Oregon Football: An Early Look at the Ducks' 2014 Season
With the release of next season's Pac-12 schedule, it appears the Oregon Ducks have another manageable slate in 2014.
While Oregon will miss USC and Arizona State for a second consecutive season, the schedule won't be lacking marquee matchups.
The early season schedule is highlighted by what could be the nonconference game of the year, as Rose Bowl champion Michigan State will take its rugged defense to Autzen Stadium. The first matchup between the two programs since Nick Saban manned the sideline for the Spartans should feature a pair of Top Five teams.
In conference play, the Ducks get to host a pair of revenge games, with Stanford and Arizona both traveling to Eugene. The Ducks will also host the rival Washington Huskies as they look to extend their streak to 11 straight wins against their rivals to the north.
The road schedule is manageable, but the early October matchup with UCLA at the Rose Bowl will likely have Pac-12 and national championship implications. It could also have a major impact on the Heisman Trophy race, as quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley both returned to school despite high marks from NFL scouts.
It won't be easy, but the Ducks will need to overcome their recent November woes. Four of Oregon's six losses since the beginning of the 2010 season have come in that month.
The Ducks will start the season's final month by facing the Cardinal, who have won consecutive games against the Ducks. After Stanford, Oregon has tough road trips to Utah and Oregon State.
With the Spartans, Cardinal and Bruins all being national title contenders, the Ducks will have their work cut out for them in 2014. If they are able to win those marquee matchups and make it through the season at 12-0 or 11-1, a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff is likely headed their way.
Aug. 30 (Sat)—South Dakota
A year after going 1-10, South Dakota improved to 3-8 in 2013. While they showed improvement, opening the 2014 campaign in Eugene is going to be a tough place for the FCS Coyotes to continue to build their confidence.
What they will earn is the large paycheck that will come with what is most likely going to be a beat down. It will also provide a great experience for the players and help prepare them for the FCS season.
For the Ducks, the game will be a great way to get everyone on the field as they try and sort out the depth chart early in the season. Oregon's roster is loaded with young talent and depth chart battles will likely be ongoing throughout the non-conference schedule.
Sept. 6 (Sat)—Michigan State
The first game of a home-and-home series between the Ducks and Spartans will take place in Eugene in week two of the season.
The Spartans are coming off their first Rose Bowl win since 1988 and will likely start the season in the top 10 of the polls. The Spartans had the nation's top defense in 2013 and used it to shut down Pac 12 champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State loses three offensive line starters and six starters from the nation's best defense, including team leaders and future NFL players in linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen. Jim Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard is gone from the secondary, but not all is lost in East Lansing.
As long as head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi are leading the way, the Spartans will be competitive. Quarterback Connor Cook also returns and will guide the offense as it tries to take some pressure off the defense.
The two programs haven't met since the 1998 and 1999 seasons, when Nick Saban was roaming the sidelines. In 1998 quarterback Akili Smith and running back Reuben Droughns led the Ducks to a dominant 48-14 win over the No. 23 Spartans.
The Spartans returned the favor in East Lansing the following season, defeating the Ducks 27-20.
Sept. 13 (Sat)—Wyoming
After what is sure to be a physical game with the Spartans, the Ducks will get a little break before Pac 12 play begins. The Cowboys have been competitive in recent years, but will be without star quarterback and Salem (Ore.) native Brett Smith, who left early for the NFL.
New head coach Craig Bohl will need to replace Smith, who threw for 3,375 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 573 yards and four scores in 2013. Despite his standout season, the Cowboys struggled down the stretch in 2013 and lost five of their last six games.
The trip to Eugene will be a good experience for the team, but they likely won't present much of a challenge for the Ducks in the final tune-up before conference play begins.
Sept. 20 (Sat)—Washington State
Things are looking up on the Palouse, with the Cougars coming off their first bowl appearance in a decade. Mike Leach has things headed in the right direction in Pullman and an upset win over the Ducks would be a great way to start conference play.
Leach frustrated former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti by continuing to throw the ball late in the game with his starters still in the game, despite being down by five touchdowns.
Aliotti is gone, but even if he wasn't, Leach would do the same thing again. The Cougars lose star safety Deone Bucannon, but quarterback Connor Halliday and wide receiver Gabe Marks will lead a potent offense in Pullman.
In 2013, the Cougars upset USC on the road and lost by just a touchdown at Auburn, so they are more than capable of pulling off an upset. Pullman is one of those tricky places to play, so the Ducks will need to be sharp for their first road game of the season.
Oct. 2 (Thur)—Arizona
When the Wildcats traveled to Autzen Stadium in 2012, they were ranked No. 22 and were hoping to upset the No. 3 Ducks. It was just 13-0 at the half, but then the Ducks turned it on and pitched their first shutout since the 2003 season, 49-0.
But you're only as good as your last game, right?
After what happened in 2013, it will be the Ducks who will be looking for revenge when the Wildcats come to town.
Stanford put a stop to all of Oregon's momentum in 2013, but it was Arizona who completely derailed the Oregon season. The Wildcats dominated the Ducks in Tucson, ending the Ducks' BCS dreams and Pac 12 title hopes with a 42-16 win.
