Oregon Football 2011: Ducks' 5 Biggest Games of the Season

Bryan Kalbrosky@@BryanKalbroskyCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2011

Oregon Football 2011: Ducks' 5 Biggest Games of the Season

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    Which games will give the Oregon Ducks the hardest time on their path to the BCS National Championship in 2011?

    In a recent article on the University of Oregon football team, I made a bold prediction that the Ducks will beat LSU in their quest to contend for the National Championship.

    While this might be the hardest game on the University of Oregon schedule, as it is only the third time that two Top-Five teams faced each other in their opening game, the road to the BCS National Championship requires a victory in more than just the season opener.

    In fact, last season was their first appearance in the “Natty” because it was the first time that the team went undefeated. Perfection, or the closest thing to it, is important to the BCS and toward success in college football.

    As Nike’s advertisement proclaimed after the Ducks lost their first game of the season to Auburn in January, “Everyone loses games,” the advertisement reads. “Few change them.”

    In today’s column on Grantland.com, Michael Kruse examines how the University of Oregon is changing the game via style, innovation, creativity, capitalism, attention, Phil Knight and Nike.

    The Ducks may have created a “football brand from nothing” in the middle of nowhere Oregon, but the team needs to do more than just create flashy jerseys to assert their dominance as a legitimate football dynasty.

    Players like LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James might be enchanted by the bright colors and flashy jerseys when they’re 18 years old, but in order to snag the top 5-star recruits, the Ducks need to continue to win first.

    The 2010 season was a pretty confidently good example of how to do that, as they went on to win every conference and regular season game. It will of course be very hard to continue that same success for a second consecutive season.

    With a nucleus of LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, Kenjon Barner and Cliff Harris still in tact for another run at the title, which teams do Ducks fans have to worry about the most for the 2011 season?

    The slideshow is ordered in terms of when the game is played, as they need to “win the day” in each game if they want to make a run at the title. No game is more important than the other ones, because each win is a win.

5. LSU Tigers, Sept. 3rd, 5 p.m. Cowboys Stadium

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    You’ve all been so surrounded by stories about Oregon-LSU. That it’s beginning to feel like rain in Eugene.

    There’s a reason why this game is getting so much hype, though. The Ducks look to continue their winning ways from last season, and their marquee first match is against a defense eerily similar to the SEC team (Auburn) that beat them last year.

    It’s a titanic matchup between two great teams. The Ducks have an incredible offense that led the league in every major category last year, and the Tigers have a defense that is perennially strong enough to stop most any team in the NCAA.

    One of the most deflating experiences the Ducks could face would be a Week 1 loss in which their title hopes could wash away due to the fact that they had to play what already feels to be a Bowl Game before the season even really took off.

    The Ducks have gotten lucky, however. The Tigers offense is considerably depleted as they’ve lost their starting QB and WRs to suspensions, and it helps compensate for Cliff Harris’s absence due to his own suspension.

    The Ducks should come back flying, and under the leadership and guide of Chip Kelly, can run some pretty crazy plays—maybe even under the triple-option—that may take the Tigers by confusion.

    So long as LaMichael James is not entirely stopped by the strong defensive line of LSU, the Ducks presumably have enough weapons to be a serious force to be reckoned with the Tigers in this showdown on Saturday.

    The Ducks face the Tigers in front of 80,000-plus fans at a sold out crowd in “The House That Jerry Built” at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. The game will be broadcast on College GameDay, so you know it’s serious, and millions of families across the nation will be tuning in at home.

    Why It’s Important: Coming off a national title appearance last year, the Ducks look to open their season by beating an SEC team ranked in the Top Five.

    Where Will It Be Played: The game will be played in Dallas, TX and, while Louisiana may be closer to the stadium than the Pacific Northwest is, look for Ducks fans to travel very well to the game, including one of my closest friends. Hey Daniel, have I mentioned that I’m jealous?

    Why The Ducks Will Win: The Ducks will take advantage of the lack of offense on the LSU side of the ball by holding onto the ball as long as they can, winning the time of possession game and scoring while the Tigers are unable to capitalize.

    My Prediction: Oregon 24, LSU 20

4. Arizona State, Sept. 15th, Autzen Stadium

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    This is the most deceptively difficult game on the schedule for the Ducks, as the Sun Devils are a sneaky good team.

    What worries me about this one is that it’s a midseason conference game sandwiched in between a potentially easy home victory over Cal and the first time they’ll have to play Colorado now that they’re in the Pac-12.

    Arizona State finished just outside of the top 25 for the Associated Press Rankings, receiving 67 votes. If they beat Missouri on Sept. 9th or USC on Sept. 24th, the Sun Devils can potentially rise up as a relevant team in college football.

    Last year, Steven Threet and Cameron Marshall both had solid years that they look to improve on in 2011.

    Arizona State might feel that they have a decent chance at winning their conference this year, and they know that a victory over last year’s Pac-10 Champions would infinitely help that cause.

    In a game at Autzen Stadium, I’m still hard pressed to believe that Arizona State could go out there and outplay the Ducks.

    Why It’s Important: ASU is the highest ranked team in the Pac-12 on the USA Today poll outside of Stanford, and could be a sleeper pick to beat the Ducks in a surprise victory.

    Where Will It Be Played: The Sun Devils look to contend for their conference title, but will have to beat the Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR first. To beat the Ducks in the loudest stadium in the country could be a significantly more difficult task than this young team can handle.

