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Ranking the Toughest Games on Oregon's College Football Schedule in 2015


Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon may not be part of the five-team, mish-mash that is the Pac-12 South race, but head coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks are not completely free from the fray. 

Oregon draws USC and Arizona State in cross-divisional play, both of which appear on the back half of the Ducks' 2015 schedule. The Trojans and Sun Devils were picked No. 1 and 2 by the Pac-12 media preseason poll, respectively.

Related: Oregon 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch

The Ducks' 2015 slate also includes treacherous road trips to Stanford and the Week 2 date with Michigan State. Oregon's trip to East Lansing, Mich., is a rare non-conference tilt with potential College Football Playoff implications at stake. 

The lower half of Oregon's schedule does not look too difficult, on paper, but business picks up considerably in the Ducks' marquee games. 

12. Sept. 19 vs. Georgia State

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Fledgling program Georgia State is still seeking its elusive, first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since moving up in 2013. When that will come is unclear, but a resounding certainty: It won’t come against Oregon.  

11. Sept. 5 vs. Eastern Washington

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You are probably well aware that possible Week 1 starting quarterback Vernon Adams lit up Eastern Washington’s Inferno for the past three seasons. You may have also read Adams scored a whole lot of touchdowns against Pac-12 opponents Oregon State and Washington while donning the Eagles' red, white and black. 

In order for Adams to do so, he needed a pretty good team around him. Eastern Washington is no pushover under head coach Beau Baldwin, having routinely played in the FCS Playoffs. The Eagles won the last national title that didn't go to North Dakota State. While its limitations make this a difficult matchup, Oregon can't expect Eastern Washington to lay down in Week 1. 

10. Nov. 27 vs. Oregon State

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Oregon’s Civil War rival Oregon State will have played an entire regular season, and thus not be the inexperienced roster upon which it enters the season. Nevertheless, there’ll likely be a considerable gap between the Ducks and Beavers at the conclusion of Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen’s first year at the helm.

9. Oct. 10 vs. Washington State

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Washington State has played Oregon tough in Mike Leach’s tenure on the Palouse. The Ducks escaped Pullman last season with a one-score victory, and in the Cougars’ last visit to Autzen Stadium, they forced three turnovers to keep a would-be laugher competitive through the first half.

Washington State is in something of a state of flux heading into 2015. Leach parted ways with both his special teams and defensive coordinators, and his version of the "Air Raid" offense has not quite flourished with the Cougars as it did with Texas Tech. Forcing a competitive game in Autzen Stadium should prove challenging for this bunch. 

8. Oct. 3 at Colorado

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Since Colorado moved into the Pac-12 in 2011, last year’s 44-10 Oregon win was the Ducks’ most narrow margin of victory in four meetings. Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre has his best team in three years on the job, and Colorado will play spoiler to someone in 2015. But Oregon is simply a bad matchup for this squad.

7. Oct. 17 at Washington

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Decidedly one-sided of late, Washington hasn’t taken a decision in this rivalry since 2003. And, whether the winner was Oregon or Washington, the margin of victory was last within 17 points in 2000.

Second-year Huskies head coach Chris Petersen had Oregon’s number for a time in his stint at Boise State. That’s no longer the case. A Washington team shrouded in uncertainty will be hard-pressed to end the streak.

6. Nov. 7 vs. Cal

Quarterback Jared Goff leads an intriguing dark-horse competitor in the Pac-12 North race. The Golden Bears can score points in bunches, operating out of head coach Sonny Dykes' "Bear-Raid" offense. When the two teams met last year in Levi's Stadium, Cal's potent offense kept the Golden Bears in the game until late in the fourth quarter. 

Continued defensive strides under second-year coordinator Art Kaufman are a must, because Oregon has deluged Cal for 43, 55 and 59 (twice) points in the teams' last four meetings. 

5. Sept. 26 vs. Utah

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Utah's M.O. against Oregon the last two meetings has been similar. The Utes play the Ducks tough for a half, but seemingly run out of gas in the second half. Both those encounters came in the final month of the regular season, so whether drawing Oregon earlier into the slate this time around helps or hurts Utah to that end could be a major factor. 

Utah's hard-nosed defensive style does resemble schemes that has given Oregon fits in the past. The Utes lose Nate Orchard at defensive end, but should still have one of the better lineups on that side of the ball in the Pac-12. 

4. Nov. 21 vs. USC

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There may not be a more highly anticipated date on the Pac-12 ledger than this one, USC and Oregon's first encounter since 2012. The Ducks ran roughshod over the Trojans then, exacting revenge for the 2011 meeting. That was USC's last visit to Autzen Stadium, and the Trojans escaped to L.A. with an upset in tow. 

These are obviously two entirely different teams, with two different head coaches. The stakes should be high, however, as the Pac-12 standard bearers for each of the last two decades square off in a late-season showdown that could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game just two weeks later. 

3. Nov. 14 at Stanford

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Oregon successfully exorcised its demon last November in a blowout of burgeoning rival Stanford. As gratifying as that win may have been, however, the Cardinal being relatively down had to put something of a damper on the Ducks' first win in the series since 2011. 

That should be of no concern in 2015. Stanford is poised for a bounce back, and should be in contention for the Pac-12 North when the Ducks come to The Farm for this one. 

2. Oct. 29 (Thursday) at Arizona State

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Mid-week contests have posed problems to Oregon recently, with two of the Ducks’ last three, regular season losses coming on Thursday nights. Not that Arizona State's typically rowdy student section needs that as added motivation to get Sun Devil Stadium rocking, however. The party on Mill Avenue will spill into the stands to make for a noisy and intimidating atmosphere. 

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has not shied from talking national championship, and this is one the Sun Devils need to make their case as viable contenders for that crown Oregon came oh-so-close to a season ago. 

1. Sept. 12 at Michigan State

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The Ducks repay Michigan State’s visit to Eugene last September in a showdown of College Football Playoff hopefuls. This looks to be the most intriguing non-conference matchup of the entire college football slate, with the Spartans’ typically tenacious defense juxtaposed against Oregon's quick-strike offense. 

Michigan State dominated the first half of last year's encounter, but the Ducks went to work in the second, burying the Spartans in the quicksand so many Pac-12 opponents experienced previously. 

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