Oregon Ducks

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

The Willie Taggart-era at Oregon on the practice field began this morning when the Ducks opened spring drills, which will include 14 sessions before the Spring Game on April 29. 

Oregon enters spring with a new staff but most of the same players who were largely responsible for a 4-8 season in 2016, a year that led to the firing of former coach Mark Helfrich and a staff that featured some assistants who had been in Eugene for as many as 20-plus years.

In order to win right away, Taggart must do so with the players recruited by the former staff. That's not impossible. In fact, it's highly likely. Oregon played mostly a young and battered group in 2016. It's a core that should be considerably better in 2017 after taking their collective lumps during the program's first losing season since 2004 (5-6). 

That development process began during the winter and continues this spring. Many questions linger for this staff to sort out, but here are five that must be addressed this spring: 

1. Will a quarterback controversy develop or will Justin Herbert re-establish himself as the guy for this new staff? The only quarterback in Oregon history who at the same age could have beaten out what we saw from Herbert as a freshman would be Marcus Mariota. Maybe. That's how good Herbert is. So, when Taggart says that the position is open, he is essentially hoping that either redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. or redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen demonstrates some Mariota-level skills.

We shall see. 

Herbert took over as the starter in week 6 and in seven starts completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Project those numbers out over 13 games (with a bowl) and you get 3,688-35-6. Those numbers are almost identical to what Mariota put up in 2013 (3,665-31-4) as a redshirt sophomore while playing on a much better team.  No doubt Taggart witnessed all of Herbert's skills while reviewing game video from last season. 

Still, Taggart points out that UO won just four games, so whatever Herbert did last season wasn't good enough. Truth be told, Herbert won just two of those four (Arizona State and Utah), but Mariota wouldn't have won much more with the defense Oregon put on the field. 

Taggart does liked the physical abilities he saw from Wilson and Jonsen during winter workouts, but added that Herbert has also looked great, so far. 

“Really impressed with winter conditioning watching him run around and change directions, and doing those things," Taggart said. 

Now, Taggart wants to see Herbert, or another quarterback, become an established leader. 

“At the end of the day, I want to see who can lead this football team," Taggart said. "Who can get this team to rally around him.”

Let the QB games begin. 

2. Are there any young playmakers at linebacker not named Troy Dye? Dye made a name for himself last season as pretty much the only playmaker on defense. The Ducks will return to the 3-4, defense, which means UO needs three other linebackers to emerge. Seniors A.J. Hotchkins and Jimmie Swain must improve. Also, Oregon could use someone among the young group of sophomores La'Mar Winston Jr. and Keith Simms, and redshirt freshman Eric Briscoe, to breakthrough. 

"We have to get more athletic at that spot," Taggart said.

Translation: "We lack ballers."

Oregon will be looking for more of those this spring. 

3. Are there any playmakers along the defensive line at all? We must continue on with the defense because that side of the ball was so bad last season. So bad that there really weren't any bright spot along the defensive line to be found. 

Taggart, however, said he believes that some playmakers exist upfront. Mass confusion on defense last year, he added, led to a lot of young defensive linemen not being able to flourish. 

"Usually when you don't know what you're doing, you'll get your butt whooped," Taggart said. "But there's some potential."

Jalen Jelks, Henry Mondeaux, Gary Baker, Rex Manu, Drayton Carlberg, and others, all must develop this spring or opposing offenses will once again trample the Ducks. 

4.  Can Dillon Mitchell and Alex Ofodile ease concerns about depth at wide receiver? Oregon returns two wide receivers of consequence: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Taggart needs about four more receivers for him to be comfortable about the depth at this position. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile are both former four-star recruits and the next men up. But the jury is out on both. They could either emerge this spring or open the door for one of seven freshmen receivers to take their jobs. 

One such freshman already on campus is three-star recruit, Darrian McNeal, a quick elusive receiver in the mold of Nelson and former UO star, De'Anthony Thomas, but not quite as fast, according to Taggart.

Taggart said McNeal's love for the game shows in his play, play that could get him on the game field right away. 

But for this position to take off, Mitchell and/or Ofodile must take major strides in their development this spring. 

5. How will a new coaching staff mesh? Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark worked together in Colorado. Taggart brought two South Florida assistants, special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie and running backs coach Donte Pimpleton, to UO from his former team. Other than that, no other coaching connections exist on this staff. 

So, stands to reason that there could be some growing pains as the staff learns to work together. 

