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Early analysis of Oregon Ducks’ 2022 football schedule

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 1/25/2022 James Crepea, oregonlive.com
Oregon State’s Jaydon Grant (#3) forces a fumble of Utah State’s Calvin Tyler Jr. (#4) as the Beavers face the Aggies in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Utah State won 24-13. © Sean Meagher/oregonlive.com/TNS Oregon State’s Jaydon Grant (#3) forces a fumble of Utah State’s Calvin Tyler Jr. (#4) as the Beavers face the Aggies in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Utah State won 24-13.

EUGENE — Oregon is undergoing an offseason of change heading into the 2022 season.

The Ducks lost coach Mario Cristobal and multiple staff members to Miami, then hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to replace him. The new coaching staff inherits one of the most talented rosters in the country — and arguably the best in the Pac-12 Conference — but still has many questions to answer before the season.

Oregon will have a new starting quarterback for a third straight season, as Anthony Brown Jr.’s career came to a close. Running back Travis Dye, UO’s best offensive player in 2021, transferred to USC and two-time 1,000-yard rusher CJ Verdell is entering the NFL Draft. The addition of transfer Bo Nix to a quarterback competition that includes Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield, plus a backfield featuring Byron Cardwell Jr. and five returning starters on the offensive line, is a strong foundation.

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Defensively, losing Kayvon Thibodeaux from a team that had its fewest sacks per game since the stat became official creates a massive void for pass rush. Lanning and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi inherit a talented core with Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae, Keyon Ware-Hudson, Kristian Williams and the addition of Sam Taimani on the interior defensive line, Noah Sewell, Justin Flowe, Keith Brown and Jackson LaDuke at linebacker and Bradyn Swinson and Mase Funa on the edge. Bennett Williams, Jamal Hill, Dontae Manning, Trikweze Bridges and Christian Gonzalez provide a front line for a secondary that loses four starters, including Thorpe Award finalist Verone McKinley III.

Here’s an early analysis at how Oregon’s 2022 opponents look heading into spring.

Georgia: Sept. 3, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

2021 record: (14-1), CFP National Champions

Coach: Kirby Smart, (66-15) seventh year at Georgia

Most important returning players: QB Stetson Bennett, RB Kenny McIntosh, TE Brock Bowers, WR Ladd McConkey, LB Nolan Smith, DB Kelee Ringo

Most critical departures: RB Zamir White, RB James Cook, WR Jermaine Burton, DT Travon Walker, DT Jordan Davis, LB Nakobe Dean, LB Quay Walker, LB Channing Tindall, DB Derion Kendrick, DB Lewis Cine, S Latavious Brini, S Ameer Speed

Early opponent analysis: The Bulldogs are riding high after winning their first national championship since 1980. Georgia loses Lanning and other members of its coaching staff, as well as a massive portion of its defensive two-deep, but also returns a bevy of five-star talent.

As long as Stetson Bennett remains the starting quarterback, Georgia will be built around its defense and the offense will lean on the ground game and tight ends to move the chains. As much as UGA loses from its skill positions, Brock Bowers is not only the best returning tight end in the country, but perhaps the best returning receiver regardless of position. Either way, he’s an absolute matchup nightmare.

An Oregon running game with a new starter will be tasked with facing the perhaps the toughest front seven they’ve ever played in what will surely be no less than an 85% Georgia crowd in Atlanta.

Eastern Washington: Sept. 10, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (10-3)

Coach: Aaron Best, (41-17) sixth year at EWU

Most important returning players: WR Andrew Boston, WR Freddie Roberson, DE Mitchell Johnson, DT Josh Jerome

Most critical departures: QB Eric Barriere, RB Dennis Merritt, WR Talolo Limu-Jones, LB Jack Sendelbach, LB Ty Graham, S Calin Criner

Early opponent analysis: The Eagles serve as this year’s FCS opponent for the Ducks to open their home slate. Unlike Stony Brook, EWU is not a pin cushion. However, losing a 5,000-yard passer, leading rusher and leading receiver on offense is a lot for a team to overcome in a matchup against vastly superior competition.

Regardless of how the season opener goes, this game will be Lanning’s debut at Autzen, potentially the home debut of Nix and several other players. For a fan base clamoring for a more explosive offense, dominant defense and the ability to put lesser opponents away early to get younger players opportunities, there will be a long list of results beyond the scoreboard in a game that will otherwise be of no note outside the Pacific Northwest.

BYU: Sept. 17, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (10-3)

Coach: Kalani Sitake, (48-29) seventh year at BYU

Most important returning players: QB Jaren Hall, RB Christopher Brooks, WR Puka Nacua, WR Neil Pau’u, LB Ben Bywater, LB Max Tooley

Most critical departures: RB Tyler Allgeier

Early opponent analysis: Arguably the biggest trap game on the entire schedule, BYU is a legitimate nonconference opponent and threat. Like the Ducks, the Cougars return much of their two-deep from a 10-win team, but lose their running back and best player.

