Oregon Swaps Ohio State for Utah: A Blessing in Disguise?

Garrett Sharp-Craig Editorials 21 Comments

By now most have heard the sad tidings of the Pac-12 and Big-10 Conferences’ cancellation of all out-of-conference football games for the 2020 season. So much for the opener against pop-Cinderella North Dakota State University. Not to mention the week two clash of titans between the Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes, a game that likely would have played host to ESPN’s College Gameday.

In years past, the cancellation of non-conference games would not have greatly impacted the Ducks as they have routinely played cupcake FCS schools to begin the season (last season vs. Auburn being the exception). But this year many predicted that if the Ducks could start 2-0, the table would be set for an undefeated season and a berth in the College Football Playoffs. With the Bison and Buckeyes no longer on the table, that setting is now incomplete.

But let’s not burst our playoff bubbles quite yet. The Ducks have will now be swapping their September 12th game against Ohio State for a tilt against the Utah Utes. While not in the Buckeyes’ class, at least this year, the Utes are always a tough out. And instead of hosting the Buckeyes at Autzen, the Ducks will have to travel and play Utah in the not-so-friendly confines of of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Despite the loss of a top-5 non-conference opponent, Oregon’s dream of an undefeated season and a college playoff berth is alive and well.

QB1 Catches a Break

The Ducks still have an intense quarterback competition taking place, with red-shirt sophomore Tyler Shough and graduate transfer Anthony Brown as the front-runners. And with the lack of the usual spring and summer practice schedules, that key competition remains unsettled. But with the cancellation of the North Dakota State opener, whoever wins the job will have an extra week to prepare for an opponent in Utah that is far less dangerous than Ohio State.

With the swapping out of the Buckeyes for the Utes, the Ducks offense will no longer face the tall task of trying to outscore Ohio State’s dynamic signal-caller Justin Fields, who is likely a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. The Ducks’ QB1 also won’t have to face one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, who would likely have blanketed Johnny Johnson III all night.

Tom Corno

Will Johnson be able to replicate his 2019 breakout campaign?

Instead, the Ducks will face a Utes secondary that lost their two best players in Julian Blackmon and Jaylon Johnson to the 2020 NFL Draft. Utah will be forced to rely on inexperienced guys like Tareke Lewis and other incoming freshmen. Whether it be Shough or Brown, the Ducks’ QB1 should be ready and able to exploit Utah’s secondary.

Utah’s Offensive Dropoff

In addition to the attrition in their secondary, the Utes lost huge pieces of their offense this past year. Last year’s All Pac-12 Conference First Team members Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss both graduated, leaving huge holes at both quarterback and running back.

Huntley threw for over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for another five scores. Huntley was a staple in the Utes offense for three seasons and was vital in Utah’s Pac-12 Conference Championship run last year. South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley will have a challenge building the locker room trust that Huntley took three years to create.

The other member of the tandem that made Utah so lethal in 2019 was all-world running back Zach Moss. Moss, who won Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year in 2019, ran for over 1400 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season. His phenomenal senior season was good enough for the Buffalo Bills to select him in the third round of the NFL Draft.

From Twitter

Moss had a terrific 2019, but who will replace him in the Utah offense?

Unfortunately for the Utes, the man pegged to replace Moss, Devin Brumfield, has minimal experience as a lead back. The junior played sparingly his freshman season and only managed to rush for 260 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.

The amount of talent that left Utah’s roster in 2020 is eye-popping, as Coach Kyle Whittingham is being tasked with replacing all-conference players with inexperienced veterans and three-star recruits. While Whittingham always seem to find diamonds in the rough, those diamonds take time to polish, and it’s unlikely they shine brightly in the season opener. In any event, the 2020 version of Utah is just not the same team Oregon faced in the 2019 Pac-12 Conference Championship. With Utah’s attrition and lack of incoming experience, the outcome this year should be even more lopsided than last year’s 37-15 Ducks’ win.

Even though playing in Salt Lake City in September sounds intimidating, it’s not as intimidating as having to play Fields and the rest of Ohio State’s star-studded roster. Although a 2015 National Championship rematch against the real “OSU” at Autzen in September would be sweet, playing a rebuilding Utah team gives the Ducks a better opportunity for an undefeated season and a New Year’s Six Bowl, or perhaps a College Playoff Berth.

And who says we can’t see Ohio State in January?

Garrett Sharp-Craig
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo byTom Corno

Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.


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Great news scoop Garrett and FishDuck! I checked the Pac12, GoDucks, OregonLive, and Eugene Register Guard websites for confirmation of this after reading it here this morning. Crickets until later today!

Jon Sousa

I think the Utah game is a great choice to start out the year because of the championship rematch factor will make this a watched game nationally. Unfortunately, Utah’s stumble in their bowl game removes a lot of that luster.

Nevertheless, in lead up to that first game, the talking heads will be mentioning all the losses on Utah’s side, but also the losses on Oregon’s side. NFL QB, almost the whole O-line, Dye… etc. Those losses notwithstanding, Oregon will be favored heavily in this game, and, unless they show some weakness, or someone else shows some unexpected strengths, the Ducks should be favored to win every game.

Play an undefeated 10 game conference schedule, win the championship game…. you know the Ducks are in the playoffs.

The only caveat to all that is California and Arizona. Are they going to be able to play?

Darren Perkins

Thanks Garrett, good stuff.

