Saturday Out West Crystal Ball: Predicting every Oregon football game for 2022
Editor’s note: Saturday Out West’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series will preview every team in the Pac-12. Today: Oregon.
Already covered: Utah
For the fourth time in the past 10 seasons, the once-stable Oregon Ducks are breaking in a new head coach.
What will that mean for a program with high expectations every season?
It could mean a ton. The former Georgia defensive coordinator brings a defensive-oriented, SEC approach to one of the flashiest, jazziest programs west of the Mississippi. Combining a more disciplined, nastier approach with Nike’s flagship school could be a real coup – or it could blow up in the Ducks’ face.
Oregon certainly has talent, and much of it is on the defensive side. Linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe and defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus lead a defense that knows its identity and its impact.
Offensively, there are questions. Mainly, will Bo Nix be the answer at quarterback (see below)?
Oregon has the potential to go 10-2, but 9-3 is more likely. If Lanning’s message doesn’t land? A seven- or eight-win season is realistic.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Crystal Ball thinks things will go…
Will Dan Lanning make an instant impact?
Plenty of ink has been spilled about the Ducks’ new head coach, but there really isn’t any other way to put it: What Oregon did in hiring Lanning flies in the face of the last three-plus decades of Duck football.
Lanning is Oregon’s first defensive hire since Rich Brooks in 1977, a stunning U-turn for a program known for its innovative offensive concepts.
If he brings in a defensive edge and toughness to the Ducks, Oregon has a real chance to take a step forward as a program. The Ducks have always brought in sporadic star defenders, but a defense-first coach who preaches a new brand of bravado would allow them to pitch an entirely different story.
The first chapter begins this season.
Can the Ducks top players stay healthy?
For one of the most advanced sports tech and training tables in all of college football, Oregon has been beset by injuries in recent years that have really taken their toll on the Ducks’ on-field success and development.
No player illustrates that more than star linebacker Justin Flowe. When healthy, Flowe has best-player-in-the-conference-type talent. That’s a big caveat, though: Flowe has only played two games in his career, one in 2020, one in 2021.
His 2021 start was a revelation – 14 tackles and a forced fumble in his first, and only, career start.
If healthy, Flowe—the second-highest ranked player in Oregon history—is a talent like none other in the conference.
Can Bo Nix play at an all-conference level?
In some ways, Bo Nix showed marked progress in his three seasons with the Auburn Tigers. From his freshman year – one that ended with SEC freshman of the year honors – to his junior year, Nix’s completion percentage and yards per attempt increased while his interceptions decreased to just three last season. His passer rating also marginally increased.
But he never quite took off the way some expected him to, and justifiably, after such an impressive debut.
If Nix can take a real leap forward and not just a step, the Ducks have an all-conference player in the offing.
Week 1: vs. Georgia in Atlanta (L)
The Ducks have to be commended for consistently challenging themselves with non-conference beasts early in the season. While some of their opponents haven’t been at the top of their respective games by the time they met (Nebraska in 2016 and ’17, for example, others have been playoff contenders. In 2014 and ’15, it was Michigan State, followed by the two-game Nebraska set. After a painless 2018 non-conference slate, the Ducks came back in 2019 with Auburn, a 27-21 Tigers comeback led by then-freshman Bo Nix. And last year it was Ohio State, as the Ducks traveled to the No. 3 Buckeyes and dealt them a 45-38 loss. This year’s melee feels different, mainly because Georgia enters the game as defending national champions and ranked No. 3 by several polls. As much as I want to believe the Ducks have a chance in this one, I don’t.
Week 2: vs. Eastern Washington (W)
Even if former Eastern Washington star Cooper Kupp was still lining up for the Eagles, the Ducks would have little to be worried about in this game. Without Kupp, it’s barely worth a blip. Ducks win in a rout.
Week 3: vs. BYU (W)
This feels like a matchup that would have a rich history, but Oregon and BYU have only met six times, with each team winning three. They haven’t even met since the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl. So there isn’t much history to go on here, and it will simply come down to talent. And the Ducks have the edge there. I love what Kalani Sitake has done with the Cougars, but after a close loss to Georgia and a blowout of EWU, Oregon is going to be rounding into form heading into Pac-12 play. It’ll be close, but Oregon has the edge.
Week 4: at Washington State (W)
This series has been driven by momentum over the last 15 years. First Oregon won eight straight as the Cougars bottomed out in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Then the Cougars regained their edge under Mike Leach, winning four straight from 2015-18. It’s been all Ducks the last three years, and they’ll make it four in a row with this win. Oregon’s front seven is simply too much for Washington State, though I do expect the Cougars to connect on some big plays.
