guy who can dutifully fulfill the shoes vacated by Jonathan Franklin, and the receiver spot is lacking in star talent. The defense, led by Anthony Barr, has some insane athletes. But can it keep up with the Ducks for an entire game like Stanford did? Odds are probably not, but you never know.
This will be the game where Brett Hundley learns some important lessons, most notably ones about blocking out the noise and ball security. His two picks will be the biggest difference in the game, and the Duck offense will make enough plays against a youthful secondary to put this one out of reach by the fourth quarter.
Good job in 2012, Kevin Hogan. Now, the pressure is on.
This Thursday night showdown appears to be the game of the year in the Pac-12 and one that will have national implications as well.
Last season, the Cardinal defense held the Ducks to just 14 points, 21 fewer than its next smallest total of 35 against Kansas State. It was the defensive performance of the year in college football.
The question is, can Stanford do it again? If you look at the games in 2010 and 2011, where Oregon scored 52 and 53 points respectively, it would indicate that the 2012 game was a fluke.
But Stanford's defense is better than ever before. So while it's safe to assume the Ducks will have learned a thing or two and will put up more than two scores, counting on 40 points, or even 30 points, is risky.
The other major question is what will Stanford's offense look like? It boasts a great offensive line and a rising quarterback, but there aren't any proven running backs or receiving targets at the moment. Obviously some are bound to emerge, but can they be as dangerous as Zach Ertz was last season?
Right now, the Ducks are a more complete team. You can point to last year's game all you want, but this is a brand new season with another set of variables to consider. The road environment should have little bearing on the outcome. It will be a close one, but from where we sit today, Oregon has the better product.
Can Travis Wilson and the Utes make some noise this season?
To answer the question I posed in the caption of the picture, no, I don't think they can.
The Utes are a team lacking in a bunch of areas. Quarterback Travis Wilson hasn't shown anything to lead us to believe he'll be able to put this team on his back to the tune of more than four wins.
Oregon hasn't faced Utah since it became a member of the Pac-12, so there's also the issue of facing the Ducks' fast-paced offense on the road.
The Utes just don't have enough talent or depth on defense to slow Oregon down, and therefore this one isn't going to be close.
Will B.J. Denker be the man tasked with leading Arizona this season?
This November contest brings us another team featured in the tougher-than-you-expect category.
Any time your squad is facing a team with an explosive offense, there's reason for concern. That concern is amplified when the game is on the road in an environment that has proven to cause issues in the past.
But it's uncertain whether star wideout Austin Hill will be back in time for this one, which would be a major blow to an offense in search of additional playmakers.
Well, at least those at the receiver position, because as we all know, All-American Ka'Deem Carey has things locked up at the running back position.
I sound like a broken record, but once again the question will be how much has Arizona's defense improved, and will it be enough to give its offense a chance to stay in the game? I'm just not seeing it right now, even in year two for Rich Rodriguez.
RB Storm Woods
The main storyline for the Oregon State Beavers this offseason has been the ongoing quarterback battle between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion.
But lost in the QB buzz is the fact that the Beavers have a pretty solid group of receivers, including the spectacular Brandin Cooks, an experienced offensive line and an above-average running back. The weak point on defense will be the line, but the linebacker group is one of four or five best units in the conference.
All of that should amount to a pretty good season for the Beavs. But traveling to Autzen won't be fun, because they've yet to show any signs of slowing down the Ducks' offense, particularly with Marcus Mariota in charge.
I think the rivalry factor will keep this game intense into the third quarter, much like last season, but the Ducks are better on both sides of the ball and should pull away at some point.
Oregon State: 23
To recap, I have the Ducks going 12-0 in the regular season, with many of the games having wide margins of victory.
Am I nuts?
Consider once again that Oregon beat every opponent on its schedule last season by double-digits, aside from the Stanford Cardinal. That included a 49-point shellacking of a ranked Arizona squad and an 18-point beatdown of Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Piling up points will not be difficult in this offense.
Can the Ducks maintain focus throughout the season? Can they dethrone the Cardinal?
Oregon will be favored in every game this season except for the road game at Stanford. But will the team accomplish its lofty goals? The journey begins in just over a week.