By ANDRE WALDRON, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
It is no secret that Saturday afternoons will soon be once again dominated by the long-honored tradition that is college football. It goes without saying that conferences will look very different after this season. One of those conferences that will look very different at the end of next year will be the Pac-12 conference. Traditional PAC-12 mainstays such as USC and UCLA are headed for the Big Ten conference in 2024. Therefore, the recent Pac-12 preseason rankings are the final ones that will have USC and UCLA on them.
The biggest controversy in the Pac-12 rankings may be between the two teams competing for the Platypus trophy yearly. Oregon is ranked 4th in the Pac-12 preseason rankings, while Oregon State is ranked 5th. When one takes an in-depth look at both teams, it is mind-boggling to think how anyone could put Oregon State instead of Oregon. Furthermore, Oregon State may be a dark horse to win the entire Pac-12 conference.
There is no doubt that Oregon should not be overlooked by anyone in the Pac-12. However, there are a lot more questions than answers when it comes to Oregon. Even though Oregon QB Bo Nix will return this season, there will be increased concerns regarding his health due to the fact that he was injured in a November matchup against the Washington Huskies.
As John Madden used to say consistently, the game of football is won in the trenches. The biggest question with Oregon is their retooled offensive line. Their offensive line will have four new starters. An injury-prone quarterback and a mostly brand-new offensive line make for a lot of what-ifs in a conference as deep as the Pac-12.
Another major question mark for Oregon will be their defense. Their defense was ranked 75th in the NCAA last year. Oregon acquired several defensive players from the transfer portal during the offseason. There are no assurances that these moves will inspire defensive chemistry.
Overall, there are a lot of questions about Oregon.
On the other hand, Oregon State has more answers than questions. It is clear that the primary strength of the Oregon State Ducks is their offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Oregon State offensive line was the third-best offensive line in college football last year. And regarding run-blocking, Pro Football Focus ranked Oregon State’s offensive line above all other offensive lines in the nation.
They are anchored at the tackle spots by Joshua Gray and Taliese Fuaga. Fuaga is one of the best ten tackles in all of college football. Center Jake Levengood will be a four-year starter and a locker-room leader. Levengood is one of the top 10 centers in the nation.
Based on the superior run-blocking of Oregon State’s offensive line, Oregon State’s running game is poised for another big year, led by Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Damian Martinez. Martinez would run for 100 yards six games in a row last year thanks to the dynamic of running behind a superior offensive line. It is to be expected that this dynamic will continue this season.
With a running game ready to go, Oregon State is poised for their passing game to benefit if DJ Uiagalelei gets the starting job. He will bring along an ability to throw the deep ball, a dynamic missing during last year’s campaign. This will make Oregon State’s offense more dangerous.
Oregon State has also solidified itself on the defensive side of the ball last year and is poised to do so again in 2023. They were 16th in the NCAA in team defense last year. Oregon State has experienced outside linebackers in John Mccartan and Cory Stover. They also have a great deal of experience in the defensive line with All-conference standouts Isaac Hawkins and James Rawls.
With the addition of Oluwaseyi Omotosho from Wyoming, Oregon State gained a solid pass rusher that will solidify the outside LB position for Oregon State.
At the safety position, Oregon State is solidified by second-team All-Conference standout Kitan Oladapo. Additionally, the return of Altan Julian from injury may give Oregon State the best safety pairing in the Pac-12.
Oregon State also has a leg up on Oregon and most opponents regarding the return game. PR Anthony Gould was named first-team All-Conference, while KR Silas Bolden was named second-team All-Conference.
There is no question that Oregon State should be ranked higher than Oregon in the Pac-12 preseason standings. Oregon State has a better offensive line, running game, and defense than Oregon. As a result, they have a better team.