COVID-19 deprived college football fans of some outstanding matchups in 2020, with fewer schedules more indicative of this than Oregon’s. The Ducks were set to welcome to Autzen Stadium FCS juggernaut North Dakota State, which would have had quarterback Trey Lance, and also had a marquee matchup with Ohio State.
What’s more, the pandemic’s impact extended into a revamped Pac-12 slate. Protocols resulted in the cancelation of the Oregon-Washington game, resulting in the Ducks going into the conference championship and winning a repeat championship under contentious grounds. If nothing else, it adds another, unique layer to the intense rivalry.
Fortunately, the 2021 season looks to return to something more closely resembling normal. That means non-conference dates at Ohio State, an intriguing season opener against Mountain West contender Fresno State, and a challenging Pac-12 docket that sends Oregon to each of Stanford, Washington and Utah.
Mario Cristobal may have his most talented team yet since taking over in Eugene, starting with standout defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. Oregon might have the team most equipped for a Playoff run of any in the Pac-12, but must also navigate a treacherous path to get there.
Athlon asked a few of its editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Oregon in 2021.
Oregon Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2021
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
.The Pac-12 doesn’t appear to have a dominant team or CFB Playoff contender this year, but Oregon is the best of the bunch and should push for double-digit wins as the top team in the conference. Considering how tight the battle at the top of the league could be and with little separation among teams, another loss to finish 9-3 in the regular season isn’t out of the question for the Ducks. Coach Mario Cristobal’s team features one of the nation’s top defensive players in end/linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, while the offense brings back all five starters up front and a solid collection of skill talent. The development of quarterback Anthony Brown and defensive improvement after allowing 28.3 points a game will decide just how high this team can climb in the national rankings. But after winning two Pac-12 titles in a row, combined with the talent Cristobal has assembled, the path to the conference championship runs through Eugene.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Albeit under different sets of circumstances, Oregon is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion and therefore enters the season as the team to beat in the conference. The Ducks should be stout on defense with Kayvon Thibodeaux ready to wreak havoc while the offense could take a step forward depending on what coordinator Joe Moorhead gets from the quarterback position. Oregon has a manageable Pac-12 slate and an early showdown with Ohio State in Columbus offers a huge opportunity to pad the resume. But the Ducks also know that if a team from the Pac-12 is going to get a College Football Playoff berth, they probably need to run the table, and I just don't see that happening with this group. Nothing wrong with a 10-win regular season and a shot to make it three straight Pac-12 titles though.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Coming off a memorable 2019, appropriately capped with Justin Herbert punctuating his Ducks career in a heroic Rose Bowl, Oregon was quietly in a state of rebuild last season. That notion might run contrary to popular opinion, given the success Mario Cristobal and Co. have had on the recruiting trail, but the Ducks replaced a four-year starting quarterback and almost the entire offensive line (after Penei Sewell opted out to prepare for the NFL draft). Assuming the quarterback situation gets sorted out smoothly following Tyler Shough’s transfer, this Oregon team should be much more consistent than the 2020 version.
The schedule’s brutal, however, which places an especially high premium on the Week 2 trip to Ohio State. The 2010 Ducks were the last Pac-12 team to run the table in conference play, and the 2019 squad’s penultimate-week loss to Arizona State demonstrated once again how hard it is to finish 9-0 in a league marked by parody. A trip to Utah the same week of the 2021 season looms large with similar College Football Playoff-thwarting potential.