"Not everybody has been around me," Taggart said. "A lot of things I might not like and I'll continue to coach those guys up and get it the way that we want it."

So far, Taggart said, the staff has worked together very well. Camaraderie and enthusiasm have been high. Taggart said it helps that Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal are former head coaches who get the process. 

We will see if harmony continues or if some feathers get ruffled along the way. Especially if the previous four questions go unanswered and the team is left floundering in a sea of mediocrity during year one of the Taggart era. 

Dana Altman raises bar on recruiting with addition of Bol

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USA Today

Dana Altman raises bar on recruiting with addition of Bol

Oregon coach Dana Altman added another jewel to his 2018 recruiting class today with the addition of 7-foot-1 Bol Bol, a five-star recruit and the No. 1-rated center in the nation, according to 247Sports.com

Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, announced his decision today in an article on the Players' Tribune

Bol, when he officially signs, will join a recruiting class that already includes five-star forward Louis King, four-star forward Miles Norris and four-star guard Will Richardson. This is the first time Oregon has ever had two five-star recruits in the same class. 

Oregon's class was ranked No. 8 by 247Sports based on the three signees. Bol's committment raised UO's class to No. 1 in the nation. This comes on the heels of last year when Altman landed the No. 12 class in the nation led by five-star wing Troy Brown. 

The caveat to bringing in such high-end talent is that some could bolt for the NBA after one season. But that would only happen if such a player had delivered one hell of a season. Mixed in with the potential one-and-done talents of Brown, King and Bol are plenty of high-end four-star recruits that will need at least two years to become NBA ready. 

This season's team is loaded with depth thanks to transfers and recruiting despite the Ducks losing seven of their top 10 players from last season's Final Four team. The Ducks (4-0) have been destroying lesser competition with eight players averaging 8.5 points or more. It's an impressive collection of athletes that might not return to the Final Four but certainly will play an entertaining brand of basketball and could grow into a national contender by next season. 

If Altman can maintain a strong mix of transfers such as forward Paul White, who is off to a strong start after sitting out last season following transferring in from Georgetown, and four-star players who will be around two or three years, then the addition of the five-star talent will serve to provide icing on an already championship-caliber cake. 

Of course, it must be pointed out that not all of these high-end recruits will pan out. Former 2015 four-star recruits, Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel, ended up transferring. Forward M.J. Cage, from the 2016 class, redshirted last season and so far this season has received just 7.3 minutes per game. Transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams, from the same class, certainly didn't live up to expectations last season as the top-rated junior college transfer in the nation, and has since transferred. 

Still, Altman only needs to hit on a couple of high-end players from each class in order to piece together a great team. What Altman has done by raising the recruiting levels to match is ability to identify, recruit and properly use transfers is that he has created two flowing pipelines of players that should continue to fill any talent void from year to year and lead to run of consistency that the program has never experienced.

 

Taggart shoots down speculation that he wants out of Oregon

Taggart shoots down speculation that he wants out of Oregon

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart hasn't been able to escape the rumors that he could be headed to Florida or that he simply wants out of coaching the Ducks. 

The latter was posed to him following UOs 48-28 win Saturday over Arizona at Autzen Stadium and the first-year UO coach immediately shot it down. 

"Do I look unhappy?" he said with a smile. "I'm not addressing anymore rumors. You might have to ask that guy who put that rumor out there."

"That guy" is ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski, who on television stated that he was hearing that Taggart wanted out of Oregon. 

Taggart has stated repeatedly that he isn't going anywhere. At least not this season. Rumors swirled last week within the college football world that Taggart could land at Florida after the Gators fired coach Jim McElwain. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., and coached at South Florida before taking the Oregon job last December. 

While it must be noted that virtually every coach that has ever left a program at some point avoided a question regarding his plans or flat out said he wasn't leaving and then did in fact leave, the reality is that there has been no concrete evidence or reporting that indicates that Taggart is a prime candidate at any program that could be viewed as being more desirable than Oregon. 

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

EUGENE - Oregon finally did something on the football field worth talking about this season by defeating Arizona 48-28 Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks needed a big win in the worst way. They needed the type of victory that would truly signal the program's turnaround under new coach Willie Taggart in a season filled with disappointing performances and yawn-inspiring wins. They needed a win like Saturday's to validate the existing belief by many that the Ducks' future is bright under Taggart. 

