It’s not what Oregon Ducks fans were hoping for when they started the season, but nonetheless, the Ducks will be playing in the Holiday Bowl against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Maybe a better way to look at this bowl game is as a chance to watch many reserves get to take the field and show that they have because there are already a ton of players from both sides who have announced they won’t be playing in the game.
Thankfully for the Ducks, they will have far more guys to work with, as UNC has already announced they’ll be without at least a dozen players due to the NFL draft or transfer portal.
The Ducks will focus on finishing the season strong. There was a chance for them to play in the Rose Bowl, but they missed out on that with their crushing loss to Oregon State. Head coach Dan Lanning now just wants to enter the off-season on a positive note and potentially impress some transfer portal targets or recruits at this point.
“There’s not a lot of teams in the nation right now that get an opportunity to go play to get 10 wins,” Lanning said. “… I think every one of our guys is anxious to get out there and do just that. You play for the love of the game. You play because you love football. You love to compete. And our guys want to get out there on the field and do that.”
The biggest change entering this bowl game will be the absence of offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. He left to take the head coaching job at Arizona State in his hometown. He was a critical part of Bo Nix’s success in his first year at Oregon. Lanning didn’t waste much time replacing his offensive mastermind.
“Kenny does a phenomenal job day in and day out, preparing his side and really collaborating with his coaches,” Lanning said. “He would tell you it’s a group effort whenever you get an award like that or up for an award like that. It’s really an indication of the job you’ve done, but also the job of the people around you. He’d be the first to tell you it helps to have great players and great coaches.”
Will Stein will take over for Lanning. Stein’s role in the Holiday Bowl is unclear at this point, but with a few weeks to prepare, there is a chance that he is on the sideline with some sort of role. He comes from UTSA, where he built the Roadrunners into a potent offense, and should look to do the same at Oregon.
“Will has done a great job developing dynamic quarterbacks in his career, and he is able to see the game through a different lens as a former quarterback himself,” Lanning said. “He is a tremendous teacher and a tireless worker, and his focus on the student-athlete experience aligns with our philosophy here in Eugene. I am excited to see our team and offense reach new heights under his leadership and direction with our entire offensive staff.”
With so many of UNC’s defensive stars out for this contest, I am confident that an incredibly powerful Oregon offense will have its way with the Tar Heels. The defense was already a weakness for North Carolina. This is likely why Oregon is coming into this game as a two-touchdown favorite, and the total has been set at 70 points.
This season, UNC was ranked 114th in the nation in total yards and 121st in passing yards allowed. That doesn’t bode well, considering the Ducks have the 4th best total yards offensively and the 15th-ranked pass offense. Oregon scored nearly 40 points a game, while UNC is allowing more than 31 a contest, which ranks 105th in the nation.
This could be a total track meet for Oregon as they wear out a young UNC defense whose confidence is likely already shattered from a brutal season.
What will be the biggest key for the Ducks is the fact that Bo Nix is suiting up in this game. Many quarterbacks of his stature would probably be on the way out at this point or refusing to play because of a risk of an injury.
Nix had a massive season, compiling 3.388 yards and 27 touchdowns this season while throwing just six interceptions. With Stein coming in, this is a great chance for Nix. He will likely either try to make a first great impression on Stein and make sure he is the front runner for the starting job in a year, or he will use this performance as an audition tape if he decides he wants to hit the transfer portal again.
Either way, I like Oregon and a whole lot of points to be scored. The mismatch for this UNC defense is just too much to overlook. It will be a happy holiday season when the Ducks take care of business in the Holiday Bowl. My final score prediction is 45-20.