#6 Oregon Ducks Preview – 2014
Oregon Ducks Preview – 2014
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Reminder for first time readers: The CFBMatrix is built on simplicity. For predictions and previews I use only my trends and rankings of Talent, Location (schedule) and Coaching. T.L.C.
For a team that was recently in the national title game and has aspirations of returning, the window is closing very rapidly. After a top 10 recruiting class followed by a top 15, I felt the Ducks were turning the corner to a consistently elite talent stream. I was wrong. After back-to-back recruiting classes outside of the top 20, Oregon is sliding back to the pack the Pac-12 and further away from national title contention. In 2010, the Ducks became the highest ranked team (No. 16) in the CFB Matrix talent rankings to make a national title game in the last eight years. They are at No. 15 this year, but the path is much more difficult. Even under Chip Kelly, the Ducks beat top 15 recruiters only half the time. Unless the Ducks get back into the top 15 recruiters or better on a consistent basis in the coming years, their odds of getting to the playoff, let alone a national title game become very high. The Ducks got a tremendous break that few teams get to enjoy. Guys with NFL draft grades returned to play another season. The Ducks return their entire offensive line and 86 percent of their key offensive production metrics. The big question marks will be depth on defense and how it is coached.
They have a new defensive coordinator and although Don Pellum is an internal hire, he is nevertheless replacing Nick Aliotti, who sat in the DC control console for 17 years in Eugene. I do not have an official coach effect ranking on head coach Mark Helfrich, as he has just the single season under his belt. He coached the Ducks to nearly exact expectations as a first-year coach, as a minus-1 game coach effect. Last year, I had the Ducks losing at Stanford (home field and coach effect for Shaw tipped the scales) and on the road to another talented team (I took Washington but Arizona captured that flag). A minus-1 coach effect when you are a top 2 recruiter in your conference is very solid (think Bob Stoops at Oklahoma). This second season is the moment of truth for Helfrich and this staff. The Ducks talent is at a peak of the last five years; the staff needs to start pulling in elite classes to maintain their playoff dreams, and the schedule does not get more favorable for a Pac-12 title run. This is it, right here, right now.
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The only real weak link in this schedule I can see right now is the five road games in conference play. While the odds of an upset are much higher on the road than at home, look at the teams they are playing. Sans the UCLA Bruins, the other four are teams you take a national title contender to win no matter where the game is contested.
The Ducks get three home games to start the season. Two of them, South Dakota and Wyoming are wins. The one folks have circled is the Week 2 game between those, as Michigan State comes to Autzen Stadium on Sept. 6. As much as fans are playing this game up, if the Ducks don’t take care of business at home with nearly 100 percent of a returning offense against a defense that lost a ton of experience and is the No. 32 recruiter of the last four years, how do you expect the Ducks to win a national title?
Week 4 brings a trip to Washington State. If you are going to play in Pullman, September is a much nicer and more pleasant venue than November. Another win and the Ducks are 4-0 heading into their first bye week.
The rest of the season is a teeter -totter home and road games. This scenario provides not real advantage or disadvantage; it should be noted that USC is not in any of those games. Their talent is dangerous and their lack of presence on the schedule is a benefit to the Ducks.
Week 6, after the bye, welcomes the Arizona Wildcats to Eugene. Unlike Oregon, Arizona got clawed by early entries to the NFL as Ka’Deem Carey left early. He smoked the Ducks last year in Tucson. The CFB Matrix loves Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, but the talent gap is way too much and home field makes this a no-brainer. This game does have a smell of a trap game. Looking ahead to next week at UCLA is a small but real concern. Don’t downplay the small stuff, because to get to the playoff and try to win a national title, it is the small stuff that will kill you. UCLA is not small. At the Rose Bowl, with nearly equal coaching and talent, the pick here is UCLA. I don’t think Duck fans or any other Pac 12 fans should get too caught up in trying to go undefeated. I feel the Pac 12 champ, with its nine conference games and quality of conference at 13-0 or 12-1 is automatically in the playoff. The Ducks drop to 5-1, but this is the last big speed bump in the schedule.
The Washington Huskies visit in Week 8 in a critical division game. Here is another scheduling break for the Ducks by getting a top division talent at home (Stanford too). The talent favors Oregon, as does home field. The coach effect of Washington’s Chris Petersen, like Helfrich, remains in question, but we all know you can’t sleep on his teams. The Ducks win to extend the winning streak against UW to 11 games and move to 7-1. Sandwiched between UW and Stanford is a road trip to Cal. Some games at Cal have been close this past decade, making this a solid trap game with Stanford up next the following week. My soothsaying is not that good 6 months before the season to pick out the shockers. Ducks go to 8-1.
The thorn of thorns for the Ducks has, arguably, been the Stanford Cardinal in Autzen. In 2001, Stanford pinned the only loss on the schedule for the Ducks and spoiled a national title game berth. Twelve years later in 2012, the Cardinal did the same thing in a 17-14 victory that stopped and undefeated season and blocked the berth to the title game against Notre Dame. In my opinion, this is THE rivalry in the Pac 12 for superiority, as the winner of this game has won the last five conference titles. Talent edge: Oregon. Coaching: Stanford. Home field: Oregon. The pick at home is Oregon, just like it was at Stanford a year ago.
This is the spot you would want a bye, if you are the Ducks. But it isn’t there as Oregon after playing UW and Stanford in two of the last three weeks has to go to Utah. This game has big letdown potential, regardless if Oregon won both aforementioned games or not. I still pick the Ducks to win, sending them to 9-1 and into their last bye week.
They finish up with a win against lowly Colorado at home to improve to 10-1. The regular season concludes with a bus ride up to Beaver Stadium and a sea of orange for the 118th meeting between Oregon and Oregon State. I expect this game to be huge for both. An Oregon State win could put them at 9-3 and into the top 25, and the Ducks should be trying to clinch hosting the Pac 12 title game. If the -1 game coach effect was to rear its ugly head again, I expect it to happen in Salt Lake city or Corvallis. I’ll see ya in Corvallis!
2014 Win Loss Talent/Location Prediction Pattern
W, W, W, W, bye, W, L, W, W, W, W, bye, W, W plus -.5 game for Helfrich is 10-2 and #1 in the PAC-12 North
Reminder: The W/L pattern are the game by game predictions using Talent/Location of the games. It is the #1 pre-season prediction system for FBS games over the last three years. I use Coach Effect to then adjust the game pick totals to the win totals for the season.