For that victory to occur, the Ducks needed sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert to return to action for the first time since breaking his left collarbone seven weeks again against California. But while he certainly did his thing, by far the most important entity on the field Saturday was the Ducks' defense, which devoured Arizona's emerging superstar quarterback, Khalil Tate. 

The win, something Oregon was favored by odds makers to pull of, wasn't supposed to go down like it did. Tate, who in just seven starts had amassed more than 1,252 yards rushing, more resembled a kitten trapped in a box against Oregon than the dynamic Wildcat quarterback that saved Arizona's season, and maybe coach Rich Rodriguez's job, with one show-stopping performance after another. 

When Saturday's game ended, Tate sat at 32 yards rushing, Taggart flashed his victory smile and Oregon had by far its best win of the season.

The Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) are now bowl eligible with feeble Oregon State (1-10, 0-8) up next in the Civil War. Oregon has a great chance to finish the season 8-5 with what should be an easy win over the Beavers followed by likely victory in a bowl game against what likely will be an inferior opponent. But when this season is in the history books, the victory that should be remembered most will be the night the Ducks denied a superstar in the making to make fools out of them and defeated a team that had a real shot at winning 10 games before the Ducks got done with them. 

"It means a lot," Taggart said of the victory that came after five games of mostly turmoil. "It shows the progress in our football team and that we're headed in the direction that we want to go."

With Herbert out, the Ducks lost four out of five games and scored just 34 combined points in those four losses with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. But Oregon team righted itself by realizing that it couldn't lay blame at the feet of the freshman when the entire team had contributed to the team's follies. 

A renewed attention to detail led to a better team on the field when Herbert returned. Especially on defense. That proved true on Saturday. 

Taggart said the plan for Tate was simple: Force him to hand the ball off on zone read and contain him in the pocket. 

Tate looked unstoppable on Arizona's first drive in which the Wildcats never faced a third down and scored after 11 plays covering 83 yards. After that, the Ducks made life miserable for Tate. A defender ran at him every time he showed an inside hand off in order to force him to give the ball to the running back. On passing plays, outside edge rushers committed more to containing him the pocket then going all out for sacks. 

"We tried to keep him in a box," dye said. "We tried to keep him from getting out in space."

That strategy only worked because the Ducks did a great job of stopping the inside and outside zone plays. Many a defense has focused on eliminating running quarterback only to get gashed by inside runs. See virtually every team that ever faced former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota while he operated Oregon's zone read run game from 2012 through 2014. 

Arizona finished with just 171 yards rushing after entering the game averaging 347.7 and even more than that since Tate took over as the starting quarterback. 

"It was just a collective team effort," Dye said. 

The combination of bottling up the inside run game and keeping Tate from finding any creases doomed Arizona's running game, which in turn did a number on the Wildcats' passing game. Tate has a strong arm and throws a good ball but he has yet to prove to be skilled enough to carry a team with his arm. Arizona's previous passing success with him had come about through forcing opposing defenses to focus heavily on the run and thus become susceptible to big plays over the top. Tate entered the game averaging just over 10 yards per pass attempt. Oregon held him to 4.5 on Saturday. 

“We didn’t block them well, we didn’t read them well, and they did a good job," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "The frustrating part is we’ll probably watch the film, and they were playing the exact way we thought they’d play, but they were better than us.”

Truth be told, Taggart said he was nervous about how his defense would perform early on in the preparation process because scout team quarterback Demetri Burch, a three-star wide receiver recruit who played quarterback in high school, had been routinely destroying the Ducks' defense in practice.

"They were so frustrated at times they tackled Demetrius when they could," Taggart said. "Sometimes they couldn't."

Having an off week, Taggart said, proved vital in preparing the defense for Tate. By the end of game week, UO's defense had demonstrated greater success against Burch in practice.

"Without Demetri Burch I don't think we would have played the way we played tonight," Dye said. "He gave us a tremendous look these past 10 days."

Oregon cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi said Burch proved to be tougher to defend against than Tate.

The victory made the Ducks bowl eligible a year after going 4-8. Taggart said that he had one question for Nike founder and Oregon mega-booster Phil Knight: "Does Nike make bowling shoes?" 

Corny, to be sure. 

But what's not corny is that the Ducks have clearly made great strides this season, something Taggart traces back to team camaraderie. 

"We've got a group of young men that believe in each other and that care about each other," he said. "I think we saw that throughout the season when we could have easily folded."

