The Fiesta Bowl is a Must-Win Game for Lanning

David Marsh Editorials

Oregon is set to play Liberty in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st. For many Oregon fans, this game isn’t all that interesting or exciting for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not a playoff game and it feels like a consolation prize for a season that could have been something really special. Two, it’s against No. 20 Liberty, a Group of Five school, and this game shouldn’t be close.

However, this isn’t a free win, as Liberty will treat this game as an opportunity to secure a huge win over a Top-10 team. Liberty’s players and coaches will be motivated to come away with this win.

It’s also not too inconceivable for a Group of Five school to upset a top Power Five team in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Just last year, Tulane embarrassed USC. USC’s loss has also hung over them for this entire season and may have even contributed to their defensive meltdown over the season.

Now, this isn’t to say that if Oregon lost they’d suffer the same fate as USC. Dan Lanning has already shown that the culture at Oregon is made of far firmer stuff than that at USC. However, this game is important because it is a chance for Lanning to motivate his team and finish the season with a significant win. The Fiesta Bowl isn’t as prestigious as it used to be with the addition of the playoff, but it is still a good bowl game.

A bonus for Oregon in this game is that relatively few players have opted out or transferred, which could have affected the outcome of the game. At this time only Kyree Jackson and Jackson Powers-Johnson have opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. The only player to enter the transfer portal who has taken key snaps this season for Oregon is Trikweze Bridges. Between the loss of Jackson and Bridges, this does make Oregon’s secondary a bit shaky, especially if Jahlil Florence is unable to play due to injury. However, Oregon should still have enough young players and backups to fill the gaps against Liberty.

Dan Lanning following Oregon’s win over USC with Jackson Powers-Johnson and Iapani Laloulu in the background.
(Photo By Craig Strobeck)

Power-Johnson’s absence may be concerning, but Marcus Harper competed against Powers-Johnson last summer for the starting job and Iapani Laloulu is a promising freshman who is tabbed to become a starter at center. There will be drop-off at center but it shouldn’t be game-threatening.

Furthermore, Liberty has lost more valuable players to the portal than Oregon. In the era of the transfer portal, Group of Five schools have become feeder schools for major power programs, such as Oregon. So, where Oregon has lost backups to the portal, Liberty has lost star players. Even with a couple of Oregon’s starters potentially missing from the game, Oregon should still hold the talent advantage over Liberty.

All the more reason this is a must-win game for Lanning. He needs to continue to prove he can motivate his players and prepare them to play and win every game. The Pac-12 Championship game was a letdown this season, and the Ducks looked unprepared and lethargic for stretches of that game. Lanning cannot let that happen again.

The 2023 season may not have ended how we wanted, but it should still end on a high note. Everyone around the program expects a better ending to the season than a loss to a lesser opponent; the coaches, players and fans all deserve better, and Lanning needs to deliver a win come January 1st in the Fiesta Bowl.

David Marsh 
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck

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