    Why The Ducks Will Win: The Ducks have an offense that will absolutely take advantage of the Sun Devils, who have a relatively weak defense that gave up 25.0 PPG last year (55th overall) to play the Ducks, who scored 47.0 PPG last year (first overall).

    It’s an uneven match that Ducks should handle at home.

    My Prediction: Oregon 46, ASU 20

3. Stanford, Nov. 12th, Stanford Stadium

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    All right, I think every Ducks fan got terribly scared of Stanford after their tough first half against Oregon last season.

    Oregon was able to capitalize on an incredible second half in which the Ducks outlasted a tired Stanford team. While Andrew Luck gave the Ducks a true run for their money, many fans in Eugene were able to breathe a sigh of relief as they thought that it would be the last time they had to face the Heisman candidate.

    Or so they thought. While Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh elected to get a job in the NFL as a head coach for the 49ers, his star quarterback chose to decline first-overall-pick potential to complete his degree at Stanford.

    Stanford will look to avenge their crushing loss following a tough game last season, and have the fortune of playing the Ducks in their own stadium rather than having to challenge the Ducks in Eugene.

    Having their own fans there makes the game have a significant advantage to Stanford that wouldn’t have been there to otherwise.

    In the past, scrambling QBs like Andrew Luck have given the Ducks trouble as the teams past two losses have come to QBs Cam Newton and Terrell Pryor.

    Stanford is a legitimate threat to win the national title this season, as they’re currently ranked No. 7 on the AP College Football rankings.

    Why It’s Important: The Ducks have to play Stanford, the best team in the Pac-12 that isn’t Oregon, at Stanford. Last season, Stanford played Oregon very well for the first half of football and look to take the Ducks out of contention when they play in November.

    Where Will It Be Played: The game is at Stanford, which is my genuine biggest concern. Typically, I would write a game like this one off by saying that Eugene could give the Ducks an advantage, but this game won’t work that way. Hopefully it doesn’t hurt the Ducks considerably.

    Why The Ducks Will Win: University of Oregon is returning the core that played Stanford from last season, so the same top players that beat Andrew Luck will be in tact for the game.

    The same schemes that outlasted Stanford will be in play, as the blur offense will likely slow the team down once again. Lastly, coaching will be a huge advantage for Oregon as Chip Kelly should outsmart the replacement coach at Stanford.

    My Prediction: Oregon 35, Stanford 22

2. USC, Nov.19th, 5 p.m. Autzen Stadium

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    I can already tell that Oregon-USC is going to be one of my favorite games of the year.

    When the teams faced each other last season, I was in Los Angeles on my way to a screening of “The Room” (if you don’t know “The Room,” watch the trailer, it's the worst movie of all time) in Hollywood at the Laemmle Five. 

    Oregon had just beaten my least favorite team in college football, USC, and I was walking on air. At a red light on Pico Blvd., we were stopped next to a guy who looked strangely like an older version of me.

    He told me to go to the University of Oregon because I hadn’t decided yet. He told me he was majored in Anthropology. We bonded over our mutual hatred of USC.

    This story has become a bit of a legend among my friends, and if this year’s game is going to be anything like last year’s, it has a lot to live up to.

    That being said, I will actually be at the game this year in Eugene and plan on screaming my lungs out as I try to let every USC fan know how much I despise them on the merits of their character alone by going to USC.

    Here’s a school that has actually been caught cheating, rather than the speculative nature of what’s happening to the U of O right now. They’re essentially a team collapsing as there is a bit of a changing of the guard’s attitude while U of O looks to become the official dynasty of football in the Pac-12.

    One more victory over USC should just about secure that, and I can assure you that a certain De’Anthony Thomas will have a pretty big impact after he spurned USC to choose to go to school in Eugene.

    Expect a thriller, and expect a ton of happy Ducks fans.

    Why It Is Important: USC represents the former Pac-10 college football dynasty, and Oregon represents the new one. After De’Anthony Thomas chose the Ducks, there’s heated fuel to the rivalry. USC, while not bowl eligible, is currently ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll.

    Where It Will Be Played: Eugene, OR. I’d like to think that I’ve made it clear that Autzen Stadium is the loudest stadium in the country, and that I’ll be with 60,000 of my closest friends and like-minded classmates as we prove that we’re the dominant team.

    Why The Ducks Will Win: The Ducks have too much to lose if they fell to USC. They’re a better football team, and know what’s at stake if they’re able to secure a victory so late in the season. If they can play hard, they should be able to outlast the (Note: exaggeration) recruit-less Trojans team.

    My Prediction: Oregon 46, USC 21

1. Oregon State, Nov. 26th, Autzen Stadium

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    What else can be said about the Civil War that hasn’t already been said about the Civil War?

    There are no professional football teams in Oregon. There is no professional baseball team, no professional hockey team, and only one professional basketball team.

    Oregon-Oregon State is the biggest rivalry in the entire state. Every year, the population splits off and essentially chooses one side to back in this heated battle. The clash between these two schools is legendary in the state of Oregon, and every year, the two give each other a run for their money.

    Oregon State, whose offense is run by my local Santa Monica High School QB Ryan Katz, is a whopping underdog this year but should always be a feared opponent when they’re playing the U of O due to the history these two teams have.

    Why It Is Important: This is literally the Civil War, and fans take this game more seriously than any other game of the year.

    Where It Will Be Played: Count me in for the best weekend of the year in Eugene, OR as the Ducks will be hosting the Beavers at home.

    Why The Ducks Will Win: They’re simply a much better team, and playing at home, the team that played in the BCS National Championship last year will not be held accountable for a home loss to Oregon State.

    Simply not happening.