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

BOX SCORE

Oregon made Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate look quite ordinary during a 48-28 win over Arizona Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. 

UO held Tate to 32 yards rushing after he had amassed 1,252 on the ground in just seven starts. That performance by the Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) overshadowed the return of quarterback Justin Herbert from a broken left collarbone that forced him to miss five games. He looked a bit rusty while completing 14 of 21 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown with one interception. 

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries and scored four touchdowns to give him 62 total touchdowns for his career, breaking LaMichael Jame's former team record of 58. 

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, who missed five games with a broken left collarbone, has been cleared to play Saturday against Arizona, according to multiple sources. 

A source told NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday that Herbert was taking first-team reps and would likely start, as reported that night on Talkin' Ducks. However, Oregon coach Willie Taggart that same day said during an interview that Herbert would undergo an X-ray later in the week to determine his availability. 

On Thursday, Brett McMurphy tweeted that sources had told him that Herbert would start against the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2). However, according to a source, Herbert's availability wasn't 100 percent certain until Friday when an x-ray revealed that Herbert's collarbone had indeed fully healed. But, it was pretty much a done deal that he would return this week unless he suffered a set back. In fact, Herbert, a source said, might have been able to play last Saturday had the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not been on an off week.  

The injury was believed to require six to eight weeks to heal. Saturday will mark seven weeks since Herbert injured his collarbone while rushing for a seven-yard touchdown in the first quarter against California. That score gave the Ducks a 17-0 lead. They went on to win 45-24. 

However, in the five weeks without Herbert the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) went 1-4 with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. In his six appearances - counting the Cal game - Burmeister completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. Oregon defeated Utah 41-20 two games ago but found it very difficult to score in four losses, falling 33-10 to Washington State, 49-7 at Stanford, 31-14 at UCLA and 38-3 at Washington.  

Herbert's return makes it quite possible that the Ducks could win their final three games and finish the season with an 8-5 record. 

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman has been named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given annually to the nation's top running back.

With two regular season games remaining, Freeman has rushed for 1,218 yards and 10 touchdowns on 206 carries. Freeman ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 121.8 rushing yards per game. 

The Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) host Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

Earlier this season, Freeman became the program's all-time leading rusher surpassing LaMichael James (5,082). Freeman has rushed for 5,364 in four seasons. 

 

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon released its 2018 football schedule and, on paper, it has 10 wins written all over it. The Ducks will play three non-conference games with none of the opponents coming close to being on Oregon's level. 

Bowling Green is 2-9 this season, Portland State is 0-10 and San Jose State is 1-10.  On top of that, Oregon will host Pac-12 North Division rivals Stanford and Washington in 2018. The toughest road game at this time appears to be at at Arizona, which will return quarterback Khaill Tate.

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) hosts Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday

As long as the Ducks remain healthy next season, they should win nine games without breathing hard and will have a legitimate shot at winning 10, or more. 

Oregon could return as many as seven starters on offense and seven on defense, plus a host of young backups that gained valuable experience this season. The Ducks also will likely welcome in a top 10 recruiting class. 

2018 OREGON DUCKS SCHEDULE

Sept. 1                 Bowling Green

Sept. 8                 Portland State

Sept. 15               San Jose State

Sept. 22               Stanford

Sept. 29               at Cal

Oct. 6                   OPEN

Oct. 13                 Washington

Oct. 20                 at Washington State

Oct. 27                 at Arizona

Nov. 3                  UCLA    

Nov. 10                at Utah

Nov. 17                Arizona State

Nov. 23 (Fri.)       at Oregon State

 

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to finally "do something" of substance this season when they host Arizona on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not only needs a win in the worst way, but the Ducks could use a victory against a strong opponent in order to validate this uneven season in some capacity. To date, coach Willie Taggart's first year at UO has seen a hot start fueled by taking down weak opponents morph into a hot mess after sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert - expected back this week - went down with a collarbone injury.  

Oregon's best victories this season have come against Utah (5-5, 2-5), California (5-5, 2-5) and Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 BigTen). That's hardly a lot to brag about having defeated. Following the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) on the schedule will be Oregon State (1-9, 0-7) in the Civil War then, assuming UO qualifies for the postseason, a likely inferior bowl game opponent awaits in December. 

A bowl victory would certainly be sweet for Taggart, who has yet to win a bowl game. But the signature victory of the season would still ben a win over the Wildcats, who have won five of their last six games since sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became the starter.

