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Virginia Cavaliers vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction

Royce Freeman

Royce Freeman

Oregon and Virginia each opened the 2016 season against FCS opponents, though produced very different results. The Ducks weathered a slow, early start to blowout UC Davis, while Virginia struggled to handle Colonial Athletic Association front-runner Richmond in Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall's debut.

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Mendenhall's second outing as Virginia head coach offers no reprieve. The Cavaliers travel cross-country to Autzen Stadium for a date with the Ducks. Virginia and Oregon last faced in 2013, with the Ducks rolling in Charlottesville, 59-10.

New coaches for both programs and a host of new players square off this time, but Virginia may be hard-pressed to avoid a similar result.

Virginia at Oregon

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Line: Oregon -24.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Dakota Prukop's continued progress

Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop had quite the Duck debut, dumping UC Davis for 271 yards passing and three touchdowns, with a fourth score on the ground. Prukop's time spent under Chip Kelly disciple Tim Cramsey at MSU seems to serve the quarterback well at his new home in Eugene.

Prukop's seemingly seamless fit into the Oregon offense gets a stiffer test this week against a Virginia secondary with some playmakers. Quin Blanding, Tim Harris, Myles Robinson and Kelvin Rainey can disrupt the passing game enough to potentially slow down the Ducks' high-powered attack. The Cavaliers also bring consistent pressure, so Prukop's running ability could be of more prominence this week than last.

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2. Weakness in the Oregon secondary? 

Oregon boasted one of the best secondaries in college football for much of the Ducks' run atop the Pac-12. Oregon thrived on generating takeaways in the back line, feeding the high-powered offense with great field position, and leaving opponents stuck in proverbial quicksand.

Last season's regression led directly to staffing changes, with Brady Hoke taking over defensive coordinator for longtime (and current) linebackers coach Don Pellum. Hoke's approach is meant to bring back some of that greediness, lacking from the 2015 Duck defense. Against UC Davis, Oregon came away with an interception -- but also gave up 303 yards passing.

Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae's fingertips are immediately all over the Cavalier attack. The Wahoos attacked Richmond for 265 yards in Week 1, almost 30 more than Virginia's average in 2015. If Virginia has a chance to pull off the upset, it will come from exploiting the deficiencies in the Oregon secondary.

3. Rolls Royce

Oregon running back Royce Freeman had a very solid 2016 debut, in typical Freeman fashion: low-key. He carried just 11 times, but averaged a shade below eight yards on those attempts and reached the end zone twice.

His Heisman Trophy campaign begins in earnest this week, with Oregon facing the first of 11 consecutive Power Five opponents.

Virginia's rush defense struggled mightily against Richmond, surrendering 187 yards on the ground to the Spiders. And that's an offensive attack that lacks the sheer volume of playmakers at Oregon's disposal. Freeman may not carry much Saturday — or need to — but he has a prime opportunity to post some gaudy numbers.

Final Analysis

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Virginia draws a truly difficult matchup, not just having to go across the continent, but kicking off 90 minutes to midnight on the East Coast. A sleepy effort against one of the nation's most prolific offenses could spell a very long night for the Cavaliers.

Oregon's defense is still a work in progress, so quarterback Kurt Benkert — once a protégé of Oklahoma air-raid guru Lincoln Riley when both were at East Carolina — should be able to get the Cavaliers some points. Virginia's not a team well-equipped to keep up with the Ducks in a track meet, however.

Prediction: Oregon 49, Virginia 20

— 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.