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Oregon Ducks Football: Game of the Year?

Alex Heining Editorials

Our Oregon Ducks football program is right in the thick of the offseason, and has an incredible slate of games to look forward to this fall. Moving to the Big Ten may prove to be the biggest thing to ever happen to the Oregon football program, giving a handful of college football juggernauts a chance to stomp out some Duck feathers in the West. That includes Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Now, with so much up in the air this offseason surrounding NIL deals, the transfer portal, and highly-touted recruit visits, it’s a lot to digest which games will be close matchups, and which ones will be steamrollings. But if we had to put a good word in today on which game to shell out a bundle for, which game was going to decide Oregon’s fate for the season, which nosebleed seats you should be the most eager to snag, there’s only one real answer.

It’s easy to point to the Ohio State game as the biggest matchup the Ducks have to face in 2024. However, the Ducks are fortunate to play the Buckeyes early in the year, and timing is everything. Not to mention, the matchup’s going to be in Autzen. I really love the Ducks’ chances here to pull out a HUGE victory, and in any case, it should be a wildly entertaining game that comes down to the wire.

For the game of the year, though? Gimme our Midwest matchup against Michigan, college football’s reigning national champions. There’s a lot to love about this game and the new faces we’ll see in it, especially on the offensive side of the ball for both squads.

Oregon Ducks Football - FishDuck.com in Eugene, OR

A familiar face we’re certainly going to miss in Autzen this season – Photo by Joe Jackson Jr.

Major Quarterback Changes: Offensive Schemes Without Bo Nix or J.J. McCarthy

Looks like that’s it for Bo Nix and his elite connection with Troy Franklin in Autzen. While many of us are ecstatic to see where both players land in a few weeks at the next level, their play is going to be sorely missed on the north side of the Willamette River. Fortunately, Michigan’s sitting in a similar spot with the loss of quarterback J.J. McCarthy and Roman Wilson to the pros.

Still, a Jim Harbaugh-less Michigan squad should prove to be a worthy adversary against an Oregon team that, even with the loss of Nix and a handful of superstars, has pivoted well through the transfer portal and recruiting to remain an elite roster.

Dillon Gabriel is far further along in his development as a passer than Nix was at his time of transferring to Oregon, and we still have former five-star recruit Dante Moore to watch from UCLA joining the Ducks. Michigan dominated time of possession and ball control in many of their 2023 matchups, so taking advantage of early possessions will be crucial for these quarterbacks in their perspective new systems.

This Oregon team also got immensely more talented on the boundary, with two corners transferring in (Jabbar Muhammad and Kam Alexander) to combat McCarthy’s passing attack under head coach Sherrone Moore. The secondary overall is a seasoned group that should develop and acclimate quickly, offering great support to where this matchup will really be decided.

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Oregon’s offensive line has remained elite for years now, regardless of scheme fit – Photo From Craig Strobeck

Where This Game Will Be Won: The Trenches

Along the offensive line, the trenches are nearly intact for the Ducks. Both of Oregon’s starting tackles, Josh Conerly Jr. and Ajani Cornelius, will be returning to build on strong campaigns in 2023. As for the rest of the offensive line, major continuity will be maintained along the interior positions (aside from center Jackson Powers-Johnson, who will be looking to be taken in the NFL Draft next month). Even with this incredible talent maintained through the offseason, expect some movement up front, as players like Matthew Bedford out of Indiana will certainly be in the mix as starting-caliber transfers. This will provide some major cushion for a learning curve between the Ducks’ two new signal callers, who surely will be duking it out this offseason to earn the starting job, and have a tall order to fill in Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately for the Ducks, Michigan’s starters on the defensive line will be returning too, so expect some serious heavyweight punches between the two groups throughout Michigan’s blistering-cold gameday in November. Blake Corum and Roman Wilson are luckily off this roster as well and headed to the pros, so some riskier blitz calls might be on the table for Oregon’s defense to take advantage of early.

Oregon Ducks football - Fishduck.com in Eugene, OR

If anyone’s winning the Big Ten in his first season in the conference, it’s this guy – Photo From Eugene Johnson

The Bottom Line: Oregon Wins in Michigan, Wins the Big Ten?

If all things go according to plan and Oregon enters this matchup against the Wolverines undefeated (and that’s a big if, with Ohio State on the schedule earlier in the season), there’s no question Oregon will be competing for the Big Ten title. Following a narrow victory in Ann Arbor (on the road, no less), I can’t see the Ducks losing another game in the regular season.

And yes, it’s as early in the offseason as it gets. But don’t forget: This is one of Oregon’s best-equipped rosters in team history. Lanning’s recruiting combined with returning talent should push the Ducks as far as the College Football Playoff, and that starts with games like this in the Midwest. I’m expecting to see a hard-fought classic that starts the beginning of a brutal tenure between the Ducks and the Big Ten’s best, one that Oregon’s going to be on the right side of more often than not.

Even if the Ducks are just able to split between Ohio State and Michigan, would that put them in strong contention for the title fight? What do the Ducks bring to the table this year that they didn’t last season? If this isn’t the game of the year, which matchup is? Let us know what you think in the FishDuck Forum with decorum.

Go Ducks!

Alex Heining
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo Via: Twitter (@TheWolverineOn3)

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