We are three days away from No.11 Oregon taking on No.16 Auburn in the most anticipated game of Week 1 in college football. The Ducks are carrying the weight of the PAC-12 on their shoulders. A win in this game would not only catapults Oregon into the Top-10 and early College Football Playoff talks, it would provide the conference with a much needed marquee out-of-conference win. However, if they lose, questions about the ability of the Oregon coaching staff to coach “X’s and O’s” will resurface, and we will start to question the preseason expectations for this team. With that being said, I’m going to list five reasons why the Ducks will win this game and announce to the nation: Oregon is indeed back.
1. Justin Herbert:
The first reason Oregon will win this game is the most obvious one. Justin Herbert is a four year returning starter, a likely top 10 pick in next year’s NFL draft and a dark horse Heisman candidate. Herbert threw for 3,151 yards, 29 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions last year. He’s proven that he has a big arm. He’s shown he can make all the throws. But the question remains: can he do it consistently and bring his game to the next level? There were times last year of notable inconsistency, and he habitually would just lock on to Dillon Mitchell. Not all of that was his fault – it’s hard to trust your receivers when they drop 52 passes in one season. But with all the praise Herbert is getting, it’s time to step up and carry a team a-la Marcus Mariota, Vernon Adams, Joey Harrington and all the other past great Oregon quarterbacks. If Herbert can carry the Ducks to victory, he becomes an early Heisman favorite and validates his NFL draft status.
2. Oregon’s Offensive Line Wins The Trench Battle:
You’ve heard all the hype by now. This game will be a match-up of the nation’s best offensive line (Oregon) against the nation’s best defensive line (Auburn). Mario Cristobal prides himself on being able to run the ball. If Oregon wants to win this game, the Ducks need to create holes for their running backs. If CJ Verdell and Travis Dye can run through big lanes up and down the field, then I don’t see Oregon losing. But if Auburn can shut down the run, and tee off on Justin Herbert, the Ducks will be in big trouble. We saw this in the Redbox Bowl when Oregon played Michigan State and their FBS-best run defense. Oregon managed only 37 yards rushing. That can’t happen again. The Ducks arguably have 6 NFL draft picks on their offensive line; it’s time for them to step up and prove themselves as the best O Line in the country. If they control the line of scrimmage, the Ducks will win this game.
3. Auburn Is Starting A True Freshman At QB:
Bo Nix is a five-star talent and was the nation’s top-ranked dual-threat QB. Mario Cristobal praised the true freshman this week, saying he was impressed by his command of the offense and his ability to move the ball with his arm and his legs. That all might be true. But what I know is that Nix hasn’t thrown a collegiate pass yet, hasn’t been under the bright lights, and his first game will be played on a massive stage against a veteran secondary. I expect Andy Avalos to throw multiple looks at the true freshman to confuse him. Facing the likes of Thomas Graham Jr, Deommodore Lenoir, and Jevon Holland in the Oregon secondary, Nix will throw a couple interceptions that the Ducks will take full advantage of. Book it.
4. The Oregon Receivers Will Step Up:
I’m not as confident about this one as I am the other four points, but I still buy it. Certainly I was more confident with the receivers before Mycah Pittman, J.R. Waters, and Brenden Schooler all got hurt. But I still think this group will be much improved from last season. Reports out of Eugene have been encouraging: dropped passes have gone way down, and some players have stepped up. I expect Juwan Johnson to be a key target for Herbert, and Jaylon Redd will be a great slot wide receiver as he is now fully comfortable at the position after making the switch from running back. The X-factors for me are Johnny Johnson and Bryan Addison. It’s sounding like Johnny Johnson has had his best camp at Oregon and us ready to make the next step and be more consistent. I love Addison’s size at 6-5, and I expect Herbert to take full advantage of that frame in the red zone. The Ducks won’t have any back-breaking drops and will surprise people on Saturday. After all, they can’t really drop 50-plus passes two seasons in a row, right?
5. Oregon Is Finally Big Enough:
In the past when Oregon has played these big games against marquee opponents, they’ve been pushed around. Duck fans can’t forget Nick Fairley single-handedly blowing up Oregon’s run game, or Zeke Elliot rushing for 200 yards and running over defenders. Oregon reached these big games purely on scheme and speed. This year’s version of Oregon is built on brute force. They have a future first-round pick at left tackle in 6-6, 325-pound sophomore Penei Sewell. They’ve never had a 6-1, 322-pound nose tackle like Jordan Scott. Don’t forget the athletic freaks they have in true freshman D-Lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Mase Funa. Both are expected to contribute on the defensive side of the ball on Saturday. I’ll never forget an interview Mario Cristobal did a year ago. He talked about being on Alabama’s staff and watching the Ducks play Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. He was in a room with Nick Saban and they were saying how “if Oregon could combine all that speed with offensive and defensive lineman the SEC gets, they could be special.” Well, Cristobal has finally built that image in Eugene. The Ducks will show the nation they’re not the same old “finesse” Duck teams of the past.
I’m a homer. There’s no getting around it. I went to U of O (class of 2015) and bleed green and yellow. But I haven’t been this excited for a Ducks football season since the Mariota years. This team has a perfect blend of experience and youth. They have talent on the both sides of the ball that they haven’t had in years. Top O Line in the country? Check. Top quarterback in the nation? Check. Experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball? Check.
It’s time to show the nation Oregon is back, and this isn’t the Oregon teams of the past. I’m all in. Oregon will win this game, and use it to catapult them to a PAC-12 Championship.
Oregon 27. Auburn 17.