**Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the Emerald’s Duck Season magazine, a preview of the Oregon football team’s upcoming season that is currently available for free at all Duck Store locations in Eugene. We will post each story in the days leading up to the first day of fall practice on Aug. 10.
As the 2015 season approaches, Oregon football will face some of its toughest competition in the past five years.
The Ducks are expected to face at least five nationally ranked teams once the preseason rankings are announced. Michigan State and USC are expected to be ranked in the top 10 while Utah, Stanford and Arizona State should all appear in the top 25.
Here’s a breakdown of each game for the Ducks.
Week 1 vs. Eastern Washington — Sept. 5
All of the hype surrounding the Ducks’ season opener will be around the quarterback position. Who will be starting at QB for the Ducks? Will it be Marcus Mariota’s backup of two years Jeff Lockie or will it be Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr.? No matter who starts for the Ducks, the quarterback will be under tremendous scrutiny to perform at a level near the Mariota-led Ducks.
Week 2 @ Michigan State — Saturday, Sept. 12
Oregon wastes no time when it comes to making a national statement as the Ducks travel over 2,000 miles to East Lansing, Michigan for a showdown with the Spartans. Michigan State is always armed with a powerful running game and vicious defense, so the early season test should be a valuable measuring stick for how the Ducks will fare this season.
Week 3 vs. Georgia State — Saturday, Sept. 19
Oregon’s only cupcake game of the season comes against Georgia State of the Sun Belt conference. While the Panthers’ basketball team was the darling of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, they’re going to have a much harder time defeating the Ducks at Autzen Stadium.
Week 4 vs. Utah — Saturday, Sept. 26
Led by Devontae Booker at running back, Utah has a strong possibility of marching into Eugene and stealing an upset. Booker is a powerful runner with the potential to sustain long drives against Oregon’s defense and keep the Ducks’ offense on the sideline. The Utes were controlling Oregon last year in Provo, Utah before the Ducks’ offense exploded for the win.
Week 5 @ Colorado — Saturday, Oct. 3
After two tough opponents in the previous three weeks, Oregon will has an opportunity to get healthy and fine-tune some aspects of its game when it travels to Boulder, Colorado. The Buffaloes are a perennial Pac-12 doghouse team but wide receiver Nelson Spruce and running back Christian Powell will give Colorado a fighting chance for a shootout.
Week 6 vs. Washington State — Saturday, Oct. 10
Last year, Washington State gave the Ducks a scare and almost ruined their quest for perfection. Ultimately, thanks to some timely plays by Mariota and a late stand by the defense, Oregon prevailed. Now that the Cougars are traveling to Eugene, look for Oregon to jump all over Washington State and its air raid offense and make a statement in proving that last year was a fluke.
Week 7 @ Washington — Saturday, Oct. 17
Arguably the most anticipated game on Oregon’s schedule, the Ducks — and their fans — will fly north to take on the Huskies in Seattle. Oregon is currently on an 11-game winning streak in the series, and the streak doesn’t look like it’s in jeopardy. Even with Washington head coach Chris Peterson in his second year, Washington is still hurting from a depleted roster and will probably be starting true freshman Jake Browning at quarterback.
Week 9 @ Arizona State — Thursday, Oct. 29
Oregon’s schedules ramps up from this point on and it starts with a Thursday night kickoff against the Sun Devils in Tempe, Arizona. DJ Foster of Arizona State right be the best player in the Pac-12 and the most underrated player in the nation, so if Oregon wants to leave with a win, they’re going to have to find a way to eliminate him from the offense. Arizona State is going to put Foster at running back, out wide at receiver and in the slot to keep Oregon guessing. The versatility of Oregon’s defense is going to have to shine for the win.
Week 11 vs. California — Saturday, Nov. 7
A potential Pac-12 sleeper pick resides in Berkeley, California. Jared Goff might be the best quarterback in the nation. Armed with a trio of receivers and one very versatile running back in Daniel Lasco, Cal’s offense is primed to explode. The Golden Bears’s offense can score at a ridiculous pace. But while Cal could give Oregon a run for its money in the first half, the overall speed of the Ducks will likely overwhelm Cal in the end.
Week 12 @ Stanford — Saturday, Nov. 14
Oregon’s nemesis over the past couple of years is going to have a hard time taking down Oregon on The Farm. Although Kevin Hogan is a fifth-year senior, the question of who he will have to distribute the ball to will the biggest question of the year. Stanford has lost a lot of players on defense the past two years, but the Cardinal always seem to find a way to reload.
Week 13 vs. USC — Saturday, Nov. 21
In the biggest game of the year for Oregon, the showdown between the Trojans and Ducks will have serious Pac-12 and national title implications once the game is over. Both teams enter the game as Pac-12 favorites in their respective divisions, but a loss this late in the season could derail their hopes of postseason play. Quarterback Cody Kessler leads a very talented offense while Su’a Cravens is very loudly making a name for himself as the conference’s best defensive player. USC will need to play their best to beat Oregon, but considering none of the prominent players have experienced the noise at Autzen Stadium, Oregon should get the win in the end.
Week 14 vs. Oregon State — Friday, Nov. 27
The Civil War this year is expected to be even more of a one-sided game with Oregon thrashing the Beavers again. Oregon State is in the beginning of a major rehaul within its program while the Ducks are catching fire as a yearly national title contender. This game should be a breeze for the Ducks.
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka