The lone game on the docket in the opening week of the college football season featuring a pair of ranked teams brings us a clash between the Pac-12 and the SEC on a neutral field in the Lone Star State. The #11 Oregon Ducks are the nominal visitors as they travel to face the #16 Auburn Tigers Saturday afternoon in the AdvoCare Classic. Oregon finished the 2018 campaign with a 9-4 mark, capped by a low-scoring win over Michigan State in the RedBox Bowl. Auburn was 8-5 in 2018, ending the year by bombing Purdue in the Music City Bowl. In the lone meeting previously between the schools, it was #1 Auburn earning a 22-19 win over #2 Oregon in the BCS Championship Game on January 10, 2011 in Cam Newton’s final game with the program.
Oregon Ducks Shooting to Contend in Pac-12 North
Oregon improved from 7-6 in 2017 to 9-4 in 2018 during Mario Cristobal’s first season running the program. The Ducks started 5-1 before losing three of four games: they closed the season with three straight victories, including a 7-6 win over Michigan State in the RedBox Bowl. Oregon brings back 17 starters from last season, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball. The Ducks have no shortage of offensive firepower this season and could be a force in the Pac-12 North if the defense steps up this season. That will be the challenge for Oregon, given the fact that they allowed at least 27 points in six of their 13 contests last season.
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) August 26, 2019
The Ducks were effective on the offensive side of the ball last season, averaging 247.8 yards per game through the air and 180.8 yards per contest on the ground: the team averaged 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. Oregon was 25th in the FBS in scoring offense last season as they averaged 34.8 points per game on the year. The Ducks were 48th in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 25.4 points per game. Justin Herbert (240 of 404, 3151 yards, 29 touchdowns, eight picks) is back to run the offense and running backs CJ Verdell (202 carries, 1018 yards, 10 TD) and Travis Dye (140 carries, 739 yards, four TD) provide a 1-2 punch in the run game. Jaylon Redd (38 receptions, 433 yards, five TD) was the team’s second-leading receiver last season and is the team’s top returning target. Verdell (27 receptions, 315 yards, two TD), Brenden Schooler (21 grabs, 203 yards, TD), Jacob Breeland (24 catches, 377 yards, two TD) and Johnny Johnson III (17 receptions, 215 yards, four TD) are all back in the mix. Schooler broke a bone in his foot in early August and is out six to eight weeks, which forced a reshuffling of the receiving corps for this one. Adam Stack (36 of 36 on extra points, six of 10 on field goals with a long of 39) and Zach Emerson (21 of 22 on extra points, zero for one on field goals) are both back in the kicking game.
At 6-6, 237 points, Herbert is the prototype quarterback that the NFL scouts still drool over. He’s a probable top-10 pick next April and likely would have been this past April. But he chose to stay home in Eugene and play with his brother, Patrick, a freshman tight end.
“I think he feels he could develop more,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told The New York Post. “That he could have an opportunity to do something at Oregon that he came here to do from the beginning, in terms of elevating the program to a new level.
“He loves his teammates, loves the opportunity to be around his brother. Just felt like he has unfinished business at the college level, and he also feels that due to another year of development, not only will the NFL be there but he has a chance to really elevate his status as an NFL prospect as well. All in all, he feels it’s a win-win situation.”
Auburn Tigers Hope to Catch Lightning in a Bottle
Auburn finished 8-5 under coach Gus Malzahn last season with three of their losses to ranked teams. The Tigers were 2-3 against ranked opponents, beating Washington and Texas A&M while falling to LSU by a point: they were drubbed by Georgia and Alabama, who both were top-5 programs. Auburn did close their season on a positive note as they pounded Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl. The Tigers bring back 14 starters, seven on each side of the ball, which gives them some continuity. Auburn starts five seniors on the offensive line and that will be helpful as the team transitions to a new quarterback.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) August 25, 2019
The Tigers averaged 222.5 yards per game through the air last season while running for 167.5 yards per contest on the ground: the team averaged 4.3 yards per carry on the year. Auburn finished the season 48th in the FBS in scoring offense as they averaged 30.9 points per game on the year while the team ranked 14th in scoring defense as they allowed only 19.2 points per game. Freshman QB Bo Nix, who beat out fellow freshman Joey Gatewood for the job, will get a chance to spring an upset right out of the gate. He was considered the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the entire country for the 2019 recruiting cycle and was Alabama’s Mr. Football in 2018. Nix gets some support from the ground game as the top three rushers from last season are back. JaTarvious Whitlow (150 carries, 787 yards, six TD) is the feature back while Kam Martin (103 carries, 458 yards, TD) and Shaun Stivers (70 carries, 371 yards, three TD) are back in the mix as well. Seth Williams (26 receptions, 534 yards, five TD) and Anthony Schwartz (22 receptions, 357 yards, two TD) are the top two returning receiving targets after the departures of Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton. Anders Carlson (44 of 44 on extra points, 15 of 25 on field goals with a long of 53) is the kicker: seven of his 10 misses came from beyond 50 yards.
Nix is the key and the Tigers will need to play well around him so as not to put too much pressure on the young freshman.
“I can get better as far as throwing and being accurate, timing with my receivers, communicating with the offensive line, communicating with everybody on offense, leading the team and being the leader our team needs,” Nix said last week. “We have great leadership, so if I can just find my role as far as that, that would help. And really, just like I said, everything. I can be a better passer, understand the offense more — that’s the main thing.”
- Ducks are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games in August
- Tigers are 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 non-conference games