Week 5: vs. Stanford (W)
Stanford has been a thorn in the Ducks’ side for the late decade, probably keeping Oregon from a Rose Bowl or two. There has been little rhyme or reason in these games – Stanford averaged 46 points per game in three wins from 2016-18, then scored 20 points the next two years as the Ducks roared back. Last year, with Oregon contending for a conference title and Stanford reeling without a running game, the Cardinal still found a way to pull it out. Returning back to Autzen with plenty to play for, Oregon will win this one. But it won’t be easy.
Week 6: at Arizona (W)
This one, though? This one will be easy. For all the progress Arizona has made this offseason, the Wildcats are still light years away from the Ducks in terms of talent. It’s hard to mention scheme, as Oregon installs a new one under Dan Lanning, but Jedd Fisch – for all his wins on the recruiting trail – hasn’t exactly blown teams away with creativity. This does not feel like 2018, when Arizona sprinted past the Ducks, 44-15, not 2014, when Scooby Wright and the Wildcats defense took it to the Ducks. Nor does it feel like the Pac-12 championship game that year, which Oregon won, 51-13. It’ll be closer, but not by much.
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: vs. UCLA (W)
It’s difficult to convey just how one-sided this matchup has been. Since 2000, the Ducks are 14-3 against the Bruins, including 4-0 during Chip Kelly’s tenure. UCLA is 0-3 under Kelly against his former team, though the Bruins have kept it close in a pair of 3-point losses the past two years. Does UCLA have the offensive firepower to take out the Ducks this year? If the game were played at the Rose Bowl, maybe. But not in Eugene. Oregon hasn’t lost to UCLA in Eugene since 2004.
Week 9: at Cal (L)
Oregon has been the far better program for going on a dozen years, but the Bears have poked out a couple wins since then. Cal beat the Ducks at home two years ago, 21-17, and the Bears won in 2016 by putting 42 points up against a bad defense. Oregon’s defense is in a much better place now, but this feels like an emotional let-down, and I’m expecting the Ducks to come out flat in their biggest upset loss of the season.
Week 10: at Colorado (W)
Oregon has an overwhelming edge in talent and a slight edge in returning production, but the Ducks are seasoned where it matters most – in the defensive front and the offensive line. Those just happen to be Colorado’s weaknesses. Other than a 41-38 win in 2016, Colorado’s miracle season, the Ducks have owned the rivalry during the Buffaloes’ Pac-12 days.
Week 11: at Washington (W)
This feels like a look-ahead trap for the Ducks, with Utah and Oregon State coming over the next two weeks. But ultimately the Huskies just don’t have enough dynamic skill position talent to pose a real threat to Oregon. I’m excited to see the matchup between Washington’s offensive line and Oregon’s D-line.
Week 12: vs. Utah (W)
This rivalry has been full of blowouts over the last decade, with the teams combining for seven 21-point wins in the last nine matchups. The Utes have won the last two by a combined 59 points, and while I expect this game to be closer, I still have Utah taking it.
ESPN’s FPI ratings have these two teams as the class of the Pac-12, but the Utes are clearly ahead. It’ll be interesting to see if Dan Lanning brings a measure of toughness to the Oregon defense, which would translate against Utah’s stout offense.
Week 13: at Oregon State (L)
This game kept me up at nights. The last time these two teams met at Reser Stadium, Oregon State won in the strangest of fashions, when then-unknown backup quarterback Chance Nolan replaced an injured Tristan Gebbia to score from 1 yard out with 33 seconds to go to lift the Beavers, 41-38. Now Nolan is looking to fend off Gebbia for the starting nod, and appears close to doing so. I think he’ll have a career game this time around against the Ducks, possibly costing their Civil War opponents a shot at the Pac-12 title.
2022 projection: 9-3 (7-2), 3rd in Pac-12
It feels almost strange, picking the Ducks to beat the Utes and lose to Cal. Such is life in the crystal ball, however. We go wherever fate takes us.
Fate will give the Ducks a second chance this time around, by virtue of a tiebreaker that will lift Oregon into a second-straight Pac-12 title game matchup with Utah. With Oregon, USC and UCLA all finishing 7-2 in Pac-12 play, and the Ducks beating the Bruins—while missing the Trojans during the regular season—I’ve got Oregon advancing for a rematch with the Utes.
That would be fitting. While USC owned the offseason with a bunch of noisy transfers, a championship game rematch from teams who’ve done it largely the traditional way would be a nice cap on the regular season.