But, I do have to take exception with saying that the Ducks schedule soft out of conference. The formula is always to schedule at one legit Power-5 program, Group of 5, and lower division cream puff. Which is a stronger formula than many Power-5 programs, some of whom rarely schedule a tough Power-5 out of conference game.

Ironically, Utah is one of these programs. Soft scheduling is part of the reason the Utes were completely overrated at the end of last season.

In 2018, the Ducks did have a cream-puff non-conference schedule, but to no fault of their own. Texas AM pulled out last minute and left the Ducks scrambling.

But other than that, as one glances over past schedules, you’ve got the likes LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska, Tennessee, etc. every year.


I feel like i am pretty able to talk about Utah. the loss of huntley hurts Utah but I don’t think it is as bad as the loss of moss(On offense). Utah has been known for their running game for sometime and while they don’t put together bad offensive lines ever their offensive line wasn’t as great as people exclaimed. I remember all before the CCG national pundits kept saying that it was going to be good v good. oregon’s Offensive and Defensive lines vs Utah’s. Yet oregon absolutely “shocked” everyone with their domination on both fronts.

Here is why, Utah’s line was consistently beat by other teams, BYU was able to get off blocks and get to Moss consistently last year, same with USC and Oregon. The thing is Moss is one of the best running backs period in getting yards after contact. PFF noted that he lead in yards after contact since they had been tracking CFB(Early 2010’s). He made Utah look a lot better than they were. This isn’t a skill set that can be taught.

Obviously Utah takes a dip at Defense(Although I don’t think Whittingham will ever field a bad defense) Utah isn’t and has never recruited the depth they need to improve their play and so they will be relying on a lot of underclassmen with little experience.


I just hope Cristobal and Co. aren’t as cocky going into this game against the Utes as we are as fans. If there’s anything I’ve learned as an Oregon fan, it’s that those humbling defeats come right when we feel like we’re on top of the world.

I will admit, though, it’s nice to hear about how much talent Utah has lost since last season.

Lou Farnsworth

Haha! Great read to pair with my morning coffee Garrett! Your update on this years vintage of the Utes gives reassurance indeed. And from a literary perspective, I couldn’t help but admire this little gem of a metaphor that spun things out twice more, to good effect. Nice job!

While Whittingham always seem to find diamonds in the rough, those diamonds take time to polish, and it’s unlikely they shine brightly in the season opener.”


Agree great line, I would add many of those diamonds are merely at the carbon stage. It takes an immense amount of pressure to make them into diamonds. Hopefully Oregon will begin the pressure process Whittingham needs to create those diamonds in the rough.

Also Oregon has many diamonds that haven’t seen the daylight to know how brilliant they are. It will be nice to see what clarity Flowe and Sewell bring to the linebacker group. We know a few of the new recruits have the carat weight we have longed for, but we don’t know how they were cut. Sorry for all the plays on the diamond take, couldn’t help myself.

Lou Farnsworth

My my Hayward! Well played sir: Three out of the four “C”s!!

Might we also add that our Precious DuckStones have the right Colors? Green and Yellow?

Jon Joseph

Thanks Garrett.

Based on your article I assume all Pac-12 schools are now scheduled to play 10 conference games, correct? And that all schools will have five home and five away games?

I very much doubt we will see any football played, at least out west, in September.

Will the conference allow the Ducks to play at Utah if games cannot be played in Arizona and California?

When is the first practice scheduled? I note that Oregon unlike ,most of its Pac-12 peers, has not released information regarding the number of student-athletes on campus who have tested positive for COVID.

When is the general student body supposed to be on campus for classes? Are live classes still planned; or, will school be in, but off-site?

Unfortunately it does not appear that we will have a COVID vaccine before 2021. I get the financial implications of not playing a 2020 CFB season.

If students are not allowed on campus, I do not believe that the presidents of the Pac-12 schools are going to allow football players on campus, and allow the student-athletes to play ball? Maybe in the ACC, B12 and SEC, but not the Pac-12.

I also think this pandemic evidences how much CFB needs a leader. The NCAA has been out-to-lunch regarding schools being allowed to practice and play; no surprise there. So, once again we see the ‘every-man-for-himself’ nature of CFB. The B1G and Pac-12 won’t play OOC games. The ACC, B12 and SEC are discussing playing the conference schedule plus 1.

Frankly, it might be the more prudent course at this time for the 2020 CFB season to be cancelled across the board and for the NCAA if it will lead and the conferences collectively if it will not, to go to Congress for ‘too big to fail’ relief. Write off the season as many states have done with their respective high school programs. Maybe, play the 2020 season in 2021?

All of this conjecture brings to my mind the statement at the top of one of Edwin Landseer’s paintings, completed in 1864: ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes.’ Modified today to read: ‘Larry Proposes: COVID 19 Disposes.’

Thanks for the great take and I sure hope we see the Ducks in SLC come September.

Jon Joseph

Thank you.


Not the first two games we had hoped for but I’m ready to slap those utes around again. Do you think their bruises have even settled down yet? It still has to sting a little. It will be fun to send an early reminder in preparation for a CFP showdown against tOSU (hopefully)
Go Ducks


Great job, Garrett, I’ve never seen, “the glass half full” sentiment expressed better! Obviously it would have been great to have started the season with the Bison & the Buckeyes. But let’s get those Utes, and I loved your last sentence!