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Oregon Football: Ducks' 2020 Schedule Analysis

Oregon Football: Ducks' 2020 Schedule Analysis

Oregon Football: Ducks' 2020 Schedule Analysis

The 2019 season marked a return to form for Oregon football, albeit under a new look. The Ducks shook up college football in the 2000s and early 2010s with a hyper-charged offensive style, yielding three Pac-10/12 championships from 2009 through 2014 and two national title game appearances. But after requiring a reboot, Mario Cristobal successfully introduced an undeniably Alabama-influenced style that has made Oregon one of the most physical teams in the country.

With an impressive defeat of Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and a come-from-behind win in the Rose Bowl worth shouting over, the 2020 Ducks may be poised for even bigger things. First, however, they'll have to endure one of the toughest opening stretches seen anywhere in the game.

Oregon Ducks 2020 Schedule

Bye: Week 6

Week 1 — Sept. 5 vs. North Dakota State (Eugene, Ore.)

Oregon's Pac-12 counterpart USC is one of only three programs (along with Notre Dame and another Pac-12 member, UCLA) to have never played a program from the Football Championship Subdivision. USC scheduling UC Davis last year caused enough of an uproar that the Trojans backed out of the meeting. That's relevant because it's worth looking at Oregon's 2020 season opener to understand not all FCS programs are equal — and some are considerably tougher than a number of FBS programs.

North Dakota State beat an outstanding James Madison bunch in last season's FCS National Championship Game, marking the Bison's eighth title since 2011. The NDSU dynasty is arguably the greatest in team sports since John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams of the '60 and '70s, and the 2020 Bison will again be front-runners with reigning Walter Payton Award winner Trey Lance at quarterback. What's more, North Dakota State visits Autzen Stadium with an impressive collection of wins against Power 5 opponents in recent years.

Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Ohio State (Eugene, Ore.)

This rematch of the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship may well be a de facto elimination game for 2020 purposes. The Buckeyes come into Autzen Stadium having dominated recent matchups with Pac-12 opponents, most notably a string of postseason victories against Washington to cap the 2018 season; USC at the end of the '17 campaign; and Oregon in the aforementioned national title game to conclude the '14 season.

Quarterback Justin Fields is one of the leading Heisman Trophy contenders heading into 2020, and his command of Ohio State's potent offense provides maybe the stiffest test to Oregon's vaunted defense it will see all season.

Week 3 — Sept. 19 vs. Hawaii (Eugene, Ore.)

A name familiar to Pac-12 fans makes his return to the conference's footprint, as former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham leads Hawaii into Oregon. Graham replaced Nick Rolovich, now at Washington State, and inherits a program on the upswing. Rolovich's successful implementation of a prolific offense powered the Rainbow Warriors to last season's Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Graham's scheme will look different than the Run-and-Shoot-influenced style Rolovich oversaw, but Hawaii will still put up points.

Week 4 — Sept. 26 at Colorado (Boulder, Colo.)

Oregon's first excursion away from Eugene doubles as the Pac-12 opener. The Ducks have had little trouble with Colorado historically, losing only in the 2016 campaign — which was both Oregon's worst in several decades, and Colorado's best since joining the league. The Buffaloes will be in another rebuilding phase, surprisingly losing head coach Mel Tucker after just one season to Michigan State.

Tucker, like Cristobal, came from the Nick Saban coaching tree and also spent time in the NFL. He was implementing a similar approach at CU. His successor, Karl Dorrell, comes with plenty of similar NFL experience and a background in the Pac, having coached at UCLA in the 2000s.

Week 5 — Oct. 3 vs. Washington (Eugene, Ore.)

One of the most bitter rivalries in all of college football has since added championship stakes.

Oregon and Washington have combined for three of the last four Pac-12 titles, including the past two. Both programs' success on the recruiting trail ensures this heated affair will likely carry championship prospects with it.

The last two meetings have been some of the most memorable, with Oregon winning in overtime at Autzen Stadium two years ago then rallying in the second half at Husky Stadium in 2019. With those wins, the Ducks have claimed 14 of the past 16 in the series. Next year will be the first with Jimmy Lake at the helm for UW.

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Week 7 — Oct. 17 at Cal (Berkeley, Calif.)

In the mid-2000s, Oregon began a trend that swept through almost the entire conference when it adopted a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Cal was among those to embrace such a style with its hire of Air Raid guru Sonny Dykes in 2013, but after the program parted ways with him in January 2017, the Golden Bears embraced a different style.

The landscape of the Pac-12 has undergone change again, and again, Oregon and Cal both reflect it. Emphasis on defense now prevails, and Justin Wilcox's tenure as head coach has seen the Golden Bears boast one of the toughest units in the Pac-12. The Ducks needed a second-half rally last season at home to weather Cal's stinginess.

Week 8 — Oct. 24 vs. Stanford (Eugene, Ore.)

Stanford endured an uncharacteristic slog through the 2019 season, missing a bowl for the first time in David Shaw's illustrious tenure as head coach. Whether the injury-ravaged Cardinal's lost campaign was an aberration or indicative of future trouble should be clear by this juncture in the 2020 campaign.

With K.J. Costello's transfer, the Oregon defense will get a look at Davis Mills behind center.

Week 9 — Oct. 31 at Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.)

Tucson has been unkind to Oregon in its last few visits. Arizona routed the Ducks in 2013, and again on Halloween Week of 2018. The 2020 Ducks aim to reverse the trend against an Arizona side that struggled mightily last season.

The upcoming season could be make-or-break for Kevin Sumlin; we should know which way the Wildcats are trending when Oregon descends on the Old Pueblo.

Week 10 — Nov. 7 vs. USC (Eugene, Ore.)

Oregon's blowout win at the Coliseum last November may have been the best game the Ducks played all season (save the impressive Pac-12 title win). With everything clicking — defense, offense and special teams — Oregon steamrolled its way to an impressive win. They'll look to kick off November in similar fashion of what could be a preview of the 2020 Pac-12 Championship Game.

USC is loaded on offense heading into next season, which should make for an exciting dynamic opposite the stacked Ducks defense.

Week 11 — Nov. 13 vs. Arizona State (Eugene, Ore.)

A fateful trip to the desert last November doomed Oregon's hopes of crashing the College Football Playoff. On a short turnaround, the 2020 Ducks get the opportunity of returning the Sun Devils' receipt on Friday the 13th.

Arizona State heads into the campaign with one of the most intriguing players in the conference, Jayden Daniels. His performance against Oregon last November ignited an offseason of hype for the talented, dual-threat playmaker.

Week 12 — Nov. 21 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)

A breathtaking finish last year marked the end of a four-game losing streak for the Ducks against Washington State. Oregon returns to Pullman this fall looking for its first win on the Palouse since 2014.

The Cougars begin a new era with Nick Rolovich at the helm. Rolovich's impressive stint at Hawaii suggests Washington State will not soon be abandoning the prolific passing attack that was the program's hallmark for much of the previous decade.

Week 13 — Nov. 28 at Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)

The Civil War has been all Ducks for much of the last decade, save for Oregon State's 2016 victory. However, Jonathan Smith has the Beavers on the upswing, and the exciting offensive style implemented in Corvallis last season could give the Ducks trouble in 2020. At the tail end of a challenging November, this could be a trap on the way to Las Vegas.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.