Jaren Hall is a capable and experienced quarterback, even if he’s small in stature. Former Washington receiver Puka Nacua will pose a legitimate threat on the outside and former Cal running back Christopher Brooks adds an experienced hand in the backfield. BYU’s defense returns leading tackler Ben Bywater and several other disruptive players.

Oregon faces a real challenge here, as five Pac-12 teams that lost to BYU last season can attest.

Washington State: Sept. 24, Martin Stadium

2021 record: (7-6)

Coach: Jake Dickert, (3-3) first full year at WSU

Most important returning players: QB Cameron Ward, DL Ron Stone Jr., DL Brennan Jackson

Most critical departures: QB Jayden de Laura, RB Max Borghi, WR Travell Harris, WR Calvin Jackson Jr., OT Abe Lucas, LB Jahad Woods, LB Justus Rogers, S Daniel Isom, S George Hicks III

Early opponent analysis: The Cougars are going through another offseason of significant change. Heralded FCS quarterback Cameron Ward is the presumptive starter for a new offensive system that will have to build around a slew of new skill position players and replace its three best offensive linemen.

Defensively, Washington State loses a ton of experience as well. Jake Dickert did a fantastic job providing stability to the program last season and had WSU in the hunt for a division title until the final week of the regular season. But unless the Cougars add significant talent via the transfer portal, it’s hard to see the same level of success in 2022.

Stanford: Oct. 10, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (3-9)

Coach: David Shaw, (93-45) 12th year at Stanford

Most important returning players: QB Tanner McKee, TE Benjamin Yurosek, WR Elijah Higgins, LB Levani Damuni, CB Kyu Blu Kelly, S Patrick Fields


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Most critical departures: RB Austin Jones, RB Nathaniel Peat, DL Thomas Booker, LB Gabe Reid, LB Ricky Miezan, S Noah Williams

Early opponent analysis: The Cardinal have been on a downward trajectory for some time, yet David Shaw doesn’t make changes to his coaching staff. That stability and one of the better recruiting classes in the Pac-12 could get Stanford back on the upswing.

Tanner McKee might be the best returning quarterback in the conference. Stanford should return all of its offensive line and the top tight end in the Pac-12. Losing Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat to transfer hurts, but Stanford’s running game has fallen off due in part to their lack of durability. The defense loses a lot of experience but has the top corner in the conference to build around, and with poor results stopping the run, the departures could be beneficial.

With how poor the rest of the Pac-12 North is on paper, there’s a chance Stanford is the second-best team in the division. And with last year’s loss on the Farm serving as a motivating factor, this will be a big game regardless.

Arizona: Oct. 8, Arizona Stadium

2021 record: (1-11)

Coach: Jedd Fisch, (2-12) second year at Arizona

Most important returning players: QB Jayden de Laura, QB Jordan McCloud, WR Jacob Cowing, DL Kyon Barrs, CB Christian Roland-Wallace, S Jaxen Turner

Most critical departures: WR Stanley Berryhill III, WR BJ Casteel, DL Mo Diallo, LB Anthony Pandy

Early opponent analysis: Jedd Fisch inherited a program that bottomed out and needed a reset. What he and his staff have done to infuse Arizona with talent this offseason has been outstanding.

The Wildcats needed to overhaul their roster and the addition of Jayden de Laura to a competition with Jordan McCloud, along with 1,000-yard UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing and former Oregon commit Tetairoa McMillan at receiver, gives an immediate jolt to the offense. The defense is still going through upheaval with defensive coordinator Don Brown leaving after one season to become the coach at UMass, but Christian Roland-Wallace is a key piece to build around.

Arizona could have the biggest turnaround in the Pac-12 South compared to 2021 and Oregon rarely has anything good happen when it travels to the desert.

UCLA: Oct. 22, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (8-4)

Coach: Chip Kelly, (64-32 overall, 18-25 at UCLA) fifth year at UCLA

Most important returning players: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, RB Zach Charbonnet

Most critical departures: RB Brittain Brown, TE Greg Dulcich, WR Kyle Philips, WR Chase Cota, LB Jordan Genmark Heath, LB Mitchell Agude, LB Bo Calvert, LB Mitchell Agude, DB Qwuantrezz Knight, DB Quentin Lake, DB Stephan Blaylock, DB Jay Shaw

Early opponent analysis: The Bruins have committed to Chip Kelly after his best season in Westwood, even though UCLA didn’t beat a team with a winning record last season.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet will be the favorites to open as preseason all-Pac-12 selections from the top scoring offense in the league. But the losses of Greg Dulcich, Kyle Philips and Chase Cota leave questions as to who will be catching the ball with consistency.

UCLA’s defense loses a lot of experienced starters from a unit that underachieved and ranked last in the Pac-12 against the pass. A change in defensive coordinator will only help those results.

