We are just three months out from the hopeful start of the college football season, and there are still many unknowns for Oregon Football.
The Ducks finished the 2019 season with a 12-2 record, captured the Pac-12 title and are fresh off a Rose Bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. Oregon, however, lost many of its offensive stalwarts in quarterback Justin Herbert, tight end Jacob Breeland, wide receiver Juwan Johnson, and four starters along the offensive line.
Oregon will open its football season on September 5 against the FCS champion North Dakota State. But not everyone is convinced a Ducks win will come easy. CBS Sports writer Ben Kercheval listed the Oregon season opener as one of his potential trap games in which underdog North Dakota State could shake up the college football picture.
Here's what he had to say on the potential Oregon upset:
North Dakota State has won its last six games against FBS opponents dating back the last decade. None of them were as notable as a potential victory over Oregon projects to be in 2020 --Iowa ranked No. 13 at the time of their game in 2016 -- but this is still a precarious spot for the Ducks. Expectations are high even without star quarterback Justin Herbert and a home game against what could be a top-ranked Ohio State on the calendar for the following week. To be sure, this isn't a look-ahead game for Oregon; as eight-time NCAA Division I national champs last decade, nobody's sleeping on the Bison. Still, Oregon is breaking in a new quarterback (perhaps Anthony Brown from Boston College) and loses some key pieces along the offensive line.
While Kercheval credited the Ducks as the more skilled team, he noted North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who is fresh off a 1,000-yard rushing season, could be the game-changer in the matchup.
Oregon has a clear edge talent-wise, but the name to watch for North Dakota State will be quarterback Trey Lance, who had 2,786 yards passing and 1,100 yards rushing along with 42 total touchdowns in 2019. Lance is getting some early 2021 NFL Draft buzz as well. On paper, this game should be a win for Oregon, maybe even by a comfortable margin. Be careful, though, Ducks. Scheduling North Dakota State has not gone well for FBS teams recently.
What Kercheval failed to point out is that while Oregon faces some major rebuilds on the offensive side of the ball, the Ducks will return lineman Penei Sewell, who many speculate will be a Top-5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and Heisman Trophy candidate, as well as key contributors like running back CJ Verdell and wide receiver Johnny Johnson III.
The defense, however, didn't need a major facelift. Oregon has Kayvon Thibodeaux, a potential No.1 pick in 2022, as well as Rose Bowl Defensive MVP Brady Breeze, cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir and defensive lineman Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu. Not to mention the talent at linebacker in this 2020 class, highlighted by five-star recruit Justin Flowe.
It's difficult to speculate on what Oregon's team will look like in 100 days, especially since in-person voluntary workouts cannot resume until at least June 15. What we do know is Coach Mario Cristobal said his team was already developing a strong team culture. He also made it clear his Ducks will be ready to compete when that time comes.
Be sure to check out the latest Talkin' Ducks Podcast with host Jordan Kent and special guest Oregon Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Feld.
North Dakota State could upset Oregon in season opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest