Destination, Las Vegas: Defining Success For The 2023 Oregon Ducks


Contributor, 750 The Game

Each of Oregon’s last three head football coaches who stuck around for multiple years won the PAC-12/10 in their second year. Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich reached the National Championship Game and Mario Cristobal brought home a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. 

Should expectations be that high for second-year head coach Dan Lanning and the 2023 Oregon Ducks?

Maybe not quite THAT high. But a successful season for Oregon this year has to at least include an appearance in the Pac-12 title game.

Oregon reached the Pac-12 title game in normal college football seasons in 2019 and 2021 before coming up one quarter – perhaps one play – short of doing so in 2022. Thanks to strong recruiting and a favorable schedule, the Ducks are certainly capable of hoisting the Pac-12 Championship trophy once again.

Oregon’s 2023 recruiting class finished ninth in the 247Sports composite rankings, but perhaps more important for this season is the top-ten transfer portal class they reeled in as well. Quarterback Bo Nix and cornerback Christan Gonzalez headlined the impact transfers from 2022, and if that trend continues, players like defensive end Jordan Burch (South Carolina) and safety Evan Williams (Fresno State) among others can help make Oregon an even better team in 2023. 

The Ducks’ conference schedule also features a couple of beneficial elements. They have a bye before traveling to Seattle to take on the hated Huskies on Oct. 14th (Washington is also off a bye). USC has to come to Autzen Stadium (Nov. 11th), and so does Oregon State (Nov. 24th). Three of Oregon’s last four league games are at home to end the year.

Should they be expected to win the Pac-12? That depends.

Reaching the title game is more than feasible, but “conference title or bust” is a very high watermark in a league with five preseason teams inside the top 20.

USC is the prohibitive favorite, but it’s easy to imagine a world in which one of Washington, Utah, Oregon, or Oregon State emerges as the Pac-12 champion.

UCLA? Chip Kelly knows how to score points, but I struggle to get behind the Bruins this year. They were unable to name a starting quarterback through fall camp in a three-way battle, and they play in the best QB league in the country. Despite some talent and a good schedule, I don’t think UCLA can keep up with the top five listed above.

For Oregon, a 7-2 or 8-1 stretch in Pac-12 play should be the standard for success. 8-1 would get them to Las Vegas in December; if they go 7-2 it might come down to tiebreakers (again) and who they have losses and wins against. 

Perhaps the most important element to achieving that record for Oregon is an improved defense, a unit whose struggles last fall cost them in the biggest moments. UW’s Michael Penix Jr. threw for over 400 yards in a win at Autzen Stadium, and two weeks later Oregon State beat the Ducks into submission on the ground, putting up 38 points in spite of a quarterback who threw for just 60 yards and tossed two interceptions.

Oregon ranked 71st in yards allowed per game last year and 123rd in third down defense. It would be disappointing if those numbers didn’t get significantly better for a unit that has improved on paper for Lanning and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi.

Don’t sleep on the importance of special teams to help put that defense in better situations, too. Last year the Ducks were 117th nationally in net punting. They’re hoping their 6’5’’ Aussie freshman Luke Dunne can make a difference in that department.

If the defense makes strides, the Oregon offense – led by a Bo-Dacious returning QB – has all the tools it needs to reach the Pac-12 title game and maybe win it. 


And there it is. Almost 700 words on Oregon Ducks football that don’t feature the terms “conference realignment” or “Big 10”. Felt nice, didn’t it? 

Don’t forget the reason we care about all that craziness is because we care about the game of football first and foremost. And it sure is good to have football back. 

Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.