Dan Lanning’s debut season as a head coach was a huge success.
Yes, Oregon did get walloped by Georgia in Week 1, but the Bulldogs steamrolled just about everyone in 2022. Outside of that opening-week stinker, the Ducks were among the best teams in the country last season. They were in the thick of the playoff hunt for much of the year, and although they stumbled a bit to end the season, they finished with one of the best offenses in all of college football and double-digit wins.
So, what does Lanning have in store for an encore?
One of the consequences of success is heightened expectations. But is it realistic to expect a substantial leap from Lanning’s Ducks in a year where the Pac-12 is as deep as it has ever been? Let’s take a look at Oregon’s schedule and determine what reasonable expectations fans should have for the team in 2023.
The Must-Win Games
There are eight teams on Oregon’s schedule that the Ducks should beat in convincing fashion. (Spoiler alert: One of the teams in this list might surprise you.)
It would be a disappointment if the Ducks lose to any of the following teams: Portland State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Colorado, Stanford, Washington State, Cal and Arizona State. For those of you who are shocked to see Texas Tech listed as a team Oregon should comfortably beat, consider me unamused with the offseason Texas Tech hype.
The Red Raiders are a good team, but they’re far from a great team. It will be an uphill battle for Texas Tech to be able to hang with Oregon for four quarters. The two teams are in different leagues as far as talent is concerned. While the Ducks don’t quite have the volume of blue-chip recruits on their roster of traditional blue-bloods such as Alabama and Georgia, they have a far more talented roster than the Red Raiders — a team that hasn’t even consistently recruited among the best teams in a talent-deprived Big 12.
While that recruiting disparity didn’t stop Texas Tech from upsetting Texas or Oklahoma last season, it doesn’t mean the team was consistently dominant. The Red Raiders had some really head-scratching performances last season, including losing to Baylor by nearly 30 points, and although they finished the season strong once Tyler Shough took over at quarterback, their body of work overall was lackluster. Texas Tech finished outside of the top 30 in Football Outsiders F+ Ratings, fielding a good-not-great offense and a middle of the pack defense.
Oregon (which finished 13th in those same F+ Ratings) should have an elite offense once again, and at the very least, an improved defense. It’s certainly possible that Texas Tech is able to spring the upset, but on paper, the Ducks should be favored by multiple scores.
The other four teams on Oregon’s schedule (Oregon State, Washington, USC and Utah) are all certainly capable of beating the Ducks. There’s a good chance Oregon will actually be an underdog in some of these matchups.
These four games will determine whether or not Lanning’s second season is a success. It’s not entirely fair to expect him to win each of these games, thus going undefeated in just his second season with the program. But last year, Oregon went just 1-3 when facing teams that ranked inside the top 25 of Football Outsiders F+ ratings. The Ducks handled their business when playing the weaker teams on their schedule, but they struggled to deliver against the best of the best.
For improvement sake, anything less than splitting these four games and going 2-2 would be a pretty disheartening second season for Lanning. It’s a tall ask to win each of these games, as Washington and USC are legit playoff contenders, with top-five offenses and future NFL quarterbacks on their rosters. Utah has perhaps the best coach in the Pac-12 and one of the best quarterbacks in program history returning. And Oregon State has one of the nation’s best-kept secrets at defensive coordinator — Trent Bray — back in the fold to lead what should be the Pac-12’s best defense in 2023.
Oregon brings plenty to the table, too, so winning each of these games isn’t out of the question. But winning at least two and finishing the regular season with double-digit wins would be an improvement over last year’s 9-3 finish, and more importantly, it would show that Lanning can indeed get his team to beat the best the conference has to offer.
A 10-2 finish would also give the Ducks a good shot at reaching the Pac-12 Championship, which would be another step in the right direction for a program that has its aspirations on eventually returning to the College Football Playoff.
What do you think? Would a 10-2 finish this season leave you satisfied, or do you have bigger expectations for the Ducks in 2023?
Grove City, Ohio
Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Joshua is an adopted Duck fanatic, originally hailing from southwestern Pennsylvania. His love for the University of Oregon began as a young child when he became mesmerized by the flashy uniforms and explosive offenses of the Chip Kelly era, and now, he follows the team religiously. His fondest memory of the team is seeing De’Anthony Thomas race past Wisconsin defenders back in the 2012 Rose Bowl. A true football enthusiast, Joshua loves studying the intricacies of the game, and he aspires to become a professional sports journalist. Joshua now resides in Morgantown, West Virginia where he works in customer service. When he’s not watching Oregon replays, Joshua loves reading, writing, and spending time with his family. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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