With the Pac-12 schedule released last week, analysts everywhere have broken down, in detail, how the schedule will impact the 12 teams in the future. While analysts break down how the schedule impacts each team on the field, I was curious about how the schedule shakes out for the Oregon fans. (If you haven’t seen it yet, go here.)
Let’s take a look:
It’s the Best Home Schedule in a While
Let’s start with the non-conference schedule: While South Dakota and Wyoming won’t register on the Richter Scale, the marquee match-up with Michigan State on September 6th, makes the non-conference schedule a winner.
The Spartans should begin 2014 ranked in the top ten and, barring a monumental upset to Jacksonville State the week before, should come to Autzen Stadium as the highest-ranked non-conference opponent since Oregon’s last opponent from the state of Michigan came to town. That’s when the Ducks played the third-ranked Wolverines in 2003.
Oregon has played only three ranked non-conference opponents at Autzen Stadium since that 2003 game — No. 23 Fresno State in 2005, No. 11 Oklahoma in 2006 and No. 18 Utah in 2009 — so getting a big-time opponent in the defending Rose Bowl champions adds an air of excitement to September. Interestingly enough, the Spartans are the first winners of the previous year’s Rose Bowl to visit Autzen Stadium since USC in 2009, which makes it quite the game for Duck fans of all ages. Besides – these guys beat Stanford.
The Pac-12 slate may have only four home games, but other than the Civil War, the three games Oregon fans would want most on the home schedule are, in fact, at Autzen Stadium: the revenge games against Stanford and Arizona, along with the always-desirable Washington game. While no one is doing cartwheels over having Colorado at home, the Ducks played Cal and Utah at home last season.
Those three – Colorado, Cal, and Utah — were the only Pac-12 teams to miss a bowl game last season, meaning Oregon plays the same number of games against Pac-12 bowl teams (three) in 2014 as it did in 2013; albeit with a much better schedule in Washington-Stanford-Arizona instead of UCLA-Washington State-Oregon State.
Games That Belong on Saturdays Will Be Played on Saturdays (Almost)
There are certain games that are great to play on weeknights, and those are games that have the potential for an upset from a frisky underdog, but not one as marquee that it could be played on a Saturday night. Arizona-Oregon? Fine. Cal-Oregon? No harm in jazzing up what could be the most-lopsided 2014 match-up in the Pac-12, by putting it in prime-time and moving it to a pro stadium. That’s what the Pac-12 got right with Oregon’s 2014 schedule that it got very wrong in 2013; playing the right kind of games on weeknights.
I still wonder what the motivation was for the 2013 Oregon-Stanford contest – given that it was already the conference’s most high-profile game — to be played on a Thursday night. Or at least a good reason other than ESPN dumping a truckload of money at Larry Scott’s front door. The sports giant used the pitch of “visibility” for that Thursday night game, but Thursday night is for games that might not normally draw a national audience, not the already most anticipated conference game of the year.
The Oregon-Stanford game will attract a national audience regardless when it’s played – and when you schedule it on a weekday, the possibility of additional visibility from a College GameDay visit is taken off the board. In fact, that “visibility” pitch backfired when the 2013 game between Oregon and Stanford drew nearly three million fewer viewers than the 2012 game, despite a better combined ranking of the two teams in this season’s match-up.
Stanford wasn’t Oregon’s only 2013 weekday game, with the Civil War being played at that time for the third time in eight seasons. Rivalry games don’t need to be played before the weekend, period. Thankfully, both of those games will be played on Saturdays this season, much to the delight of its fans.
Unfortunately, not all of Oregon’s potential games avoided weekday scheduling. This is likely due to the ratings disaster of last year’s Pac-12 Championship (by comparison, the Mountain West Championship had more viewers), the conference decided to move the championship game back to Friday night this coming season. Guess we can’t win them all.
Possible Bonus Opponent in the Pac-12 Championship
Should Oregon be able to, A) advance to Pac-12 Championship, and B), be able to host the game, its opponent will likely be a team Oregon hadn’t played at Autzen Stadium in 2014. Oregon plays Pac-12 South opponents UCLA and Utah on the road, and misses USC and Arizona State on the schedule, meaning that Arizona or Colorado would have to win the South Division for the Ducks to host a repeat affair in the championship game. That’s an exciting possible addition to an already strong home schedule.
Lots of 2010 Omens in the Schedule
Sure, Oregon gets its even-year schedule opponents in Stanford, Washington, and Arizona at home, but those aren’t the only similarities in 2010. For the first time since then, the Ducks won’t play consecutive road games at any point during the 2014 season. Most importantly, Oregon has no game scheduled for the third week of November, a historically difficult weekend for the Ducks. The Ducks have left that weekend open only twice this century: in 2001 and 2010, the two most successful seasons in team history.
Hopefully, the success of those seasons can carry into what should be a very entertaining 2014 schedule. Of the six Pac-12 teams who finished 2013 ranked in the Top 25, Oregon plays only one (UCLA) away from Autzen Stadium. With Washington State and Oregon State on the road, they have nine games within a reasonable driving distance of Eugene (ten if you consider Santa Clara, CA, as “reasonable driving distance”), meaning there will be many chances for Duck fans to see their team live and in person. While the outcome of the season itself is yet to be determined, there is no denying the potential excitement of a very interesting schedule next season.
Top photo courtesy of Craig Strobeck.