The trajectories of both teams have been vastly different since Tate replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins against Colorado on Oct. 7 and Herbert went down with his injury during a win over Cal the following week.

While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez discovered that he could have a future Heisman Trophy candidate on his hands, Taggart discovered that his freshman backup, Braxton Burmeister, wasn't close to being ready for Pac-12 play. Consequently, not only did the Ducks go 1-4 in Herbert's absence, but aside from a 41-20 win over the Utes, the Ducks scored just 34 points in four defeats. 

Young quarterback, or not, generating just 8.5 points per game in four losses is a poor reflection on the offensive coaching staff armed with a strong offensive line and a stable of good to great running backs led by Royce Freeman. They couldn't average at least 17 points per game despite poor quarterback play? Oregon still would have still lost all four games but at least the Ducks would have shown a pulse. 

With Herbert expected back this week - Taggart said x-rays later in the week would determine his quarterback's availability - Oregon has a chance to erase the madness of the season by closing strongly with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a victory over Arizona. 

Ironically, Taggart swiped Burmeister from Arizona where he had originally committed. Taggart also flipped freshman receiver Darrian McNeal, who has two receptions for 10 yards. So far, that hasn't worked out so well for UO.

But Taggart and the Ducks can make everything right with a win on Saturday. It is likely to be a shootout. Taggart said the Ducks would have to "pray" in order to defend against Tat. Taggart isn't lying. Oregon has zero chance of "stopping" Tate. But, the Ducks' defense could be good enough prevent Tate from eclipsing the volume of offense Oregon should generate with Herbert back in the pocket. 

He will return to find a better team than the one he left. Senior receiver Charles Nelson hasn't caught a pass from Herbert since the first half of the team's win at Wyoming in game 3. When Nelson returned to action at UCLA, Herbert was already down and out. Now they will be reunited in the passing game that will only be helped by a running game that maintained a high level of production despite the lack of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. 

By any measure, this has been somewhat of a disappointing season for Oregon when one considers what might have been had Herbert remained healthy. Now the focus must be to go 3-0 the rest of the way and ride into the offseason with a win over Arizona, a bowl victory and an 8-5 record. 

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Oregon vs. Arizona

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Off

Records: Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), Arizona (7-3, 5-2).

Last week: Arizona won 49-28 vs. Oregon State. The Ducks were off.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-50, 5-5 at Oregon); Arizona's Rich Rodriguez (163-116-2, 43-32 at Arizona.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Rodriguez is the inventor of the zone read play that he made famous during his days at West Virginia. Now he has an even better running quarterback in Tate than Pat White, who became a dominant force for the Mountaineers 10 years ago under Rodriguez. Tate is doing things from a rushing standpoint that had never been done before in the Pac-12.  Tate is so good as a runner that he makes former Oregon quarterbacks; Marcus Mariota and Dennis Dixon look ordinary. 

Arizona leads the Pac-12 with 347.7 yards rushing per game. Of that, 161.6 has come from Tate. He is the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,293 on 11.3 yards per carry). 

Arizona doesn't throw much but when it does, Tate is more than capable of producing big plays, but he has thrown six interceptions. 

Where Arizona is weak is on defense. It ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense. For that reason, it's a good bet that Oregon's more balanced offense, matched against a vastly inferior defense, will prove to be too much for Tate to overcome. 

Game prediction: Oregon 47, Arizona 40.

Top-rated basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, chooses Duke over Oregon

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USA Today

Top-rated basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, chooses Duke over Oregon

The nation's top basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, just moments ago announced that he will attend Duke over Oregon and Kentucky.

"I can't wait to get there next year," Barrett said during a live stream broadcast. 

Oregon is still in play for Bol Bol, the No. 3-rated center in the nation. 

Barrett said he hopes to be one-and-done at Duke and enter the NBA Draft. 

Even if Oregon also misses out on Bol, it has been a strong week for Oregon. The Ducks earlier this week landed five-star forward Louis King out of Burlington, N.J., and four-star forward Miles Norris out of Chula Vista, Calif. near San Diego. Both are seniors and will join Oregon's team next fall. 

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King, the 23rd-rated players in the nation according to Rivals.com, is listed at 6-foot-8. He averaged 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for Hudson Catholic High School during his junior season. The 6-10 Norris has played for Mater Dei Catholic High School,  Helix High School and will play his senior season for Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. 

Oregon begins play this season tonight against Coppin State