This weekend, Pac-12 football returns to the state as the Oregon State Beavers host the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Friday night, and the #11 Oregon Ducks hit the road to face the #16 Auburn Tigers in Texas on Saturday afternoon.
The Ducks open their season as 3.5 point road underdogs, and the Beavers are 14.5 point underdogs in their home opener.
While the Beavers did not impress much with just 2 wins a year ago, they are in year two of head coach Jonathan Smith’s vision, and the former Beaver QB and Washington offensive coordinator is expected to turn the program around quickly. Oregon is coming off a 9-4 season that took many by surprise after Willie Taggart’s shocking departure. The Ducks re-established themselves as a Pac-12 contender during an overtime loss to Stanford, which they followed up with back to back wins over California and Washington. While a tough loss at Washington State derailed their chances to get to the conference title game, they won four of their last five games including their Redbox Bowl victory over Michigan State.
The Ducks welcome back senior QB Justin Herbert, who is considered an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy after a stellar 2018 campaign. The Beavers have their own senior QB returning in Jake Luton, who looks to improve on his 14 TD: 8 INT stat line in his two years with OSU after transferring from Idaho and Ventura Community College. Luton has all of the physical and mental tools teams look for in a starting QB, and we’ll expect great things from him now that he has the same offensive system in consecutive seasons for the first time in his six-year collegiate career.
To celebrate the return of everyone’s favorite sport, let’s welcome back football with thoughts on the college football experience, expectations for both teams, marquee matchups to watch, and the best part of the college football season.
1. This week NCAA football makes its glorious return to stadiums, sports bars, car radios, and television sets in rooms and houses across the nation. What makes college football so special?
While it may sound cliche, it’s the pageantry. Whether you mean to or not, you end up feeling invested in one side or the other in every game you watch. Maybe it’s that every game is still supposed to be just for fun (even though there are millions of dollars riding on it), but seeing all of these college kids get together every Saturday to battle it out in a stadium that often are older than their grandparents is a lot of fun. The tradition, the team colors, the school spirit, the fight songs, the band, the smiling faces, fans driving in from all areas to see their team in the big game, it all harkens back to a simpler time when we were dragged to family reunions or block parties by our parents. That’s what game day in college football feels like – a block party in the parking lot, and a family reunion once you head into the stadium. Every week it feels like you’re going home.
2. Las Vegas has set the Oregon Ducks’ over/under win projection at 8.5 games this year, and the Oregon State Beavers are at 2.5 games. Are these fair expectations?
Both teams should be able to exceed those goals. After reviewing the Ducks’ schedule, I like them to win at least 9 games, and could even see them winning as many as 10 or 11 if everything falls into place. Early games vs Montana and Nevada should keep them at 2-1 at worst, and maybe even 3-0 heading into the conference schedule if they have success against Auburn on a neutral field. Oregon State should be able to win at least four games, with early-season matchups with Cal Poly and Hawaii ideally helping them get two wins before they even start their conference schedule, and then I can easily see them winning at least 3 rivalry games. Even if 5 wins is their true ceiling, that’s a huge improvement over last year and a big step forward to making a bowl game in year three under Smith.
3. What early NCAA matchups are you circling on your calendar?
Oregon-Auburn should be a good week one matchup, but that appears to be the only game this weekend that features two quality teams. There could be some really good games that come out of the schedule regardless, but it’s tough to say who will put on a good show this early when we don’t truly know who matches up well. Week two there’s a little more action, with Texas A&M at Clemson, LSU at Texas, Cal at Washington, and Stanford at USC. Week four is when we should see some real fireworks with Oregon at Stanford, Auburn at Texas A&M, Michigan at Wisconsin, and Notre Dame at Georgia.
4. Do you expect either Oregon or Oregon State to be in the Pac-12 title game?
I don’t want to rule either of them out, but the idea that they will be better than Washington, Stanford, or Washington State is a little unrealistic. I can see the Ducks having a better record than the Cougars, but the Huskies and Cardinal are annual conference contenders and don’t show any signs of moving backwards. The Ducks have great talent but have not put it all together in some time, and have not appeared in the Pac-12 title game since Marcus Mariota’s senior season in 2014. I’d prefer the Beavers put together their first winning season since 2013 before we talk about them winning the conference, but that doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish both in the same season, even if it doesn’t sound realistic.
5. What is your favorite part of the college football season?
It’s the first home night game. People show up for the game in force with hoodies and/or quilted “puffer” jackets and vests. You can see your breath in the chilled night air, and the contrast of the bright lights illuminating the field under a clear moonlit sky is just amazing. Even if you’re watching at home and grilling for friends and family, chances are you have some of that fresh night air finding its way in with a collection of folks arriving in any manner of team gear ready to watch their teams do battle.
Then there’s just a level of intensity you don’t seem to get from games during the day. It’s as though this is the only game that matters, and since it takes place at the end of the day, maybe it is the only game that matters. You’re cold to the core but you’re breathing fire to cheer your team on to a “w”. Day games are fun and free up the rest of the day for either more game watching at home or any number of fall or winter activities. But the night games are just special on another level. You end your day with your favorite people watching your favorite team, and ideally, you come away with a victory and a smile. If it goes well, the whole game feels like one big party. And it is probably even more enjoyable for those that attend or once attended school there. For the college football fan, it’s the perfect autumn Saturday night.