It has finally happened.
After all of these long months, after all of the suspensions, dismissals, bad press and controversies, after all of the new conference chairpersons and wheeling and dealing and realignments, the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is now officially college football season.
I have nothing to say about all the off-season “distractions,” the quarterback competition (it is over, let’s move on) or even the coming Pac-12, though I may write a whole article about the conference realignment one of these days if I find the energy.
But I have plenty to say about Ducks football, and will be presenting my take on each week’s games this season as I have for the past three.
(Quiet murmurs of approval)
However, with a busy schedule of classes, teaching, upcoming comprehensive exams, a regular Dungeons and Dragons group, and the release of Starcraft II…
… I will be keeping my articles shorter for the foreseeable future. I was going to give my two cents about each week’s match-up, but since I’m such a generous guy I’ve decided to give you double the value!
When the Ducks scheduled New Mexico they probably thought they would be getting a program that had become a regular bowl participant and was starting to creep into the category of the Mountain West’s elite programs like Utah, BYU, and TCU.
No offense to the good people of New Mexico’s football team or their fans but that is not what they are getting. The Lobo’s are coming off a dead last finish in the MWC which marked the nadir of a precipitous downturn after their successes earlier this decade.
Based on talent and experience there is no reason this should be anything but a warm up game for the Pac-10 favorite Ducks. Oregon has no excuse to lose, though having followed the Ducks since the mid-90s I do not preclude the possibility of the team coming with one I haven’t thought of (I still wake up in cold sweats having flashbacks to the ‘04 opener against Indiana).
Oregon faces three major obstacles to taking care of business. First of all, they are breaking in a new quarterback and that is never easy.
This is also the first game of the season and first game jitters can wreak havoc with any team.
Case study: the 07 Michigan Wolverines who beat the 9 win Florida Gators during Tim Tebow’s Heisman season were the same ones who lost to Appalachian State in their first game of the year.
Lastly, Oregon will be short handed with running back LaMichael James and kicker Rob Beard both serving suspensions for ungentlemanly extra-curricular activities during the off season.
Kenjon Barner can be as explosive as James, but with Remene Alston Jr. hurt it would be a shame to have to burn a red shirt off of several highly touted recruits just to have a fresh set of legs in play. There is also debate about having to burn the red shirt off of Alejandro Maldonado the back-up kicker so the Ducks may look to a walk on to fill in on Saturday.
Mistakes on special teams are often a key ingredient to favored home teams stumbling, so hope the Ducks can put enough distance between themselves and New Mexico that field position and field goals don’t become the difference.
Oregon’s defense would seem to be relatively unaltered from last season. One can hope for an improvement in the secondary now that three of the four starters have more experience. Still I see no reason their profile of using their overall team speed and creative blitz packages to make up for an undersized front seven will change.
With a new face behind center the offense could show more variation from last year. Thomas is certainly mobile, but lacks the physicality and cutting ability that allowed Masoli to be essentially another running back. Though his mechanics were not terribly polished Masoli also had the arm strength to get the ball down field while scrambling to avoid pressure, something Thomas may not be as adept at.
So the Ducks offense might not have as many “wow” plays as they did last season. Does this mean this year’s offense is destined to take a step back?
Not necessarily. The ’09 offense was also inconsistent, having a poor to middling third down conversion percentage and giving up more than its share of turnovers. If they can improve in both categories this season, the Ducks offense has the potential to put up just as many points as they did a year ago.
Many will call this too conservative an estimate, but I’ve been burned by predicting the spread too high before and with a new quarterback making his first career start I’m going to play it safer than Vegas:
MY PREDICTION: Oregon Ducks 30, New Mexico Lobos 17
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