Football Fast Forward: Oregon
The Pac-12 Networks launch August 15 and will broadcast at least one game from all 12 teams in our first month of football. We can't wait -- each school's Networks debut game is previewed here, with an assist from SB Nation. See if you will get Pac-12 Networks from your TV provider by visiting the Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder. Answers to frequently asked questions are at support.pac-12.org.
By David Piper, Addicted to Quack
The three-time defending conference champion Oregon Ducks make their Pac-12 Networks debut September 8 against Fresno State in a game that will be highlighted by wholesale changes for both teams. The Ducks and Bulldogs have been frequent opponents, meeting six times since 1996. While all of those have been Oregon victories, five of those games were decided by a touchdown or less, with two going to overtime. However, since the schools' last matchup in 2007, the programs have gone in opposite directions: Oregon ascending to a national power under Chip Kelly, while Fresno State slowly spiraled into mediocrity, culminating in a 4-9 record last season that led to the firing of longtime coach Pat Hill.
The changes for Oregon come at very high-profile positions, starting at quarterback. Darron Thomas leaves as arguably the most successful quarterback in school history, and it's been a tight battle to replace him. Sophomore Bryan Bennett (25-46, 376 yards, 6 TDs/0 INT) was very capable in the games where Thomas was injured last season. However, freshman Marcus Mariota shined in spring ball and had an outstanding spring game. Chip Kelly won't name a starter until the week before the opener, but you can rest assured that quarterback will be the storyline for Oregon during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Oregon also has to replace All-American running back LaMichael James, though does so with two playmakers that are already household names. Senior Kenjon Barner (939 yards, 11 TDs last season) and sophomore DeAnthony Thomas (18 total TDs) are more than capable of stepping in for Oregon. The question is the depth of the roster behind them. The biggest question marks for Oregon remain at wide receiver, where the group was among the worst in the conference last season. It will make either Bennett or Mariota's job easier if a go-to target can emerge early. The defense could be Oregon's best ever, allowing the Ducks some cushion while these issues work themselves out.
Fresno State comes into this game with a ton of change, as former Texas A&M assistant Tim DeRuyter takes over. DeRuyter is a defensive specialist that will be charged with revamping what has been one of the worst defenses in the WAC the past few seasons. The Bulldogs switch to a 3-4, and only have three players returning on the front seven this season, a tough task against a dominant run team in Oregon. Offensively, Fresno State returns most of the skill players in their four-wide set, but a rebuilt offensive line will face a tough test in an aggressive, blitzing Nick Aliotti defense.
Oregon will be favored considerably at home against the Bulldogs. You would like to see Oregon's new starting quarterback start to develop a rapport with his receiving corps, and the defense to be able to dominate a shaky Fresno State offensive line. However, you can't take anything for granted against a team that made its reputation beating big-name schools in their own building, and a quality performance at Autzen would serve as a big springboard for the Bulldogs headed into their first Mountain West season.