As the Oregon Ducks football season draws closer with each new day, much is being made out of their relatively easy schedule that begins with a home-opener against the Arkansas State Red Wolves on September 1st. After the Red Wolves, the Ducks will host Fresno State (Sep. 8), Tennessee Tech (Sep. 15), and Arizona (Sep. 22) before experiencing their first road game against Washington State in Seattle, Wash.
With a schedule that sees Oregon at home for seven of their twelve regular season games, many are picking the Ducks to easily maneuver their way back to the Pac-12 Championship game. Yet, despite the easy non-conference schedule the Ducks are presented with, a steadily improving Pac-12 conference should give the Ducks a run for their money come conference play; highlighted by their November 3rd game against the USC Trojans in Los Angeles, Cali.
While all eyes will be on Oregon and USC during what is expected to be the game of the year in college football, many fail to recognize the potential of the Cal Bears and Washington Huskies to play spoiler to the Ducks’ 2012 campaign.
Oregon fans know all too well the dangers of the California Golden Bears and Berkeley. During their BCS National Championship run in 2010, the Ducks narrowly escaped out of Berkeley with a 15-13 victory, scoring just one offensive touchdown while manufacturing an impressive defensive effort to stall the big upset. After the game, Duck players, coaches, and fans were scratching their heads as to why they needed a late error by California to walk away unscathed.
Using lessons learned from their 2010 contest against Cal, Oregon should not overlook a dangerous Cal team that is already receiving quite a lot of preseason attention within the Pac-12.
Finishing with a 7-6 overall record in 2011, the Bears will be returning stars such as Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele, both of who will be looking to impress their pundits and aid the Bears in what may be a surprisingly successful Pac 12 season.
Improvements made by QB Zach Maynard as well as a stout defense should give Cal the chance to improve upon their 2011 record as well as play spoiler to quite a few teams as they continue on their quest back to Pac 12 relevancy.
Heading into their game against the Bears on November 10th, the Ducks will be fresh off of a win or loss against USC, a contest that is sure to drain the Ducks both physically and mentally. Yet, no matter the outcome of the USC game, the Ducks must be prepared for a contest in Cal that will be equally challenging.
If the Ducks underestimate the Bears or look past them because of the USC game, expect the Bears to take full advantage of this as they try to dethrone what has been the top team in the Pac-12 North.
Another game that should be equally daunting on the Oregon Ducks schedule is their contest against the University of Washington Huskies on October 6th in Autzen Stadium. Though the Ducks will be fueled by the ravenous passion that is Autzen, expect the Huskies to be ripped and ready for a chance to re-establish momentum in one of the most under-appreciated rivalries in all of college sports.
Washington, coming off a season that saw them finish third in the Pac-12 with a 7-6 record, returns do-it-all QB Keith Price as well as a growing defense looking to make a statement in the conference of champions. Despite losing RB Chris Polk, the Huskies will still field a talented team as they continue their ascension back to Pac-12 prominence.
Heading into this game, it can be argued that the Ducks will probably not have been tested yet. Non-conference games coupled with conference games against Arizona and Washington State should not present too much of a problem for a talented Ducks team.
However, if the Ducks have the same attitude and mentality heading into this game as they did their previous six, Washington may be able to beat the Ducks for just the first time in nine years. As the Ducks begin their journey for their fourth straight Pac-10/12 Title, by no means will this be an easy one. Despite a relatively easy start to the season, the Ducks face tests against USC, California, and Washington that should truly define who the program is.
While USC is the top program Oregon will face this year, Cal and Washington must not be overlooked by the Ducks nor their fans, for you can be rest assured that both those teams will be gunning for Oregon.