2023 is it, if you didn’t hear. It’s time for the Super League of college football to begin.
Oregon’s officially headed to the Big Ten in 2024, and this may be the end of the PAC-12 altogether. With that said, Oregon’s in for a huge year to take the PAC-12 Championship in the last season it may exist at all. So why not go out on top? With the makeup of this team, there’s zero reason the Ducks shouldn’t go out as champions. Mr. FishDuck took some time away from his fun with college football odds to discuss this upcoming season with me, and will have an article of his own tomorrow. But for now, there’s huge hype entering what should be Oregon’s best season in a decade, and for good reason.
At this point, there’s even speculation Bo Nix could go as the top pick in the NFL Draft next offseason (a 2% chance, mind you, but still a chance), which is absolutely mindboggling for Ducks fans today. This team has the grand opportunity of going out by completing a trifecta of success: Heisman winner, College Football Playoff winner, and the undisputed victor of college football’s little-brother conference in the PAC-12.
So, what do the Ducks need to do over the next four months to own the PAC-12 in its final season as we know it?
4: Dominate the Ground Game
Oregon’s rushing attack flourished all through 2022. Bucky Irving is coming back for another season of running all over PAC defensive fronts, and establishing his role once again as the true homerun-hitter of Oregon’s offense. Nix is in at QB1 for a last hurrah as the Ducks field general, and his ability as a runner should culminate in a versatile thriving offense the same way it did all through 2022.
Expect to see more of the same in 2023, but in a limited capacity from Nix. We saw what this team was without Nix for even just a few moments last year against Washington, and how that changed things for the entire season. Avoiding injury is a MUST, and Nix needs to lead this team through a whole season. That said, Nix also needs to be able to spread his wings. An offense that avoids injury to the quarterback by limiting rushing attempts while also offering efficient, low-risk opportunities for him will be the best of both worlds.
3: Stabilize a Pass Rush
As we’ve talked about for seemingly the last 18 months, Oregon NEEDS to dominate the line of scrimmage on defense if they’re going to take the next step and own the conference again. Brandon Dorlus has established himself as a consistent contributor on the defensive line, but that twitchy, true-finesse edge like a Brian Burns or Micah Parsons in the NFL escapes this Oregon roster.
For this team to go all the way, at least in the way we all think they can, someone needs to step it up in 2023. That’d be a lot to ask of freshmen Matayo Uiagalelei or Johnny Bowens III, but if they together can make even a marginal impact on the PAC’s passing attack, our Ducks should be in fine shape to make a big run at the conference title again.
2: Rank 1st in Turnover Margin Across The PAC-12
Turnovers are going to be an even bigger deal for this team if the pass rush isn’t able to get home consistently. Defensive backs have been a strength of the Ducks for several seasons now, and senior transfer Khyree Jackson heads a group led by returning stars in Dontae Manning and Trikweze Bridges. Together, they look to play at an elite level throughout 2023 as one of the greatest strengths of this Duck squad.
In terms of taking care of the football on offense, Nix and co. should have no trouble doing so. One of the best offensive lines in the country through 2022 may have some new faces, but the talent is still there. Expect more of the same domination and bullying in the trenches from our Ducks’ maulers up front.
1: Beat the Breaks Off of USC
Caleb Williams should be the first pick in next year’s draft, regardless of how Nix does this season. He had an outstanding week 0 this past Saturday against San Jose State, even completing a 76-yard touchdown after fumbling the snap and throwing off balance. Unfortunately for Williams, he has to head up to Eugene in November to face the music in the form of “Shout” after three-quarters of defensive domination from the Ducks.
Now, should we expect Oregon to be able to neutralize the best quarterback in college football completely? No. But there’s a strong case for the Ducks being able to beat the Trojans handily if they control the clock with their sound rushing attack, combined with executing the name of the game: keep Williams on the sideline as much as possible.
This Trojan offense did lose a few receiving threats to the NFL Draft (namely, Jordan Addison and the former Duck Travis Dye), so this Oregon squad should be able to step up and lockdown on the outside. Still, Williams will have nearly a full season of chemistry with superstar teammate Mario Williams by the time November rolls around, so be ready for a shootout in Autzen from some of the best quarterbacks in the country getting it done.
In the end, a win is a win, and the Ducks need to get one over the Trojans to close out their PAC-12 reign on a high note.
Bottom Line: Ducks Will Have the Last Quack of 2023
Overall, it’s a bittersweet moment for us. Oregon’s on its way to the proverbial “greener pastures” ahead in the BIG-10, along with several familiar foes of the last 100 years of football. 18 teams will make up the Big-10 in 2024, which offers an intense opportunity for the Ducks to step up their game and dominate a much more competitive conference.
However, we still have the season ahead, and not one of these PAC-12 teams is just going to mail it in this season. No matter the record, state of the conference, or rivalry, expect to see inspired football from week one on. With that in mind, the Ducks should dominate in the trenches on their way to a historic, memorable, and exciting last dance in the PAC-12 with Lanning at the helm.
But enough from me, Oregon fans. I might think they’ll go out on top, but where do you think they’ll finish the season? What are Nix’s real odds of winning the Heisman and becoming a first-round pick in the NFL Draft? Do you see this defense stepping up their game, or be a middling group in the last season of PAC-12 football? Let us know in the FishDuck Forum with decorum.
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: John McGillen
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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