BY ADAM SUSMAN
When Chip Kelly became University of Oregon’s head football coach in 2009, the national brand of Oregon football excelled, but high-profile non-conference home games did not follow.
In the last 10 years, Oregon has only faced one ranked team at Autzen Stadium in non-conference play (No. 7 Michigan State in Sept. 2014). While Oregon has traveled for compelling neutral site games, the home non-conference slate has often been scrutinized for lack of difficulty and intrigue.
That changes going forward: Ohio State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Baylor and Michigan State were all scheduled by athletic director Rob Mullens for home-and-home games in the next decade.
Ohio State’s visit to Autzen Stadium on Sept. 12 is one of the biggest non-conference home games in Oregon history. But is it No. 1? Here are the five biggest non-conference home games in Oregon history.
5: Oregon v. #18 Utah – Hello Chip Kelly
Sept. 19, 2009
First-year Head Coach Chip Kelly was off to a rough start in 2009, his Ducks scoring just eight points in an 11-point defeat at Boise State on his debut. Next up was Kelly’s home opener, a two-point win against a below-average Purdue side. Utah was on the other side of the pendulum before coming to Eugene. Utes Head Coach Kyle Whittingham picked up where Urban Meyer left off with an undefeated 2008 season, going on to beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Utah, a member of the Mountain West Conference until 2010, had not lost a game since November 2007. Oregon was a home underdog, but came out swinging, leading 21-7 through 25 minutes. The Ducks only completed 4 passes the entire game and were led by a Freshman track star, LaMichael James. James gained 157 yards and a score, flashing the potential of what his career would be as a Duck. Oregon would hold on and win 31-24. After the Utah win, Oregon would go 44-6 during the Chip Kelly era.
4: #22 Oregon v. #3 Michigan – No Problems with Perry
Sept. 20, 2003
Coming off an average 2002 season (7-6), Oregon started 2003 on the right foot outscoring Mississippi State, Nevada and Arizona 121-67. The real test followed, RB Chris Perry and the lethal Michigan offense. Oregon held Perry to just 26 yards on 11 attempts, 131 yards shy of his 2003 per game average. Oregon won the turnover battle 3-0, went on a 21-0 run in the second quarter and the two QB system of Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife lead Oregon to a 31-27 victory, their biggest non-conference upset of the Mike Bellotti era.
3: #18 Oregon v. #15 Oklahoma – 72 Seconds Left
Sept. 16, 2006
No game fills the quota for drama quite like Ducks vs. Sooners 14 years ago. Coming into the contest both teams were undefeated, and Oregon was looking for their first-ever win against the Sooners in their 7th try. Oklahoma had been an absolute juggernaut in the seasons before traveling to Autzen, they featured in the AP top-10 every season since 2000. Oregon had new personnel starting for the first time in 2006, QB Denis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart. Stewart, a sophomore at the time, was quickly ascending into a top running back while Dixon had impressed as the full-time starter in his first two games against Stanford and Fresno State. Now that Reggie Bush was in the NFL, the Sooners possessed the best running back in the college ranks, Adrian Peterson, and he proved it at Autzen. Peterson torched the Ducks for 216 yards and a touchdown, it was another seemingly simple win for Oklahoma as they were up 33-20 with 72 seconds remaining. Oregon went on to do the improbable: a Dixon keeper made it a one-score game, an onside kick recovery for the Ducks, then Dixon did it through the air on a 26-yard toss to Brian Paysinger to take the lead. Nonetheless, Oklahoma returned the kickoff 54 yards and Peterson run set up a manageable field goal. The Ducks famously blocked the attempt cementing their only ever win against Oklahoma.
2: #3 Oregon v. #7 Michigan St. – Oregon Stays in Playoff Position
Sept. 6, 2014
2014 was the first year of the College Football Playoff making non-conference play crucial. In 2013 Oregon was 8-0 in Mark Helfrich’s second season before finishing the regular season 2-2 to end any hopes of winning a national championship. In 2014 Oregon played Michigan State week two. The Spartans came to Eugene trying to capture early-season pole position for the new four-team playoff system. In a high scoring contest, neither team had a player rush for over 100 yards, instead it was a QB duel. Marcus Mariota, who won the Heisman in December of that season, threw for 318 yards, three touchdowns and had 65 yards on the ground. The Spartan QB, Connor Cook, tossed 343 years, two touchdowns and two picks. Despite being down 24-18 at halftime Oregon rallied behind nearly 60,000 at Autzen to win 46-27. With the help of a top-10 win over MSU, Oregon would make their first and only College Football Playoff.
1: (Preseason rank) #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Oregon
Sept. 12, 2020
It is difficult to rank a game that has not been played but having an out-of-conference College Football Playoff favorite visit Eugene is a situation Oregon has never experienced. In terms of rankings and implications, this game is similar to Oregon vs. Michigan State in 2014. Ohio State is 9-0 all-time against Oregon, and in the last decade the Buckeyes won a Rose Bowl (2010) and a National Championship (2015) at the expense of the Ducks. A victory would qualify as the highest-ranked win in Mario Christobal’s tenure as Oregon Head Coach, while OSU Head Coach, Ryan Day is looking to improve on the stellar 13-1 2019 season with an early-season top-10 victory. The Ducks primary departures include Justin Herbert, Troy Dye and 4 of the five starting offensive linemen. Ohio State retains their NFL caliber QB, Justin Fields, but the Heisman hopeful lost most of his offensive running mates with RB J.K Dobbins and WR K.J Hamler now in the NFL. The Big Ten champions also lost their two best defensive players to the NFL: Chase Young, 2nd overall to the Redskins, and Jeff Okudah, 3rd overall to the Lions. Oregon’s defense is fortunate to retain most of their talent and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos will look to progress further after an impressive first season. Oregon possesses some of the best young defensive players in the country from Kayvon Thibodeaux on the line to Mykael Wright in the secondary. The excitement for a game at Autzen has quickly turned to uncertainty in the past weeks with doubt coming from the University of Oregon President Michael Schill and Oregon Governor Kate Brown that a game at Autzen with fans will be possible in the near future. If the game between the Buckeyes and Ducks proceeds at some point, the countless intriguing storylines make this game a worthy victor for the biggest non-conference home game in Oregon history.
Oregon v. #17 Air Force
October 17th, 1959
Oregon’s best season in terms of win percentage (.800) from 1949-1999 fell in 1959 when the Ducks went 8-2 in Len Casanova’s 9th season as head coach. Oregon defeated traditional powerhouse Air Force to become ranked for the first time that season.
Oregon v. University of Puget Sound
October 22nd, 1910
Not much can be said other than the whooping 115-0 score line. The largest victory in Oregon football history is commemorated on a plaque outside Autzen Stadium
Oregon v. #9 Colorado
September 23rd, 1967
Oregon narrowly lost 17-13 to Colorado who resided in the Big 8 conference at the time. The 1967 season was disappointing for the Ducks, going 2-8 yet the contest against Colorado was the first ever Oregon football game at Autzen stadium.
#24 Oregon v. Illinois
September 9th, 1995
This was the first night game at Autzen to ever be televised as Oregon welcomed Simeon Rice and Illinois to Eugene for their most recent matchup. Oregon was down late, but Duck safety Jaiya Figures got a sack I the endzone and recovered the ball to give Oregon a 34-31 victory.