For at least one Friday night in the fast-approaching 2019 season, the Ducks are going to steal the show from high school football when they host Colorado. Autzen Stadium hasn’t played host to a collegiate football game on a Friday night in quite some time. The Ducks are used to postponing their Black Friday shopping in order to play their annual Civil War matchup with in-state rival Oregon State. But outside of that particular tradition, Friday games are far and few between for Oregon.
So, why highlight this obscure weeknight meeting that appears to be a walk in the park for the Ducks? Because it hasn’t been receiving the attention I believe it deserves. This could be because it’s a Friday game, because of the Buffaloes’ mediocre 5-7 record last season, or even because Oregon hasn’t played Colorado since the Ducks looked like … actual Ducks.
Being in the heart of “watchlist season,” this game sparked my attention, as both sides have some notable players who are getting preseason recognition. Duck fans are familiar with the fact QB Justin Herbert leads the way in mentions on preseason watchlists, landing on the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien, Walter Camp Player of the Year and the illustrious Heisman Trophy watchlists. Of course the last Duck to win the Davey O’Brien award and Heisman Trophy was Marcus Mariota, so Herbert would be in good company if he does indeed prevail.
There is, however, another quarterback in the Pac-12 who was quietly added to the O’Brien and Maxwell watchlists: Colorado’s Steven Montez.
At a similar stature to Herbert (6’5, 235 lbs.), fifth-year senior Montez is preparing to start his fourth season for the Buffs. The El Paso native ended last season with 19 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and an overall passer rating of 135.8. Montez plays a gritty brand of football, has a big arm and isn’t afraid to run through tackles. Herbert has the edge in most of the statistical categories, but Montez does have something Herbert doesn’t. His favorite receiver is still on campus.
Early in the 2018 season, Montez established an evident and efficient connection with junior wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. In only nine games for the Buffaloes last season, Shenault was able to rack up 11 total touchdowns and 1,011 receiving yards. He was limited to only nine games because of a nagging toe injury and a torn labrum. The outlook is that Shenault is going to be a top prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft and will be one of the nation’s top receivers in the 2019 season, if not the top receiver. Of course two players don’t make up a full roster, but they are indeed two to watch.
Dating back to the 2017 season, the Buffs have been hot right out of the gate to begin their seasons, currently owning a seven-game winning streak in non-conference play, with their last loss coming in 2016 to Michigan. They have, however, struggled immensely against Pac-12 opponents. Last season, the Buffs cruised to a 5-0 record to start the season and began to make some noise before losing seven straight. That losing streak included a game in which Oregon State outscored them 24-3 in the fourth quarter in an eventual overtime loss.
Before facing the Ducks on October 11th, the Buffaloes have a relatively easy schedule, and if they remain healthy, they could come to Autzen with a good record. Their toughest early season test is against a Scott Frost-led Nebraska team that came on strong late last season. Their Pac-12 opponents before facing the Ducks consist of a couple Arizona teams who shouldn’t pose a threat to anyone this year.
And though we know which mascot head Lee Corso is going to throw on when predicting this matchup, the Ducks still can’t take the Buffs lightly. Last season, the Ducks struggled mightily against inferior Pac-12 teams, dropping two games to Arizona and Utah. Both games were on the road, but Oregon was the better team heading into both games. A late-night tilt against a seemingly inferior opponent screams “upset alert.” The game will also be the second within a three-week period that the Ducks will face an experienced Pac-12 quarterback.
All this to say, I do believe the experience the Ducks have on the defensive side will be enough to stifle the Buffs, and Coach Andy Avalos will find a way to take away Montez’s favorite target. But Colorado isn’t going to be as easy of an opponent as a quick glance at the schedule would have you believe.
It’s not as intriguing of a matchup as Oregon vs. Auburn, Stanford or Washington, but Oregon vs. Colorado should give us a good look as to where the Ducks are come mid-season. This should be an Oregon win, but if the Ducks aren’t careful, they could find themselves on the wrong end of another upset at the hands of a hungry South opponent.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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