By JOE HARRIS, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
We are just 39 days away from the Oregon Ducks taking the field when they host Portland State on September 2. It’s an exciting time to be an Oregon fan, as Dan Lanning showed that this program is still on the right track and can’t certainly contend for years to come. Maybe most exciting is that Bo Nix is back for one more season in Eugene, and if he stays healthy, they will play well.
So what are the expectations for the Ducks? If you ask Pac-12 media members, they’ll tell you that the Ducks will finish fourth, according to the preseason poll. Oregon is behind USC, Washington, and Utah in the poll, receiving just one first-place vote. The Ducks had a successful season last year, but I don’t think they will look much at this poll.
Oregon has a shot to win the Pac-12. It’s as simple as that. Sure, Caleb Williams is at USC, Washington gained back its steam, and Utah always seems to be pestering everyone on the side. But we saw flashes of a really good Ducks team a season ago, and I think they will be right in the mix this time around. Bo Nix certainly thinks so.
“We’ve been working hard on discipline and consistency. Ultimately as a team, we were so close last year. We want to go from good to great this year. We’ve talked about it a lot this offseason. We’ve had a lot of meetings about it and had a lot of time where we can connect and, you know, fellowship and talk about what that it’s exactly going to look like.”
Let’s break down some of the schedule that favors them in the first half.
The Ducks don’t have strenuous competition until their seventh game when Washington shows up, and they will have to face USC and Utah this season. Arizona State could prove tricky with Kenny Dillingham at the helm and his knowledge of the Ducks system. Still, we are looking at a team that could start really hot and takes that momentum into each week against these supposed “better schools,” according to the poll. I don’t see Oregon struggling in the opener, or against Texas Tech, Hawaii, Colorado, Stanford, Washington State, or ASU.
Oregon State could pose more of a threat, but this program is coming off its first genuinely successful season in a very long time, and sustaining that kind of success into a second straight year is hard to manage.
I believe this is an Oregon team with a ceiling of 11 wins in the regular season. It’s nearly impossible to go undefeated in the Pac-12, but if they can just get past two of the three schools listed ahead of them in the polls, they should be okay. Oregon beat Utah last year, they lost to Washington by three, and didn’t play USC. By the way … the Trojans lost three big games last year. Twice to Utah and once to Tulane, so let’s not put them on a pedestal that isn’t achievable.
The key is Nix, who was outstanding last year. He had the 8th highest QBR in all of college football last season. He threw for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also showed what a threat he can be on his feet, rushing for 510 yards and 14 touchdowns. The biggest concern would be the departure of Dillingham, but it seems like Nix already has a good rapport with the new offensive coordinator, Will Stein, who he spoke to before making a decision to return.
“Well, you know, at the time, it was one of those things I still didn’t know my decision yet,” Nix said. “After that conversation, I knew we got a good one, and now seeing him in person, getting to hear his thoughts, getting to see what he likes from the pass game, run game, different auxiliary stuff, it’s just fun learning ball, fun talking with guys like that, who are like-minded, smart, good guys who just want to have success themselves.”
Stein was at UTSA, where their offense runs a very similar style to Oregon.
While this team will build off of what they had last year, they will also build new confidence. Fifty members of this roster are new this season. They ranked 9th in the transfer portal in 2023, so these aren’t just some slackers coming to Oregon. These are top players who were recruited heavily by other schools.
Amongst the standouts is Gary Bryant Jr. from USC. He has 53 career catches for 645 yards and seven touchdowns. They also got Colorado cornerback Nikko Reed. He had 42 tackles, two interceptions, and seven pass breakups last season. He also averaged 22.63 yards on 19 kickoff returns.
The point is…these are experienced players who played really well at other Pac-12 schools, and Lanning has an excellent eye for talent.
The Ducks had two losses last season that came right down to the wire against outstanding teams in Washington and Oregon State. They lost both of those games by a combined seven points. If you don’t think those losses are sticking with these guys, you are wrong. They can use that as motivation and fuel as they enter the new season.
The expectation for Oregon should be high. This is a successful program that has a chance to take over as the truly premiere football team in the conference, with USC on the way out after this season. There would be nothing sweeter than to send them out the door empty-handed. In Eugene, Pac-12 title or bust should pretty much be the standard.