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Early analysis of Oregon Ducks’ 2021 football schedule logo 3/3/2021 James Crepea,
a group of football players playing a football game: Stanford's Austin Jones (20) tries to elude Oregon's Verone McKinley III (left) and Steve Stephens IV © 7 as the No. 12 Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12 football season opener at A... Stanford's Austin Jones (20) tries to elude Oregon's Verone McKinley III (left) and Steve Stephens IV

EUGENE — Oregon is coming off back-to-back Pac-12 championships and New Year’s Six bowl appearances and enters 2021 with even higher aspirations.

The Ducks lost starting quarterback Tyler Shough to transfer but have plenty of options in a four-way competition. If CJ Verdell can ever stay healthy for a full season the Ducks have the best running back in the conference and along with Travis Dye and Sean Dollars might have the best backfield.

Johnny Johnson, Jaylon Redd and Mycah Pittman returning at wide out, where a trio of heralded recruits are coming in, and the entire offensive line returning make the offense well stocked.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Brandon Dorlus, Noah Sewell, Isaac Slade-Matautia, Jamal Hill, Mykael Wright, Jordan Happle, Bennett Williams and Verone McKinley III are all back on defense, where the departures of Nick Pickett, Deommodore Lenoir, Austin Faoliu and Jordon Scott were all planned for well in advance.

Here’s an early analysis at how Oregon’s 2021 opponents look heading into spring.

Fresno State: Sept. 4, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (3-3)

Coach: Kalen DeBoer, second year at Fresno State

Most important returning players: QB Jake Haener, RB Ronnie Rivers, WR Jalen Cropper, WR Keric Wheatfall, DL Kwami Jones, DL Kevin Atkins, DB Bralyn Lux

Most critical departures: DL Leevel Tatum III

Early opponent analysis: The Bulldogs return most of their major contributors from both sides of the ball. Fresno State started 2020 3-1 but lost its last two games to Nevada and New Mexico. There are four former Pac-12 players on FSU’s roster, most notably former Washington quarterback Jake Haener. There will be some familiarity between the defensive staffs, with safeties coach Marcel Yates having worked with Fresno State assistant Julius Brown at Boise State. The Bulldogs open the season against UConn in Week 0 so there will be relevant game film to review.

Ohio State: Sept. 11, at Ohio Stadium

2020 record: (7-1)

Coach: Ryan Day, third year at OSU (23-2)

Most important returning players: QB CJ Stroud, RB Master Teague III, WR Garrett Wilson, DB Sevyn Banks

Most critical departures: QB Justin Fields, RB Trey Sermon, WR Chris Olave, OL Wyatt Davis, DL Tommy Togiai, LB Baron Browning, LB Tuf Borland, LB Pete Werner, LB Justin Hilliard, DB Shaun Wade

Early opponent analysis: The marquee game of all of Week 2 in college football and for Oregon’s season. Ohio State has to replace a lot of major contributors from last year’s national runner-up squad and has a wide open quarterback competition this offseason. But with Master Teague III returning in the backfield and Garrett Wilson as one of the top returning receivers in the country, there is still ample fire power at the skill positions. Ohio State’s defense is coming off a disastrous showing against Alabama in the CFP National Championship game and lost a lot of its leading players. The Buckeyes open the season on Sept. 2 against Minnesota, which should give them a chance to work some things out before what should be a massive nonconference matchup.

Stony Brook: Sept. 18, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (playing in spring)

Coach: Chuck Priore, 16th season at Stony Brook (128-82 overall, 89-73 at SB)

Most important returning players: TBD

Most critical departures: TBD

Early opponent analysis: This is a massive step up in nonconference competition for the FCS Seawolves, who are playing a six-game spring season. Stony Brook is usually competitive for its level and has aspirations of moving up to the FBS, but won’t be any match for the Ducks.

Arizona: Sept. 25, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (0-5)

Coach: Jedd Fisch, first year at UA

Most important returning players: RB Gary Brightwell, WR Stanley Berryhill III, DB Christian Roland-Wallace

Most critical departures: QB Grant Gunnell

Early opponent analysis: Jedd Fisch inherits a difficult rebuild and gets arguably the toughest draw for his first conference game at UA in a road trip to Autzen. The Wildcats could easily be 1-2 coming in after a nonconference slate against BYU, San Diego State and Northern Arizona. However, Arizona has already added 10 transfers to replenish some depth, including quarterback Gunner Cruz from Washington State, and Gray Brightwell and Stanley Berryhill III return to give the offense some weapons to work with. Arizona’s defense has been a disaster for years and defensive coordinator Don Brown won’t be able to fix it in one offseason.

Stanford: Oct. 2, Stanford Stadium

2020 record: (4-2)

Coach: David Shaw, eleventh year at Stanford (90-36)

Most important returning players: QB Jack West, RB Austin Jones, WR Michael Wilson, DL Thomas Booker, DB Kyu Kelly

Most critical departures: QB Davis Mills, WR Simi Fehoko

Early opponent analysis: Stanford played as well as any team in the Pac-12 by the end of last season and though it has some important players to replace, specifically quarterback Davis Mills and receiver Simi Fehoko, there is also a lot coming back. The Cardinal are going to boast one of the better returning offensive lines in the country and have one of the Pac-12 1/4 u2032s best returning running backs in Austin Jones. That’s a great core to build around for Stanford to be its usual style. The Cardinal play Kansas State, USC, Vanderbilt and UCLA before hosting the Ducks.

