By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Dan Lanning is 15-3 as Oregon’s head coach approaching the midway point of his second season at the helm. There have been several notable wins to boost Oregon’s profile and make Duck fans feel confident about his abilities to lead the program. Last year they beat No.9 UCLA 45-30 after College GameDay had appeared in Eugene. No. 10 Utah also walked out of Autzen with a loss after a hard-fought 20-17 win for the Ducks. Winning the Holiday Bowl to get to 10 wins for the third straight year over North Carolina was a nice win, too.
None of those games are on par with this one.
Those were great wins that bolstered Oregon’s resume and profile in the context of the 2022 season. The impact of a win at No. 7 Washington this Saturday would dwarf them all.
Let’s start with the national implications before we talk about the personal component for the Ducks. Last week’s highlight game in college football was the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma, which delivered another instant classic. The combined rankings of those two teams? 15 (#12 Oklahoma and #3 Texas). Oregon comes into Saturday’s showdown ranked No. 8 and Washington No. 7. I didn’t major in math during college, but I think that adds up to 15. Thank goodness for calculators.
The winner will have an inside track to reaching the Pac-12 Championship game in Las Vegas later this year. An 8-1 (or 9-0) record in conference play will get you there, and winning this game is a big step toward realizing that goal. Both Oregon and Washington still have to play USC, Utah, and Oregon State after their meeting this week. Nobody has ever gone 9-0 in Pac-12 conference play, and it’s as hard to do so this year as it’s ever been.
Then there’s the College Football Playoff. The winner of this game will have a real solid case to at least be inside the top 5 of the AP poll, but more importantly, will control its own destiny to make the CFP by the end of the year. A 1-loss or undefeated Power 5 champion has not been left out of the 4-team era, which concludes after this season as it expands to 12 teams in 2024.
All that is on the line, and I haven’t even mentioned the rivalry component or the competing Heisman quarterbacks. Bo Nix or Michael Penix, who’s the betting favorite to win the award right now, will undoubtedly get a major bump in Heisman voting attention with a win. The award is supposed to be an individual one, but we all know by now how much team success determines the outcome each year.
Dan Lanning said he doesn’t need to motivate his team for this game by referring to the outcome of last year’s bout at Autzen Stadium. I think he’s right about that, but that doesn’t mean the Oregon fanbase isn’t thinking about it. They’ve had to sit with that heartbreaker for a year. Losing to a rival in shocking fashion, at home, with a coaching decision that some fans found questionable has definitely left a mark amongst the Oregon fanbase. Lanning is off to a tremendous start to his coaching career at Oregon on multiple fronts. Beating a rival, he’s 0-2 right now, is a box that Duck fans would really like to see him check off. It’s not a must-win for Lanning because Washington is a really, really good football team — but Oregon fans don’t take losing to Washington very well. The Ducks have lost 2 straight to UW just twice since Kenny Wheaton’s “The Pick” in 1994.
The other element to watch surrounding Lanning in this game is the defense. It’s been outstanding through 5 games and now faces its toughest test. It was the defense that let Oregon down last year against the Huskies, a unit that Duck fans expect Lanning and Co. to be able to build to an elite level. Here’s your chance to prove that building such a unit is well underway or perhaps even near completion.
If Oregon’s defense plays well, they’re more than capable of winning the game. They have to pressure Michael Penix Jr. and limit the explosive plays. The Ducks have struggled to start strong in their two road games this season against Texas Tech and Stanford. This game truly feels like a toss-up and seems like it will come down to one drive late in the game.
Prediction: Washington 34, Oregon 30
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.