It was the first "bad" loss the Ducks had suffered in years and called into question the team's coaching and leadership. The Ducks will want to change that perception by making people forget what happened in Tucson.
Oct. 11 (Sat) @ UCLA
The Ducks will travel to take on the Bruins at the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009 in what could be the Pac 12's game of the year.
The return of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley came as a surprise to many and will be a common narrative in the offseason. Both teams should start the season in the top 10 and could both be higher than that by the time they meet.
The Bruins will play Arizona State in conference before the Ducks, but will get the nation's attention if they are able to beat Texas at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
There is a lot of talent returning on both sides of the ball for each team and if things break the right way, both teams could find themselves in college football's first playoff.
Oct. 18 (Sat)—Washington
After turning around the proud Washington program from an 0-12 season in 2008, to a 9-4 campaign in 2013, Steve Sarkisian left to take over at USC.
Despite losing four games, the Huskies were much improved in 2013 and finished at No. 25 in the final AP Poll. The only losses they suffered came at the hands of teams which finished the year ranked.
The Huskies must replace a trio of offensive stars as quarterback Keith Price is graduating, while RB Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins both left school early for the NFL draft.
There is still some talent on the roster, including good, young quarterbacks. New head coach Chris Peterson will be faced with trying to seamlessly take over the program while implementing his own system, recruiting his own players and keeping the Huskies headed in the right direction.
The Huskies could take a step back in 2014 or Peterson could work his magic and they could become the surprise team in the league. Regardless of which direction the season is headed and the fact that they must travel to Eugene, means the Huskies' decade-long losing streak to the Ducks will likely move to 11 games in 2014.
Oct. 24 (Fri) @ Cal (To be played at Levi's Stadium. Santa Clara [Calif.] )
Everyone involved with Cal football, from the coaches to the fans, is hoping 2013 was just a perfect storm of misery. Sonny Dykes' first season in Berkeley was a disaster as the Golden Bears went 1-11, with their line win coming by a touchdown over FCS Portland State.
As a freshman, quarterback Jared Goff was outstanding on that stat sheet, but will need to improve his decision making in order to limit turnovers. He has a talented group of young receivers to work with and the offense should be able to keep the Bears in many games.
One game they likely won't be able to compete in is when Oregon comes to town. Well, sort of. The Bears and TE Ducks will meet at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. Not only is the game on a neutral field, but it will take place on a Friday night.
It will be at a new venue on a new night, but the result should be the same, with the Ducks rolling to another win over the Golden Bears.
Nov. 1 (Sat)—Stanford
After beating Andrew Luck two years in a row, the Ducks have lost consecutive games to Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal. They'll get another shot against their nemesis on the first day in November.
Stanford loses a number of key pieces from a team that made its fourth straight BCS bowl in 2013. RB Tyler Gaffney is gone and so are a couple of offensive linemen, but the powerful Stanford rushing attack isn't going anywhere.
The defense loses stars like LB Shayne Skov, LB Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds, but has players ready to step up and help keep Stanford on the path they have been on.
Stanford, the two-time defending Pac 12 champion, has been able to impose its will on Oregon in the last two meetings. Mark Helfrich will need to find a way to take advantage of Oregon's speed if he wants to change his team's fortunes in 2014.
The two teams have split the past four Pac 12 championships and this matchup will likely determine who represents the north in the league championship game in 2014.
Nov. 8 (Sat) @ Utah
The Utes struggled down the stretch in 2013, but will provide the Ducks their biggest trap game of the season in 2014.
The Utes lost star quarterback Travis Wilson for the season after a post-concussion CT scan showed previous damage to an intracranial artery. His future is up in the air, but even with him, the Ducks are clearly a cut above the Utes.
Then again, so was Stanford in 2013 and the Cardinal suffered their first loss of the season in Salt Lake City. Speaking of Stanford, the Ducks will have to travel to Utah the week after facing Stanford, making them primed for a letdown.
The timing of the game and the Utes' knack for pulling off upsets at home makes this a game to circle on the schedule.
Nov. 22 (Sat)—Colorado
After facing Stanford and traveling to face Utah, Oregon will catch a break with a bye week, followed by a home game with Colorado.
Colorado was much improved in 2013, but still struggled to a 4-8 record. A year after losing 70-14 to the Ducks, the Buffaloes surrendered 57 in another blowout loss to the Ducks.
Leading receiver Paul Richardson is off to the NFL, but quarterback Sefo Liufau returns after a strong freshman campaign. No matter who the Buffs return or who emerges in 2014, it won't be enough to take down the Ducks.
Nov. 29 (Sat) @ Oregon State
After nearly pulling off a shocker in the 2013 Civil War, the Beavers will be even more ready to end their six game losing streak against the Ducks.
Brandin Cooks, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's best wide receiver, is gone. So is the Beavers' star defensive lineman, Scott Crichton. The good news is that quarterback Sean Mannion is set to return and hopes to build off a record-setting 2013.
In-state rivalries always provide uncertainty regardless of what the records are. After being knocked out of the Rose Bowl with Civil War losses in 2008 and 2009, the Beavers also lost the next four to the Ducks.
With the Ducks looking like a national title contender in 2014, the Beavers would love nothing more than to end the streak and also keep the Ducks out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.