By REED NELSON
Traffic is back, Phil Knight’s Palace of Football is under construction and the countdown to Kickoff 2012 has dwindled down to precious hours, minutes and seconds, which can mean only one thing: a season preview, conducted at the frenetic pace that has become the modus operandi of the Ducks offense. Catch your breath, here we go.
Oregon (-37) vs. Arkansas St., Sept. 1 — The 37-point spread says it all. It’s the Paul-Crew inspired warm-up opponent that Oregon needed after opening last season in Dallas. No Honey Badgers in Eugene this weekend, but then again, there are no Honey Badgers anywhere this season. What a difference a year makes.
Oregon vs. Fresno State, Sept. 8 — New Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter might have taken over a team that was coming off its worse season in program history, but it isn’t a total reclamation project. Adding to the theme is starting Bulldog quarterback, junior Derek Carr (yes, of that Carr clan. Derek is the younger brother of former Fresno QB, #1 draft pick and eternal bust, David Carr), who is no joke. Last season, as a sophomore, he threw for 3,544 yards and 26 touchdowns. Fresno’s running game, starring Robbie Rouse (1,589 yards, 13 TD’s in 2011) makes them a formidable WAC opponent, but I won’t get carried away. This one may stay close through the first quarter, but after that it should be a Nevada 2011 rerun.
Oregon Vs. Tennessee Tech, Sept. 15 — See: Arkansas State… Only sort of kidding. It’s the Ducks last “warm up” (though the coaching staff will never refer to it as such) and they should have their offensive and defensive rotations pretty dialed in for when…
Oregon vs. Arizona, Sept. 22 — The RichRod:Tuscon Era begins this season, and the traveling circus makes its stop in Eugene in late September. Arizona doesn’t look all that promising — a feeling aided by the departure of Wildcat demagogue Nick Foles — but they don’t look too despondent either. No Duel, Part Duex here, and don’t look for Oregon’s streak being of double-digit favorites to end here.
Oregon @ Washington State, Sept. 29 — Or here for that matter. Mike Leach’s pirate ways have reached the Pacific Northwest, but the Cougs’ feeble display against BYU in their Thursday opener was not the keystone in the confidence pyramid that they were looking for. It’s Oregon’s first road game, but their first true road “test” might not come until USC in November.
Oregon vs. Washington, Oct. 6 — In a matchup that consistently promises to be interesting than it usually is, 2012 could buck that trend. Keith Price is a dark horse Heisman contender (for whatever that means) and they return seven starters on offense and nine on defense, but they did lose a 1,400-yard rusher in Chris Polk and four of their first six opponents are in the preseason top-25 (and three in the top five — Oregon, LSU and USC). They could come into Autzen 2-2 and continue Oregon’s streak of acting as prohibitive double-digit favorites. But Oregon should watch out — this game has neon-plated booby-trap warnings all over it.
Oregon @ Arizona State, Oct. 18 — Oregon could be facing a 2-4 ASU team, or a 4-2 team on the rise, but that shouldn’t hurt the Ducks either way. ASU is replacing an all-timer at QB () and a disappointing head coach. 2012 shouldn’t be their year and don’t look for the Ducks to give what should be a melancholic fanbase a reason to storm the field on a nationally televised Thursday night game. Note to Heisman watchers: This is a key game for both De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in their quest for a Heisman. It’s the primetime, feature game. It’s early enough (9 p.m. ET) for the eastern timezone viewers to catch a glimpse and its on ESPN sharing airtime with the MLB playoffs. People will be watching, count on
one of them to go nuts.
Oregon vs. Colorado, Oct. 27 — Colorado’s opening-week matchup against in-state foe Colorado State is more in their current competitive wheelhouse, so look for Chip and the Gang to treat this late October matchup as a testing/proving grounds in preparation for SC.
Oregon @ #1 USC, Nov. 3 — In an SEC-dominated preseason list of marquee matchups, one matchup truly stood out, and it wasn’t ‘Bama-LSU. USC-Oregon on November 3 promises to be one of the best games of the season, as well as a treasure trove of cliched story-lines and wild rhetoric. I can’t wait. But this trial-by-fire deserves more than a read-option style preview. That will come.
Oregon @ Cal, Nov. 10 — It’ll be Oregon’s first game in Cal’s new stadium, and the first time Oregon has traveled to Cal since the Golden Bears defensive lineman were intermittently shot with imaginary bullets every few plays back in 2010, which (inadvertently, mind you. These were fake bullets, serious stuff.) ended up slowing the Ducks fast-paced offense to a laborious crawl, which then, in turn, gave rise to the weirdest defensive strategy college football has seen in years. It might have even cost LMJ his shot at bronzed immortality. Going into the season, I had high hopes for this matchup, but Cal’s opening loss, at home against Nevada, no less, has put a bit of a damper on those expectations.
Oregon vs. #21 Stanford, Nov. 17 — In what is slated to be Oregon’s only other potential top-25 matchup this season (mind-boggling, I know), the Ducks host a Luck-less Cardinal, but that doesn’t mean that Oregon will take the Cardinal any less seriously. If the Ducks pull off the win in LA two weeks earlier, this game could mean a berth in the Pac-12 championship game and the right to play SC again for a trip to the Natty. Don’t think Stanford is a rollover without Luck — David Shaw will whip your ass if you turn around for just a second.
Oregon @ Oregon State, Nov. 24 — The Civil War has turned into the shoe vs. the bug in recent years, and this somnambulist Beavers squad isn’t the one to reverse the recent tradition.
That’s it, that’s all folks. Three hours and counting; enjoy the show.