Cal: Oct. 15, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (1-3)

Coach: Justin Wilcox, fifth year at Cal (21-21)

Most important returning players: QB Chase Garbers, RB Christopher Brown Jr., WR Nikko Remigio, WR Kekoa Crawford, LB Kuony Deng, LB Cameron Goode, DB Josh Drayden

Most critical departures: DB Camryn Bynum

Early opponent analysis: A Friday night game with both teams coming off a bye week and two games into league play, with Cal playing Washington and Washington State. The offseason changes among the coaching staffs will be an obvious storyline and factor. Both defenses had advantages over the opposing offenses in the 2020 game and likely will again. The Bears add a pair of four-star signees at receiver who could be in the rotation by this point in the season.

UCLA: Oct. 23, Rose Bowl Stadium

2020 record: (3-4)

Coach: Chip Kelly, fourth year at UCLA (56-28 overall, 10-21 at UCLA)

Most important returning players: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, WR Kyle Phillips, TE Greg Dulcich, LB Caleb Johnson

Most critical departures: RB Demetric Felton, DL Osa Odighizuwa, DB Qwuantrezz Knight

Early opponent analysis: The Bruins clearly made strides on defense in 2020 and have some key pieces returning. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is one of the best returning quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet should provide a nice backfield partner with Brittain Brown. This will be UCLA’s eighth game of the season and there are three common opponents already with Fresno State, Stanford and Arizona. The Bruins could realistically be anywhere from 3-4 to 5-2 entering this game.

Colorado: Oct. 30, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (4-2)

Coach: Karl Dorrell, second year at CU

Most important returning players: RB Jarek Broussard, LB Nate Landman, QB Sam Noyer

Most critical departures: DT Mustafa Johnson

Early opponent analysis: The Buffaloes were the surprise team of the Pac-12 last season but the path to repeat that wonder will be much harder. Colorado plays Texas A&M, Minnesota, Arizona State and USC before its bye and could easily lose to them all. CU found a great weapon in Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot should be back as well. Nate Landman is the best linebacker in the country who nobody talks about and though he’ll miss the spring recovering from the injury he suffered against Utah, he should be back to form by this game. There will be a quarterback competition this offseason as well.

Washington: Nov. 7, Husky Stadium

2020 record: (3-1)

Coach: Jimmy Lake, second year at UW

Most important returning players: QB Dylan Morris, RB Sean McGrew, RB Richard Newton, WR Puka Nacua, TE Cade Otton, OT Jaxson Kirkland, LB Zion Tupuola-Fetui, LB Ryan Bowman

Most critical departures: WR Ty Jones, DL Josiah Bronson, DB Elijah Molden, DB Keith Taylor,

Early opponent analysis: A rivalry that took an unexpected year off, which then got fuel added amid Washington’s instant celebration of a North division championship while not playing and subsequent replacement in the Pac-12 Championship game by Oregon, which went on to win the conference. If ever there will be an example of the records not mattering and both teams only caring about beating the other, this will be the installment. Having said that, the Huskies should be a real challenge for the Ducks. UW returns a lot of starters and has two of the better edge defenders in the league in Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Ryan Bowman. Whatever questions remain about Washington’s offense this offseason after a short 2020 will have long been answered one way or another at this point.

Washington State: Nov. 14, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (1-3)

Coach: Nick Rolovich, second year at WSU

Most important returning players: QB Jayden de Laura, RB Deon McIntosh, RB Max Borghi, WR Travell Harris, WR Renard Bell, OL Abe Lucas, DB Daniel Isom

Most critical departures: LB Jahad Woods

Early opponent analysis: The only opponent to come off a bye before playing Oregon when UO also isn’t coming off a bye, the Cougars open the season with nine straight games before that week off. WSU appeared to find something in quarterback Jayden de Laura but added Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano this offseason in what will at least add competition to the room. The Cougars have plenty of skill position threats on offense and the best offensive lineman in the league in Abe Lucas. The defense is much more suspect and needs to make massive improvements, especially against the pass.

Utah: Nov. 21, Rice-Eccles Stadium

2020 record: (3-2)

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, tenth year at Utah (16-0)

Most important returning players: WR Britain Covey, TE Brant Kuithe, LB Devin Lloyd, LB Nephi Sewell, DB Nate Ritchie

Most critical departures: QB Jake Bentley, RB Ty Jordan, RB Devin Brumfield

Early opponent analysis: The Utes added Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer and Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson at quarterback this offseason and should lead to a big upgrade at the position. The biggest question facing Utah’s offense is how it will replace the late Ty Jordan, though that will be determined well before the Ducks go to Salt Lake City. Utah didn’t lose any players to the NFL Draft and those who transferred aren’t irreplaceable. The defense did well statistically as usual in 2020 and shouldn’t see any drop off. The Ducks do get the Utes after their back-to-back road games but little else is easy about the trip to Rice-Eccles.

Oregon State: Nov. 28, Autzen Stadium

2020 record: (2-5)

Coach: Jonathan Smith, fourth year at OSU (9-22)

Most important returning players: QB Tristan Gebbia, WR Trevon Bradford, LB Avery Roberts, LB Omar Speights

Most critical departures: RB Jermar Jefferson, LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr., CB Nahshon Wright

Early opponent analysis: The Beavers have to replace their best players on offense and defense for all of the past three years. However, OSU has a lot returning and a favorable nonconference schedule to open the season. The revenge factor will be significant for Oregon, which could also be playing for a division title.


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