Cal: Oct. 29, Cal Memorial Stadium

2021 record: (5-7)

Coach: Justin Wilcox, (26-28) sixth year at Cal

Most important returning players: QB Jack Plummer, RB Damien Moore, WR Jeremiah Hunter, ILB Muelu Iosefa, LB Nate Rutchena, LB Jackson Sirmon

Most critical departures: QB Chase Garbers, RB Christopher Brooks, WR Trevon Clark, WR Kekoa Crawford, WR Nikko Remigio, DL Luc Bequette, DE JH Tevis, LB Cameron Goode, LB Marqez Bimage, LB Kuony Deng, CB Josh Drayden, S Daniel Scott, S Elijah Hicks

Early opponent analysis: The Golden Bears followed a brutal 2020 with a disappointing 2021. There will be a new starting quarterback, lead running back and top receivers, while most of the defense will features new starters.

There will be a quarterback competition and a chance for the offense to redefine its identity. Cal has to choose whether it wants to be a possession oriented team, which will surely help its chances of winning, or take a more modern approach, which could improve its recruiting at skill positions.

No matter what Justin Wilcox loses in terms of personnel, his defenses always deliver results, so replacing six starters may be little more than an offseason necessity.

Even amid all the turnover, if Cal is anything less than 4-3 entering this game, it will be viewed a failure.

Colorado: Nov. 5, Folsom Field

2021 record: (4-8)

Coach: Karl Dorrell, (43-37 overall, 8-10 at Colorado) third year at Colorado

Most important returning players: RB Alex Fontenot, RB Ashaad Clayton, S Isaiah Lewis

Most critical departures: RB Jarek Broussard, WR Brenden Rice, WR Dimitri Stanley, LB Carson Wells, LB Nate Landman, CB Christian Gonzalez, CB Mekhi Blackmon, S Mark Perry

Early opponent analysis: The Buffaloes were the surprise team of 2020 in the Pac-12. Terrible play on the offensive line led to in-season changes and partially derailed CU’s running attack in 2021. Its defense had some talent, but the results were poor.

Now much of that talent is gone and as it stands, Colorado will be the runaway pick to finish last in the Pac-12 South next season. If lines were set today, it’s hard to see CU being favored in a single game in 2022.

Washington: Nov. 12, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (4-8)

Coach: Kalen DeBoer, (12-6) first year at Washington

Most important returning players: QB Michael Penix Jr., QB Dylan Morris, QB Sam Huard, WR Jalen McMillan, WR Rome Odunze, DL Tuli Letuligasenoa, DL Faatui Tuitele, LB Carson Bruener, LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, LB Cooper McDonald, LB Zion Tupuola-Fetui

Most critical departures: RB Sean McGrew, WR Terrell Bynum, TE Cade Otton, DL Sam Taimani, LB Jackson Sirmon, LB Will Latu, DB Kyler Gordon, DB Trent McDuffie, DB Brendan Radley-Hiles

Early opponent analysis: The Huskies are going through a much-needed overhaul, but so far have not added the talent needed to achieve a quick turnaround.

Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. adds competition to the quarterback room, but may or may not be the eventual starter. Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze give whoever wins the job a pair of solid targets.

The defense only has one direction to go against the run and returns several key players along the front seven. However, the secondary loses its top talent and will likely take a big step back after leading the conference in passing yards allowed.

Utah: Nov. 19, Autzen Stadium

2021 record: (10-4)

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, (144-70) 18th year at Utah

Most important returning players: QB Cameron Rising, RB Tavion Thomas, TE Brant Kuithe, TE Dalton Kincaid, DE Van Fillinger, DT Junior Tafuna, LB Mohamoud Diabate, CB Clark Phillips III, S Cole Bishop

Most critical departures: WR Brittain Covey, DE Mika Tafua, LB Devin Lloyd, LB Nephi Sewell, S Brandon McKinney, S Vonte Davis

Early opponent analysis: It’s the matchup that will be circled on every Ducks’ fans calendar all year long. If the reigning division champions collide in the same spot as last season, this will serve as the ultimate measuring stick of how far Oregon has come in its first season under Lanning.

Beating teams in a bad Pac-12 North is fine, but the Ducks were dominated in the trenches, out-played and out-coached by the Utes twice in 13 days in 2021. Not only will changing the final score be important, but the manner in which the game is played will also be crucial.

Cameron Rising, Tavion Thomas and Utah’s tight ends will be major tests. The Utes will have long figured out replacements for linebacker Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell by this matchup.

Oregon State: Nov. 25, Reser Stadium

2021 record: (7-6)

Coach: Jonathan Smith, (16-28) fifth year at Oregon State

Most important returning players: QB Chance Nolan, RB Deshaun Fenwick, WR Tre’Shaun Harrison, TE Luke Musgrave, LB Jack Colletto, LB Omar Speights, DB Jaydon Grant

Most critical departures: RB B.J. Baylor, WR Trevon Bradford, TE Teagan Quitoriano, LB Avery Roberts, LB Andrzej Hughes-Murray

Early opponent analysis: The Beavers took a major step forward with a winning 2021 season and will attempt to repeat that success.

Chance Nolan returns at quarterback, Deshaun Fenwick should take over as the lead back and three of five starters on the offensive line provide the framework to build around entering 2022. Changes to the defensive staff can only improve certain results, particularly against the pass.

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