I’ve never been to Utah, and Lord willing, I will not have to travel there to start the 2020 college football season. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place. But I’m not talking about bird watching or pleasure hikes. I’m talking about football.
According to multiple media sources, the Oregon Ducks football team will learn this week if it opens the season on the road against reigning Pac-12 South champions — Utah Utes.
The possible Pac-12 crossover match-up tentatively slated for September 12 in Salt Lake City smells like a trap game to me. How could this possibly happen? And why would the Ducks jeopardize their season with a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 Championship game to kick-off an abbreviated season?
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: There is no rivalry between Utah and Oregon. Utah fans undoubtedly despise the Ducks, and with good reason. Oregon has spoiled Utah’s hopes on the national stage on several occasions over the past several years in both men’s basketball and football.
So what? Join the club. Everybody cries for the head of the king but Utah’s fanboy obsession with taking down Mighty Oregon is awkward and weird — like taking your sister to prom.
According to GoDucks.com, Oregon leads the all-time series 23-10 against Utah (Oregon, 23 wins, Utah, 10 wins). In the last 10 match-ups, Oregon leads the series over Utah, 7-3. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy — nothing to worry about, right? Well, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Utes are back-to-back Pac-12 South Division champs (2018, 2019) and clearly the team to beat south of the California-Oregon border. A shaky start to the season could be curtains for the Ducks. So, let’s look at why playing Utah to open the season is a bad idea for Oregon.
Firstly, the state of Utah is grappling with a resurgent coronavirus, reporting 37,973 cases of COVID-19 and 274 deaths as of July 26, according to KSL.com. And as much as we all want to watch football, the safety of student-athletes is paramount. Is traveling to the state of Utah a good idea? (Especially when we had three foes coming to Autzen?)
Secondly, Oregon should break the seal on the upcoming season against a less dangerous opponent. What about North Dakota State? Portland State? San Diego State? Sure, a rematch of last year’s conference championship game will likely attract more viewers, but at what cost for the Ducks? If the Ducks aren’t sure-footed in their game plan, it could mean the difference between a run for a national title and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
Finally, Utah will be out for revenge. Last year, the Utes were knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff but were denied when Oregon buried the Utes 37-15 in one of its finest defensive performances to date under head coach Mario Cristobal. The Utes were manhandled on national television by a hungrier, more physical Oregon team.
And instead of vaulting the program into a new tier of college football hierarchy, the Utah football program vanished from the national conversation like a fart in the wind. All joking aside, I’m sure there is a voodoo doll stashed in the darkest corner of the Utah locker room, crafted in effigy of Puddles and filled with carpenter nails and bad omens.
If the Pac-12 announces this week that Oregon will kick off the season against the Utes — on the road — I think we can safely say the conference has it out for the Ducks. Is that how you treat the current flagship program of the conference?
San Diego, California
Top photo credit: Eugene Johnson
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