By Matt Heinz @MattHeinz_Rant on August 19, 2014
Oregon is No. 3 in the preseason AP poll and like most years, it faces one tough non-conference game. To top that off, the Pac-12 is loaded with talent and great coaches in 2014. Not having to play Arizona State or USC is beneficial for the Ducks, but which five games are absolutely must-watch contests?
Chris Peterson comes to Washington and will be coaching up the talented QB, Cyler Miles. On the defensive side, Athlon sports has Shaq Thompson listed as a first team All-American linebacker, and rightfully so after he collected 152 tackles over the past two seasons. Mariota had 454 yards of total offense in last year’s 45-24 victory in Eugene. Washington played the Ducks close for three quarters, but Oregon pulled away in the fourth.
In one of the best games in college football last season, Oregon needed a Josh Huff touchdown catch with 29 seconds left to pull out the 36-35 Civil War victory. Sean Mannion returns, but wideout Brandin Cooks and his glue hands do not. Oregon will need to cover 6-foot-7 Beaver tight end Connor Hamlett. It will be interesting to see if the nation's best corner, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, will leave his perimeter responsibilities to guard Hamlett.
According to the media, this will be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship game in 2014. Both teams feature mobile quarterbacks that are prime-time Heisman candidates in Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The winner of this October game just might see themselves headed to the first playoff as well. Head coach Jim Mora has the city of L.A. feeling giddy about the Bruins, and deservedly so after compiling a 19-8 record over his first two years.
This game features two top-10 teams squaring off in Autzen Stadium early in the season. Michigan State is fresh off a Rose Bowl victory, and head coach Mark Dantonio has been pressing all the right buttons lately. Quarterback Connor Cook returns to lead the Spartan offense while preseason All-American defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun anchors 2013's No. 2 total defense. We will know early if Oregon is ready for a playoff run.
The only winners of the Pac-12 (not the Pac-10) are Oregon and Stanford, and this year should be no exception. Stanford won 26-20 last year, but relied heavily on running back Tyler Gaffney as he ran the ball a whopping 45 times for 157 yards. Gaffney is now gone, as are four of Stanford’s lineman from the 2013 Rose Bowl team.
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