With the Pac-12 not kicking off until November 7th, Saturdays have been a bit of a struggle. The crisp fall air isn’t as refreshing when it’s not felt in the Autzen Stadium parking lot or in the stands with 54,000 of your best friends. We Pac-12 fans have been forced to trade in our stadium seats and tailgate parties for lonely seats on the couch scrolling for a game we can pretend to care about for the next few hours.
If there’s been a silver lining, perhaps it’s that we’ve gotten a closer look at games outside the Pac-12. One thing I’ve noticed is that games most gamblers would call “locks” have turned out to be everything but. With attendance at games ranging from 0% to about 40% of the stadium’s capacity, teams that have thrived off of their hostile environment have struggled in the early going. Advantage road team. For instance, in the second week of the season, Arkansas State traveled to Manhattan, Kansas and beat the Big 12’s Kansas State Wildcats. A few hours later in Lubbock, Texas, Texas Tech clawed out a two-point victory over Houston Baptist. Just two weeks later, Kansas State traveled to Oklahoma and upset the then third-ranked Sooners, while Texas Tech took the eight ranked Longhorns to three overtimes in Austin.
College Football has always had a flair for the dramatic. Upsets do happen and the little-known, nothing-to-lost college does show up from time to time to knock off a power five team. But not with the same regularity as this season. LSU’s Death Valley doesn’t seem quite so scary this year, with the defending national champions being upset at home in their first game of the season. After the Big Ten started this season and Rutgers started off with a win on the road at Michigan State and Indiana upset the almighty Penn State, I began to wonder if these kinds of results could happen in the Pac-12.
Other conferences are learning how difficult it is to have minimal home-field advantage and having to jump right into conference games. This is where issues will arise in the first few weeks of Pac-12 play. In terms of home-field advantage, the teams that are going to lose this advantage are Oregon and Washington. These are two of the loudest stadiums in the country that are now going silent. Oddly enough, the toughest place to play in the Pac-12 now becomes Boulder, Colorado simply because of location and altitude.
In addition to the elimination of home-field advantage, the Pac-12 has eliminated the on-ramp of non-conference games. No more games against San Jose State or Bowling Green to get up to speed. Especially in this shortened season, every game is a playoff game. When talking about conference games, it becomes any given Saturday. Oregon fans know this after disasters in the desert against the Arizona teams; the rankings were irrelevant. In previous years, there was a luxury in playing a few non-conference games and then jumping into conference play battle-tested. Without that on-ramp, the margin for error gets slimmer.
I am not saying Stanford is going to come into Eugene and stun the Ducks next weekend, as Oregon is surely the superior team. The point is, outside of the shortened schedule and Covid-19 precautions, if we are talking just football, this is going to be perhaps the most difficult season in Oregon football history. Repeating as Pac-12 champions will be more difficult for Oregon without the Autzen advantage or the benefit of warm-up games. Will Mario Cristobal rise to the task and make sure Oregon is the most prepared team in the country?
Given what we’ve seen around the country so far, the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain.
Top photo from Twitter
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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