Yes, the Ducks didn't make the playoff. They didn't even make it to a New Years Six Bowl. Clearly post-Mariota the team cannot contend for national titles, right?
Well they may have reached a new low with the loss to Washington St last year, something that hadn't happened for 8 years. The 62-20 Home loss to Utah early wasn't exactly what they were looking for either. The game that salvaged some sense of success was an ever-elusive victory over Stanford on the road in November. That game was a part of a 6 game winning streak to close the regular season.
There is a lot to be excited for this season, as the race for Pac-12, although led for now by Stanford, is very open. Oregon will welcome back RB Royce Freeman, who has amassed more than 3,200 rushing yards in the last two years. They also usher in for the second straight year a FCS transfer to take the snaps. Vernon Adams' successor, Dakota Prukop, is an FCS All-American from Montana State and beat out three others in the race for the job this summer. The defensive front needs to replace DeForest Buckner and Joe Walker in what was already a suspect defense in 2015, allowing 485 yards per game. As always, there is a lot to be excited about offensively and Oregon will look to outpace opponents again this year.
The toughest of the three non-conference games is Nebraska in week 3 at Memorial Stadium. The rest are expected to be wins. The Pac 12 Schedule is not overly difficult and they will get Stanford and Washingon, the primary Pac 12 North competition, at home. There are almost certainly going to be 6-8 teams that will have legitimate chances to win each week, and it could be a similar season to last year where 10 of the 12 teams finished bowl eligible. That speaks to the depth of the conference and the grind of the schedule. Without further ado, here is the game-by-game prediction for this season.
Sep 3 VS UC Davis
It will nice to have a tune-up game here. You just don't want to end up on the Michigan end of Appalachin St....
Sep 10 VS Virginia
The Cavaliers bring in former BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall with hopes to become a bowl team in the ACC. The last time these teams met, Oregon won 59-10. So, yeah. Anything Mendenhall does will be an improvement. Luckily for Virginia the opener is with Richmond so he should not be starting things off with a loss. This program will be headed upward, but it will take at least another year to see results against teams like Oregon.
Sep 17 AT Nebraska
This one is an interesting one. This is the team that lost a lot of heart-breakers last season, losing 7 games by a total of 31 points. They also beat Michigan St and later UCLA in bowl season. Fox Sports has them finishing second in the Big Ten West. This is a difficult environment to play in. The reality is though, Oregon tends to win big games, and Nebraska has shown an inability to do so. For now, they look like a team that can make it out of the sea of red alive.
Sep 24 VS Colorado
This was a nice draw from the Pac 12 South. Colorado has shown sparks of potential as a Pac 12 team but for the most part has been over-matched against the deep Pac 12. A 4-0 start seems very possible.
Oct 1 AT Washington State
Maybe I was too harsh on Washington State. This has always been an offensive power. They seem to have added some defensive toughness as well. These guys were the third best in the country in the Red Zone last year too, scoring 94.5% of the time. They finished 25th nationally in total offense and gave up less yards than Oregon. Many even pick the Cougars to finish ahead of Oregon this year in the Pac 12. I think Oregon has learned their lesson, and their speed and the talent of Royce Freeman are going to be too much for Wazzu.
Oct 8 VS Washington
The Huskies come in at #14 in preseason. Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin expect to lead a very strong offense. Browning had a slow start as a Freshman last year but quickly rebounded to throw for nearly 3000 yards and complete 63% of his passes. UW also returns 8 starters on offense and 7 starters on defense, a unit that only gave up 18.8 points per game last year. The key to this game seems to be whether new QB Dakota Prukop will find ways to score against the stifling defense. It helps that this game is at home and this could be a very close finish. In this case I go with the most confident signal caller, and that looks to be Browning
Oct 15 BYE
Oct 21 AT California
Cal really stepped up last year. They are no doubt pleased with their 8-5 finish last year and the tie with UW for third in the North. They got off to a good start this year as well with a victory over Hawaii. I do not expect the Golden Bears to be a huge threat but they are certainly a team you can't overlook, especially on the road.
Oct 29 VS Arizona St
This is a team that went 6-7 and the same Pac 12 record as Cal. They are a tricky team to decipher at this point. With a new Quarterback coming in they seem like a team that will not be very scary on the road. I would expect the Ducks to be rolling at this point under Prukop.
Nov 5 AT USC
This is where things get rough. The next three games will determine if Oregon will have a shot at winning the Pac 12 North and going to the Pac 12 Championship. USC has the toughest ranked schedule in the country, and they will hope to win all the toss-ups they can. They have virtually everyone back on offense except QB Cody Kessler. Now Max Browne will lead a stacked offense and they will have the benefit of home-field advantage. This one is key for Oregon and the 48-28 home win over SC last year will be an indicator that Oregon still has the upper-hand in this match up
Nov 12 VS Stanford
Hard to imagine that Oregon came into Cardinal territory and won in Palo Alto last year given the teams' history. But they did just that. Unfortunately Christian McCaffrey is back and looking to reset his all-purpose yards record. He is an unbelievable talent and its always been the phenomenal defense that has kept the Ducks grounded, particularly in the trenches. The game is at home, but McCaffrey may be too much for the young defensive front. I expect this to be very close but...
Nov 19 AT Utah
Finally, a shot at revenge. This is one Mark Helfrich no doubt has marked on his calendar. Utah had their breakout win last year that launched a spectacular midseason run that had them in the top 3 for a time. They will be good again this year. Although they re-load at QB, so does Oregon and the defense at Utah, especially at home under Whittingam, is very, very tough.
Nov 26 AT Oregon St
This won't be easy, and they have the trifecta going against them. Rivalry game. On the Road. Last game of the season coming off the toughest three game span of the season. Don't totally count the Beavers out here. They put up 42 points on Oregon last year at Autzen Stadium. The upset potential is certainly there. That being said, I think Oregon rebounds from back to back losses to finish strong.
For the season to be a success Oregon needs to contend for a Conference title even if they do not win. I would think 9 wins would be a good benchmark for the team to look to as they are determining how successful they are. I expect Oregon to finish the season at 9-3 and fall behind Stanford and maybe Washington in the Pac 12 North. They are the team that has usually led the way over the last 5 years but will certainly be in good company for a second straight year out west.