The tendency in these types of posts is to rank the “Top 5” games in a team’s season. However, for so many reasons, this year calls for even more speculation and dialogue. With fourteen starters returning from an 11-win team, the Ducks will hope to finally capture a national title in the first season of the College Football Playoffs. Adding to the intrigue, the 2014 schedule includes several contests that will make Duck fans flock to Autzen or their television screens. Here are the top six games on Oregon’s schedule this season:
6. at Oregon State (Sat, Nov. 29)
This is the main reason that this list totals six. In a schedule littered with gripping battles, five actually stand above the legendary Civil War game. However, it simply wouldn’t be right to leave the Civil War out of the collection of Oregon’s most intriguing games. Like most years between the two rivals, it will take place the last week of the season. As a result, it could very well be the final hurdle before the Pac-12 Championship Game. Oregon has captured six consecutive Civil War games. However, last season’s 36-35 victory may have been the been the most thrilling installment in the history of the rivalry. Oregon needs to make it seven straight if it hopes to capture the elusive National Championship.
5. vs Arizona (Thu, Oct. 02)
This one is all about revenge. Despite a loss to Stanford two weeks prior, Oregon was still in the running for another Rose Bowl appearance last season. However, a shocking 42-16 loss to the Wildcats crushed any hopes of returning to the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
This season, however, the Ducks host Arizona after a bye week. Oregon will look to decisively conquer Arizona (and them some) in a game that it hopes will dispel some demons from last season.
4. vs Washington (Sat, Oct. 18)
One of the nastiest, yet underrated, rivalries in college football is the Border War. After “Winning the Decade” with its tenth consecutive victory over its northern rivals last season, Oregon hopes to begin another decade of dominance as Washington enters into the Chris Peterson Era. Furthermore, the Huskies took the final spot in the first Coaches Poll of the season. Any time these two teams meet and are ranked, it is an event worth circling on the calendar.
3. vs Michigan State (Sat, Sept. 06)
Ranking this game this low is extremely difficult. In just the second week, Oregon hosts the defending Rose Bowl champions in what could set the tone for the remainder of the season. Ranked eighth in the season’s first Coaches Poll, the Spartans will have a legitimate chance to contend for a spot in the playoffs. Furthermore, despite the decline of the Big 10 in recent years, a win against one of the top teams in a power conference always adds a little sparkle to a team’s resume.
2. at UCLA (Sat, Oct. 11)
When the Ducks storm Los Angeles in October, there will be no shortage of story lines in the week leading up to the clash. UCLA, ranked just ahead of Michigan State in the polls, has become a national contender under the leadership of Jim Mora. The game comes at the halfway point of the season, sandwiched between Arizona and Washington in the schedule.
It will also mark the point in the season when pundits and fans alike talk endlessly about Heisman candidates. The matchup of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley will provide plenty of fodder for these debates. As if that weren’t enough, this could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
1. vs Stanford (Sat, Nov. 01)
The Cardinal sits behind both UCLA and Michigan State in the Coaches Poll. With the loss of numerous key contributors from the past few seasons, Stanford may find that this season will not be as fruitful as the past two. This game, however, means so much more to the Ducks than its implication in the standings. Minus the bizarre blowout loss at Arizona last season, Stanford has been the only team to completely figure out the Ducks.
In contrast to Oregon’s speedy, quick-paced offense, Stanford employs a methodical, power-running offense. In the last two seasons, the latter has prevailed. Last season, Stanford would continuously line up in formations that would obviously indicate runs up the middle, but Oregon simply could not contain it.
Oregon needs this game to both overcome the mental dominance that Stanford has created over Oregon in the last two years, as well as to prove that Oregon’s overall philosophy doesn’t contain holes that are too large to win a national title. The turning point of the season, and possibly the program, will take place in Autzen Stadium at the beginning of the season’s final month.
Top Photo: Craig Strobeck