Ducks fans have every reason to be excited about the 2019 season. From a stellar recruiting class to an elite quarterback and a great group of veteran players, Oregon football seemingly has it all. Remember this, though: If 2019 is going to be a breakout year, it will not be an easy task. Every college football game is a must-win, but there are three matchups that stand out above the rest for the Ducks this upcoming season.
1. Oregon vs. Auburn, August 31, AT&T Stadium
This Week One matchup has been circled on every Ducks fan’s calendar since its creation. A highly promising Ducks squad will line up against the gritty, well-established Tigers of the SEC. Auburn and Oregon had similar 2018 seasons, the Tigers finishing 8-5 and the Ducks 9-4. It’s pretty difficult to compare the teams by their respective records because of the strength-of-schedule factor, but let’s dig into this coming season’s rankings.
An ESPN post-spring power ranking has the Ducks 10th in the nation. The Ducks “without a doubt” are favored to win the Pac-12, and might be the conference’s “only hope” to gain a playoff berth, ESPN panelist Edward Aschoff explained. With the return of potential first overall draft pick Justin Herbert at quarterback and 16 other starting players, and a star-studded freshman group led by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks have a great opportunity to prove themselves in Week One.
The Tigers also made the post-spring power ranking with a healthy grade of No. 18. “The talent is there,” ESPN analyst Alex Scarborough wrote. The Tigers’ defense has loads of skill. With the return of projected first-round pick and pass-rushing machine Derrick Brown, as well as Marlon Davidson, the Auburn defensive line is a force that demands respect. The Tigers’ offense, on the other hand, is a big question mark. Competition at quarterback, according to Coach Gus Malzahn, is a two-man race between redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix.
Could Thibodeaux and the Ducks’ defense key on the Tigers’ quarterback confusion come late August? And will Herbert be able to command the Oregon offense against a talented Tigers’ defensive line?
2. Oregon vs. Washington, October 19, Husky Stadium
This is an absolute no-brainer. The Ducks will take on their Pac-12 North rival on the road this time, and the stakes have rarely been higher. The reigning Pac-12 champion Huskies (remember, the Ducks won this rivalry last season) will be looking to relive their winning ways while Oregon will be looking to continue what they hope is a historically successful season.
With the Washington defense in rebuild mode and former quarterback Jake Browning in the NFL, is the door wide open for the Ducks? According to the previously mentioned ESPN post-spring ranking, it’s not. The Huskies are at No. 15, mostly due to the transfer of former top quarterback recruit Jacob Eason from Georgia. He’s an incredibly skilled player, more so than Browning, and could run the offense efficiently from the get-go. But there’s one catch. The new Huskies QB could be rusty because he hasn’t played a snap since 2017, when he sustained a knee injury.
Will the Ducks be able to stand tall and steal one from the Huskies on the road?
3. Oregon vs. Stanford, September 21, Stanford Stadium
Yet another massive in-conference rivalry game on the road. Oregon fans have a bad taste in their mouths from last year’s home meeting with the Cardinal, and I’m sure Coach Mario Cristobal and the boys would like nothing more than to get a huge win on this visit. Again, it won’t come easy.
Oregon may have the edge, but with an ultra-skilled quarterback in K.J. Costello and plenty of talent to go around, Stanford won’t go down without a fight. Costello placed 16th nationally last season in passing yards, tallying 3,540 yards, 272.3 yards per game and 29 touchdowns. Stanford, much like the Ducks, had a somewhat underwhelming 2018 season, finishing 9-4 and placing third in the Pac-12 North.
With former Stanford running back Bryce Love and receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside moving on to the NFL, how will Stanford react to a skilled Ducks defense? Will the Ducks be able to keep Costello and the Cardinal at bay?
Every key game has big questions surrounding it, and how the Ducks answer those determines their role as contenders or pretenders. Get high grades against an SEC power and two conference toughies and the Ducks are flying high, maybe high enough to reach the College Football Playoff. Isn’t that a fine finish to a dream season?
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Chris Metteer, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is a retired sports journalist for The Denver Post, Eugene Register-Guard and other top media outlets in the West.
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