The Ducks look to repeat as Pac-12 champions — and possibly contend for a College Football Playoff berth
January's Rose Bowl win marked a fitting conclusion to the Oregon careers of Troy Dye and Justin Herbert, as well as other Ducks responsible for the program's quick turnaround from 4-8 to Pac-12 champions. But with head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff flourishing on the recruiting trail, returners like Kayvon Thibodeaux and CJ Verdell made it clear last season: They are hungry for more.
Replacing key contributors like Dye and Herbert, and All-American offensive lineman Penei Sewell, who opted out as a result of the pandemic, will make improving upon last year's success a considerable challenge. There's no shortage of talent in Eugene, however, and the addition of Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator could give the offense some needed pop to better complement a stout defense.
Oregon's all-conference 2020 slate is manageable. Running the table is never easy, even in a shortened campaign like this. But the Ducks get two of their top competitors in the North at Autzen Stadium and will have some time to adjust in the lead-up to a huge road trip to Cal. It will make for an interesting sprint to the Pac-12 Championship Game — and maybe the College Football Playoff.
Oregon Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite some key pieces missing from last year’s team that won the Pac-12 title, Oregon should be favored to win the North (and potentially the entire conference) in 2020. Led by emerging star Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks return one of the nation’s top defenses and should be able to effectively plug the gaps left behind by opt-outs Thomas Graham and Jevon Holland in the secondary. New play-caller Joe Moorhead is a good fit on offense, but tackle Penei Sewell’s decision to opt out leaves no returning starters up front. The spotlight is also on the quarterback spot, as Tyler Shough and Boston College transfer Anthony Brown top the depth chart to replace Justin Herbert. The road trip to California on Dec. 5 won’t be easy, but I think the Ducks find a way to win the six scheduled games on their 2020 slate.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It's been an interesting offseason for Oregon with a bunch of players initially opting out only to see a few decide to return. However, the Ducks are far from the whole, and that's even after accounting for the expected losses of standouts like Justin Herbert and Troy Dye. Offensive lineman Penei Sewell, arguably the best player in all of college football, is not playing, and I can't help but wonder the impact his absence will have on an offensive line that's trying to help new quarterback Tyler Shough get comfortable as well as open running lanes for CJ Verdell. Oregon also is down three key guys in the secondary. Plenty of talent remains among the defensive backs and on the roster overall, but I would have loved to have seen this team at full strength. That said, the schedule sets up nicely for the defending Pac-12 champions, whose toughest road test appears to be at Berkeley against Cal. The Golden Bears have been a thorn in the Ducks' side recently, but I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Cristobal, who will find a way to knit all the new pieces together and guide his team back to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Pac-12 brass has taken criticism in recent years for failing to build out schedules that benefit its most promising teams. While no fault of the conference office, Oregon was originally in line to take on one of the most difficult schedules in college football in 2020, hosting FCS juggernaut North Dakota State and College Football Playoff hopeful Ohio State in the first two weeks.
With those games off the docket, the load gets easier. What's more, Oregon benefits from drawing a very manageable slate. The North schedule is unchanged, which means traveling to Cal and Washington State (the latter has been a consistent thorn in Oregon's side over the past half-decade), but also getting Stanford and bitter rival Washington both at home. The Washington game, in particular, could determine Oregon's Pac-12 fate, falling on the line week of the (ir)regular season.
Oregon also avoids the three heavyweights of the South — Arizona State, USC, and Utah. Should Joe Moorhead's offense click, and new starters Tyler Shough at quarterback and a host of new faces on the offensive line mesh, an undefeated season isn't out of the question.