With back-to-back Pac-12 championships to its credit, Oregon has re-established itself as a preeminent program on the West Coast. The ultimate goal eluding the Ducks in Mario Cristobal's so far successful tenure is a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Oregon can make the statement necessary to land its first spot in the final four since 2014, and the Pac-12's first since 2016. However, it requires winning what might be the most difficult non-conference game on any Power 5 program's docket this season, as well as navigating a conference slate that sends the Ducks to both Stanford and Washington.
Oregon Ducks 2021 Schedule
Bye: Week 6
Week 1 — Sept. 4 vs. Fresno State (Eugene, Ore.)
New Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter spent four seasons and change as head coach at Fresno State, where he won a Mountain West championship in 2013. His first season in his new post with Oregon comes against a Bulldogs squad with a bevy of returning talent and the potential of winning the MW West division.
Week 2 — Sept. 11 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
Perhaps the most unfortunate non-conference game lost in 2020 as a result of the pandemic was Ohio State's scheduled trip to Autzen Stadium. Having the return trip on the docket is a nice consolation, however. Oregon can make its case as the Pac-12's first College Football Playoff-worthy team since the 2016 season with a strong showing in the Horseshoe.
This meeting is the first between the two programs since the 2014 season's national championship game.
Week 3 — Sept. 18 vs. Stony Brook (Eugene, Ore.)
Oregon's final tune-up before Pac-12 play pits it against Stony Brook out of the Colonial Athletic Association from the FCS ranks. Head coach Chuck Priore has established a consistent winner at Stony Brook, and has an NFL-caliber defensive end in Sam Kamara.
Week 4 — Sept. 25 vs. Arizona (Eugene, Ore.)
Arizona underwent a considerable makeover in the offseason with the firing of Kevin Sumlin — whose signature win in three underwhelming seasons at UA came over the Ducks in 2018 — and the hire of Jedd Fisch. The longtime journeyman assistant made immediate overhauls to the Wildcats that will likely still be a work in progress when they visit Autzen Stadium.
Week 5 — Oct. 2 at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)
The definitive rivalry of the 2010s in the Pac-12 was Oregon and Stanford. The two programs combined for six championships in seven seasons from through 2015, sent five different players to the Heisman Trophy presentation from 2010 through 2017, and could well be the front-runners in the Pac-12 North with the Cardinal looking to build off a strong finish to a disjointed 2020 campaign.
Week 7 — Oct. 15 vs. Cal (Eugene, Ore.)
DeRuyter again sees a program where he previously coached, this time a Cal Golden Bears bunch that he helped reshape the identity of under head coach Justin Wilcox. Cal's tenacious defensive approach has vexed Oregon in recent meetings, successfully dragging the Ducks into rock fights wherein they scored only 17 points each time. Coming off the physical encounter with Stanford in Week 5, the bye falls at a beneficial time for Oregon ahead of Cal's visit to Eugene.
Week 8 — Oct. 23 at UCLA (Pasadena, Calif.)
The 2021 campaign is a pivotal one for UCLA under Chip Kelly. The former Oregon coach, who won three Pac-10/12 championships, a Rose Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl, has fallen short of expectations in his first three seasons. This could be a critical game for the Bruins, depending on how the first half of their schedule unfolds. In its last visit to Rose Bowl Stadium, Oregon won a thriller for the ages over Wisconsin in the 2020 Rose Bowl Game, which was the swan song for standout Justin Herbert and an important stepping stone in the Ducks' trajectory under Cristobal.
Week 9 — Oct. 30 vs. Colorado (Eugene, Ore.)
Colorado emerged as one of the pleasant surprises in the truncated 2020 season. Karl Dorrell heads into his second year at the helm with a veteran squad capable of contending in the wide-open Pac-12 South. The Buffaloes snapped a six-game losing streak to the Ducks in 2016 with a 41-38 win at Autzen Stadium, but were routed in the 2019 matchup.
Week 10 — Nov. 6 at Washington (Seattle)
The bitter rivalry added an intriguing new wrinkle to it in 2020 by not taking place. COVID-19 protocols forced the cancelation of the border war, resulting in Oregon advancing to the Pac-12 Championship Game despite Washington having the better record. The Ducks and Huskies are two of the favorites to win the Pac-12 in 2021, and barring another once-in-a-century pandemic season, that competition should be settled on the field.
Week 11 — Nov. 13 vs. Washington State (Eugene, Ore.)
On its way to the program's first conference championship since 2014, the 2019 Ducks ended another drought: Its losing streak against Washington State. The Cougars won four straight in the series from 2015 through 2018, but Justin Herbert led a legendary drive to secure a nail-biter win the last time Washington State visited Eugene. Last season's meeting in Pullman saw another Oregon comeback, but rallying from a first-half deficit did not produce as dramatic a result with the Ducks winning by two touchdowns.
Week 12 — Nov. 20 at Utah (Salt Lake City)
A marquee rematch of the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game looms on what is traditionally one of the most raucous weekends of each season. CJ Verdell broke off a long run after "Shout" that slammed the door on the Utes in that match, erasing their best shot at making the College Football Playoff. The always lively Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd will be jumping in a game that should have significant implications on the Pac-12 title race.
Week 13 — Nov. 27 vs. Oregon State (Eugene, Ore.)
In what was one of the best games of the 2020 college football season, Oregon State scored its biggest win of the Jonathan Smith era and spoiled Oregon's Thanksgiving weekend all in one fell swoop. The Beavers' rebuild is going well, with Oregon State emerging as a weekly challenger no matter what opponent it plays, and the 2021 squad should be the same. If all goes according to plan in the previous 11 games before the no-longer-Civil War, Oregon State could have the opportunity to play ultimate spoiler to Oregon.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.