There are just 60 days until Oregon football kicks off the 2019 season against Auburn on August 31, 2019. The Ducks are the projected underdog, but I predict Oregon will walk out of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas as the victors.
Optimism is high for Oregon football’s 2019 season and beating the Tigers will essentially make or break the team’s College Football Playoff hopes. A win sends the Ducks and the Pac-12 Conference into national relevancy, and a loss initiates an uphill fight; no team has ever rebounded from a week one loss to make the final field of four.
It’s the first meeting between these teams since Auburn’s 22-19 win in the BCS National Championship game in 2011.
[Initiate “Michael Dyer was down!!!” screams from every Duck fan reading this]
It’s not Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s first meeting with Auburn either. Cristobal’s record is 3-1 against Gus Malzhan's Tigers during his time as an Alabama assistant.
Let’s move on to the very polarizing week one match up and why Oregon has the upper hand.
The anticipation is palpable. Oregon is trying to make the most of Heisman hopeful quarterback Justin Herbert’s senior year and Cristobal’s second season at the top. The Ducks return a combined 17 positional starters; a veteran offensive line, running back weapons CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, an influx of new talent at receiver, projected first round draft pick linebacker Troy Dye and a few extraordinary freshman who could make instant impacts.
They will need all that experience and more when lined up against the daunting Auburn defense and possibly the best defensive line in the country highlighted by Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe.
The better team in the trenches is likely to win the game and my money would be on the Ducks, who returned all five starters on the offensive line that combine for 153 starts, with incredible size and versatility.
The battle won’t stop there. The Tigers’ defensive backs play extremely physical at the line of scrimmage, creating a challenge for Oregon’s largely unproven receiving corps.
This is where the physical play of wide receiver Juwan Johnson and tight end Cam McCormick is crucial. The largest receiver on the roster, 6-foot-4, 230-pound Johnson, must utilize his size and be a constant goal line threat. I expect 6-foot-5, 260-pound McCormick to be a large weapon for Herbert this season. McCormick excels at blocking and is physically imposing at the point of attack in the run game. In the passing game, he has great hands and is tough to take down with surprising speed.
The Tigers’ defense will be a test for the Ducks right out of the gate. However, the Auburn offense is retooling with a first-time starting quarterback between either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix. Returning its top three rushers, Auburn operates a run heavy attack, which is ideal for Oregon’s defensive line that allowed less than four yards a carry last season.
In two months, Oregon football grasps the chance to upset Auburn in prime time and become the Pac-12’s best chance for a spot in the playoff. It’s hard to count out a determined Malzahn, who has been featured on every ‘hot seat’ list in the country, and a resilient Auburn team, but the Ducks have the star power, size and experience to beat the Tigers.