Are Oregon Ducks' Non-Conference Opponents Cupcakes Or Tres Leches?
Earlier this evening, College Football laid in wait, hiding behind a bush lining the paved walkway leading to my front door.
It jumped out from behind the bush and startled the ba-jesus out of me. Then it hit me. We are only two months away from the start of the 2009-10 College Football Season.
I tell ya, it is very hard to believe how fast the time goes.
With the season quickly approaching, it comes time to analyze each team's current roster, coaching staff, and schedule (conference and non-conference) in order to predict how each squad could fare this upcoming season.
The Oregon Ducks have had a reputation for playing a mediocre non-conference schedule. There have been seasons when the Ducks have played host to below-average teams such as the Fresno State Bulldogs, Nevada Wolfpack, and the Utah State Aggies of the Western Athletic Conference.
On other occasions, the Ducks have either hosted or been hosted by some very presitgious programs. The Ducks have faced the Michigan Wolverines, Purdue Boilermakers, and the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten Conference, as well as teams such as the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big Twelve Conference.
This season, the Oregon Ducks non-conference schedule seems to be a relatively solid one. The Ducks will travel to Boise this September to face off against the Boise State Broncos in their first game of the college football season.
The Ducks will also play host to the Utah Utes and the Purdue Boilermakers.
Let's look at each matchup, dissecting it down to the bone in order to glean a good sense of what might happen.
The Ducks and Broncos faced each other last season at Autzen Stadium. In a game where starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was forced to leave the game after taking a blatantly late hit from a Boise State defender, Oregon fell behind quickly and all seemed lost.
Then, then head coach Mike Bellotti decided to take out Chris Harper, a scrambling quarterback, and sub-in Darron Thomas, a dual-threat quarterback.
In a performance that went down as one of the greatest in Oregon Ducks Football history, Darron Thomas threw for 210 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in a single quarter.
Thomas' amazing performance would prove to not be enough, as the Ducks were ousted by the Broncos 37-32.
What will it take for the Ducks to pull out a victory on the smurf-turf?
First off, the Broncos will be treated to a much improved Oregon Ducks football team from the last time the two teams met.
When the Broncos strolled into Autzen Stadium last season, they met an Oregon Ducks team with an unproven starting quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli.
Also, the cheap hit that took Masoli out of the game, and replaced him with Chris Harper, bought the Broncos just enough time to squeak past the Ducks before Mike Bellotti woke up, smelled the coffee, and put Thomas in the game.
If the Broncos do not know what Masoli is capable of, have them ask Mike Riley or Mike Gundy and they will find their answer.
It is clear that Oregon is favored in this game.
The Ducks have a proven, dangerous dual-threat quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli.
The Ducks have a beastly, 1000 yard running back in LeGarrette Blount.
The Ducks have an offensive line that is one of the deepest in the country. When one player leaves, another is right there to plug the hole.
The Ducks have a deep receiving corps made up of the speedy Jamere Holland, the reliable Jeff Mahel, the highly-touted Lavasier Tuinei, and the bruising tight-end duo of Ed Dickson and Malachi Lewis.
The Ducks have a monster defensive end Will Tukuafu who should be a lock in the All Pac-10 first team.
As always, the Ducks will have a deep secondary, anchored by senior cornerback Walter Thurmond III, Junior cornerback Talmadge Jackson III, and senior safeties T.J. Ward and Titus Jackson.
The Ducks will also have a deep linebacking corps, led by juniors Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews, and sophomores Eddie Pleasant and Terrence Pritchett.
The one thing that has rarely been a problem in the '00s for the Oregon Ducks has been depth.
Like many previous years, I do not expect the Ducks to have problems with the depth of their team.
The Broncos are definitely not as loaded as the Ducks. The Broncos do have a good starting quarterback in Kellen Moore, but the Broncos have lost arguably their most valuable offensive weapon in running back Ian Johnson.
The Broncos claim to never get any respect in the preseason rankings. My argument to their so-called plight is that the Broncos schedule at most one decent non-conference opponent per year. They torch up the WAC and then ask why they aren't included in BCS talks.
Two word answer: The WAC.
With a loaded defensive line and linebacking corps that will take much pressure off a secondary that has had to replace their two best players, the Oregon defense will be able to pressure the Boise State offense into making bad decisions.
Will the game be a blow out? Who knows? But, more likely than not, the Ducks will leave the smurf turf victorious, but vomiting from the hideous turf.
The Purdue Boilermakers should be an easy victory for the Ducks. The game will be at Autzen, which significantly reduces the possibility for the same nearly hurricane-force winds that messed with the Ducks all-game long last season.
Simply put, the Ducks offense will be way too potent to be stopped this season, and the defensive line and linebacking corps will always be a thorn in the sides of opposing offenses.
Now to move onto the real challenge for the Ducks. The Utah Utes.
The Utes biggest threat will be their defense, specifically their run defense. The Utes allowed only 99 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry last season.
The Ducks averaged 280 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry, basically doubling the stats that Utah allowed.
The Utes have not seen a running attack as fierce as Oregon's. They will have to find a way to tackle LeGarrette Blount, who consistently can carry three or four guys on his back for an extra ten yards, and shifty redshirt freshman LaMichael James, who was rated so much higher on recruiting draft boards than Oregon State's freshman phenom, Jaquizz Rodgers.
The Utes face finding solutions for a ton of holes on the offensive side of the ball. The deciding factors in this game will be whether or not the Utes can take the heat from the Auzten crowd, and whether or not their defense can live up to their statistics from the previous year.
My guess is no to each of those questions. The best rushing offense that Utah faced last season was Texas Christian's. The Utes let the Horned Frog's feature back, Aaron Brown, run for 106 yards.
Sorry Ute fans. Brown is nowhere close to LeGarrette Blount.
After analyzing the Ducks' non-conference schedule, I would expect the Ducks to start their conference schedule with a 3-0 record. However, if the Ducks were to hiccup, I believe it would be against the Broncos in Boise.
This will be Chip Kelly's first season as the head coach of the Ducks. A perfect season is too much to ask for right now.
However, Kelly is not brand-new with the players. The offense will still run like a well-oiled machine. The Ducks' defense line, who has been coached by Jerry Azzinaro for the whole summer, a coach who has bred the likes of Dwight Freeney, will be a force to be reckoned with.
I do not care if I am called a homer for my projections. What I see is an Oregon Ducks team waiting for the kill. They're hungry for a big helping of revenge against the upstart Boise State Broncos in Week 1.
All doubters can say whatever they wish to me. I will let the Oregon Ducks' offense and much improved defense do the talking.
It's going to be a great college football season.
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