Those of you who frequent this site are well-versed in the happenings of the Ducks’ offseason, from Justin Herbert staying, to Jim Leavitt leaving, to Kayvon Thibodeaux and Andy Avalos arriving.
It’s clear Oregon has improved this offseason. But the Ducks aren’t the only ones who’ve had a successful spring and summer. Here’s what our fellow Pac-12 North members have been up to and what it means for Oregon.
Odds to win the conference: +1000
Plays Oregon: Week 9, Autzen Stadium
Overview: Gardner “The Stache” Minshew is out, and Anthony Gordon is in. Losing a quarterback can be devastating to a team, especially when that quarterback is the reigning conference player of the year. Last October, Minshew torched the Ducks, throwing for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns. Oregon did manage to intercept him twice, which was impressive considering he only threw nine picks all season.
Gordon is no Minshew, but it’d be wise not to underestimate him. He’s a JUCO transfer and sat behind Minshew last season, so he knows the ropes. Remember, Minshew wasn’t a household name when he took over the job, either. Gordon, a 6’3”, pro-style quarterback, should fit like a glove in Mike Leach‘s offense. Expect him to throw the ball 50-60 times.
Prediction: Oregon has lost four in a row to the Cougs. This year the Ducks get a bye week before Washington State, hopefully helping them avoid a sluggish start that was a problem in last year’s matchup. Leach’s Air Raid is always a problem for the Ducks, and if Gordon is even 70% of what Minshew was, Oregon will have issues. The Ducks defense will have to win this game.
I predict the Ducks D does just that, and Oregon wins 38-28.
Odds to win the conference: +21000
Plays Oregon: Week 13, Autzen Stadium
Overview: The Beavers are in what feels like year five of a rebuild, and they’re coming off of one of the oddest coaching departures of the decade. Gary Anderson‘s departure just solidified what we already knew: not even $12 million is enough to live in Corvallis.
Oregon State hasn’t named a starter at quarterback, but all signs point to Jake Luton retaining the job. Transfer Tristan Gebbia is competing, though, and I don’t think anyone would argue that some new faces are needed at just about every position.
Jonathan Smith seems like a competent head coach, and he might provide the stability this team needs. Being the worst team in the conference is hard, but being in the Pac-12 North, where all the good teams are, is even harder. While Oregon State is years away from being competitive, Smith has the benefit of being a beloved alumnus in America’s most patient college town.
Prediction: OSU won two games last season: Colorado and Southern Utah. I see them winning just one in 2019, that being an an out of conference game against Cal Poly. I expect Herbert to go out with a bang in his final Civil War and final home game. Oregon wins big 62-7.
Odds to win conference: +3000
Plays Oregon: Week 6, Autzen Stadium
Overview: Remember when Jon Gruden promised the Raiders would play like it was 1999? Cal Head Coach Justin Wilcox has adopted the same mantra, building his team with defense as the priority. He has done a good job of it, too. The Golden Bears defense is a nightmare to face.
Last season, Oregon put up 42 on the Bears and were the only team to score 40 on them. Herbert played a nearly flawless game that night, something he will have to do again this season.
While Cal’s defense is one of the best in the conference, its offense is one of the worst. Chase Garber is going to start at quarterback, at least to begin the season, but don’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin play UCLA transfer Devon Modster at some point. Garber is a master of the dink-and-dunk, all the rage in 1999. Twenty years later, not so much.
Last season Garber threw 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt. If Cal wants to win more games in 2019, Garber is going to have to step up. If he produces more, his defense should be able to hold off the opposition.
Prediction: I see this being a close game. It will probably be the best game Oregon plays in front of the home crowd. Oregon is more than capable of making big plays, even against this defense. The home crowd makes it nearly impossible for Garber and gives Oregon the three points it needs. Oregon wins 24-21.
Odds to win conference: +3000
Plays Oregon: Week 4, Stanford Stadium
Overview: Stanford has taken a step back in recent years, and this season should be no exception. With Bryce Love graduating, Stanford will need to get creative on offense to match Love’s production. Look for the Cardinal to lean on Connor Wedington, a 6’0”, 198-pound sophomore wide receiver. Wedington suffered a knee injury last season that limited his time on the field. Coach David Shaw has been very conservative in practice, limiting Wedington and others to preserve their health.
For all the talent Wedington provides, the challenge will be getting him the ball in space. Returning starter KJ Costello is the man answering that call. The junior quarterback improved significantly his sophomore year, elevating his average yards per attempt from 7.9 to 8.8. A similar jump in 2019 will make Stanford a legitimate contender.
The defense, as usual, is going to be stingy. Paulson Adebo might be the best cover corner in the conference, with the potential to play his way into the third or fourth round of next year’s NFL draft.
Prediction: This North matchup might be the hardest to predict. Stanford’s season comes down to, “If this guy can figure it out …” and, “If we stay healthy …” This uncertainty makes playing Stanford so early in the season both an advantage and a disadvantage, as the Cardinal will have less experience early on but will be relatively healthy.
Like the Ducks, Stanford starts the season at full tilt, opening against Northwestern at home, then hitting the road to face USC and UCF. No “tune ups” for the Cardinal.
In contrast to last year, Oregon gets caught early, and the Cardinal get the better of the Ducks in the first half. But Oregon comes alive in the second half and survives for the revenge win. Oregon wins 21-17.
Team up North
Odds to win Conference: +260
Plays Oregon: Week 8, Husky Stadium
Overview: Washington is another team in the division with a transfer quarterback taking over the reins. For the Huskies, unlike the Cougs, it’s a likely improvement. Jacob Eason seemed like he was well on track to become the guy at Georgia before suffering a knee injury. Freshman Jake Fromm took over and the Bulldogs never looked back.
Eason (6’6”, 227 pounds) grew up 45 minutes from the University of Washington, and now he’s ready to show the country what he’s capable of. With Jake Browning, the Huskies had the 89th-ranked offense last season. With Eason, look for them to improve to the 50’s. Browning was a good college quarterback but exhibited dubious decision-making. Eason, a former Gatorade National Player of the Year, will be more accurate, make quicker decisions and limit turnovers.
The Husky offense will be improved, and the defense should be as good, if not better, than last season. After finishing with a top-five defense in 2018, it won’t be surprising if the Huskies rank near the top again in 2019.
Preview: This will be another close game for the Ducks. Herbert has beaten the Ducks’ bitter rivals once but never in Seattle. In his final season, the homegrown wunderkind has his work cut out for him and will need to play a close-to-perfect game. Oregon’s defense needs to help him out and keep the score low. This game comes right in the middle of the season, and both teams will be hyped for it.
In this battle of homegrowns, Eason and Herbert will feel the intensity of the rivalry. Herbert’s experience will offset Eason’s home field advantage. With the offenses neutralizing each other, Oregon’s defense and special teams step up, and the Ducks come together for a complete “team win.” Oregon wins 27-23.
Can Oregon Go Undefeated?
In short, no. Yes, I have Oregon beating every team in the North, but the road games against Stanford and Washington won’t be easy. Losing one, or even both, is a real possibility. There’s also the opener against Auburn and a smattering of pesky Pac-12 South teams. The Ducks are going to be a very good team, but they’re probably going to lose a couple.
This doesn’t mean the Ducks can’t win the conference, or even make the playoff. If things go their way and they hit the ground running by beating Auburn, the Ducks could drop a game and still make the CFP. But let’s not expect an undefeated season.
Even without an undefeated season or playoff birth, a sweep of the North would be pretty special.
Wilsonville, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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