Following up on a dismal 2016 season, the Oregon Ducks turned over the head-coaching reins to an outsider for the first time in 40 years. And, in his first season, Willie Taggart's version of Oregon football showed promise. But that first season also was Taggart's last with the Ducks, as his departure for the vacancy at Florida State gives way to the tenure of Mario Cristobal.
Cristobal returns to the head-coaching ranks for the first time since the 2012 season, which marked the abrupt conclusion of a successful stint with fledgling FIU. Cristobal took a new program at FIU and coached it to its first two bowl games, as well as a conference championship. His mission at Oregon is returning the recent national championship contender to College Football Playoff heights.
Much work must done if Oregon's to contend in 2018, but the prospect isn't out of the realm of possibility. The Ducks play a navigable schedule without reigning Pac-12 champion USC, and they get both Stanford and rival Washington at home.
Oregon Ducks 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 6
Week 1 – Sept. 1 vs. Bowling Green (Eugene, Ore.)
Oregon plays the first of three consecutive home, non-conference games in Week 1 against the MAC's Bowling Green Falcons. Bowling Green was the toast of the MAC not long ago under Dino Babers, but his departure for Syracuse ahead of the 2016 season preceded a downturn for the Falcons. Head coach Mike Jinks returns a veteran roster in his third season, however, so the Ducks should not overlook their first-ever meeting with Bowling Green.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. Portland State (Eugene, Ore.)
Oregon's played a FCS opponent in each of the previous eight seasons, and scored at least 53 points in all of those contests. That includes a 69-0 drubbing of Portland State in 2010. The Vikings boast a recent Pac-12 win, knocking off Washington State in 2015, but do not expect much resistance from head coach Bruce Barnum's squad.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. San Jose State (Eugene, Ore.)
San Jose State ended 2017 on a high note, stunning Wyoming, 20-17. It was a rare positive in a rough, 2-11 campaign for first-year head coach Brent Brennan. The Spartans return almost every starter from their offense a season ago, thus should be more competitive in Mountain West play. Competing at Autzen Stadium is a whole other matter.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 vs. Stanford (Eugene, Ore.)
Seven consecutive Pac-10/12 Conference championships went to either Oregon or Stanford from 2009-15, and one or the other program has represented the North in each Pac-12 Championship Game but one since its inception in 2011. Their shared dominance has sparked something of a rivalry between the Ducks and Cardinal, and the 2018 encounter could restore some of the hostility. Oregon will likely be undefeated, with three home games under Mario Cristobal to its credit, once Stanford comes to Autzen Stadium.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 at Cal (Berkeley, Calif.)
The Ducks close September with their first trip away from Eugene -- and it's a biggie with Pac-12 North implications. Cal turned heads in its first season under head coach (and Oregon alum) Justin Wilcox, starting 3-0 and winning a blowout over Washington State. Cal has one of the most veteran rosters in the Pac-12 heading into 2018, making the Golden Bears dangerous -- and a litmus test for the conference contention bonafides of this Oregon bunch.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 vs. Washington (Eugene, Ore.)
The schedule could not have broken any more perfectly for Oregon in its matchup with bitter rival Washington. The Ducks get the Pac-12 North favorites at home, coming off a bye week, with the Huskies one week removed from playing at UCLA. Washington's put a hurting on Oregon the last two seasons, winning by a combined 84 points and making up for nearly a decade-and-a-half of Ducks dominance.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)
Washington State's blowout win at Oregon in 2017 came with quarterback Justin Herbert (above, right) sidelined, but also marked three straight Cougars wins in the series. And lest Washington State's winning streak over Oregon be attributed to the Ducks' recent downturn, consider the Cougars gave the Ducks hard-fought games in 2013 and '14, as well.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 at Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.)
Since Arizona scored a pair of shocking upsets in 2013 and '14, Oregon exacted revenge with a blowout in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game, and a physical defeat of the then-surging Wildcats late last season. This year's meeting pits a pair of head coaches in their first season helming their respective programs, though Ducks fans should know Kevin Sumlin's name well. The new Arizona head coach oversaw Johnny Manziel's Heisman run at Texas A&M in 2012. Manziel landed at A&M after flirtations with Oregon, before the Ducks settled on a kid from Hawaii named Marcus Mariota.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 vs. UCLA (Eugene, Ore.)
One of the most anticipated dates on Oregon's 2018 calendar, Nov. 3 marks the return to Autzen Stadium of former head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly is back in Eugene with the Bruins, succeeding Jim Mora after six seasons. For Kelly, the 2018 campaign is his first in the college ranks since ending a four-season tenure at Oregon that garnered three conference championships, four BCS bowl appearances, and a national runner-up finish. Last season's loss at UCLA snapped a nine-year winning streak for the Ducks against the Bruins, and also was Oregon's first loss in the Rose Bowl since the 2010 Rose Bowl Game, the culmination of Kelly's first year as head coach.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 at Utah (Salt Lake City)
A blowout loss to Utah in Autzen Stadium in 2015 produced receipts from Oregon in '16 and '17. The Ducks stunned the Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2016, ending Utah's Pac-12 South title hopes. Last year, Oregon ran wild en route to 41 points in a romp over the Utes. This year's trip back to Salt Lake City could have Pac-12 Championship Game implications; Utah's experience and tough, defensive approach should have the Utes back in the divisional title hunt.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 vs. Arizona State (Eugene, Ore.)
A heartbreaking loss at Sun Devil Stadium a season ago ended what was Oregon's longest, active winning streak against a Pac-12 opponent. The Ducks aim to start a new streak against the Sun Devils, this time facing off against yet another first-year head coach. Arizona State will be nearing conclusion of its debut season under a "new leadership model," with long-retired Herm Edwards coming off of TV and back onto the sidelines.
Week 13 – Nov. 23 at Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)
The Pac-12 is in flux in 2018, something that's evident when looking at the latest installment of the Civil War. Oregon's first year-head coach will face a third fellow freshman at the helm in the month of November alone when the Ducks travel to Oregon State. While the flood of new faces promises uncertainty in the Pac-12, one almost assured forecast is that the Beavers will be in serious rebuilding mode after finishing 1-11 in 2017.