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Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
If ever a 12-2 season and Rose Bowl victory could be deemed a disappointment, that was the case for Oregon last season. The No. 5 Ducks won the inaugural Pac-12 championship and outscored Wisconsin 45-38 in the Rose Bowl, but Oregon fans had unfulfilled visions of a national championship, one that would seem to be much more difficult this season. Saturday’s season opener probably won’t be much of a barometer to judge how good these Ducks will be as they face undermanned Arkansas State, a five-touchdown underdog. The Red Wolves went 10-3 last year but nearly all of the victories came in the paltry Sun Belt Conference and they lost to the only ranked team they faced.
ABOUT ARKANSAS STATE (2011: 10-3, 8-0 Sun Belt): Under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Red Wolves reached the godaddy.com Bowl last year, losing to Northern Illinois. Quarterback Ryan Aplin was named the Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year and is listed among the nation’s top returning signal-callers. Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 touchdowns last season and led the team in rushing with 588 yards and 10 more touchdowns. Arkansas State has only one win over a BCS school (Texas A&M in 2008) since elevating its program to FBS status.
ABOUT OREGON (2011: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): The Ducks lost exciting running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas but still figure to be one of the nation’s highest scoring teams. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota beat out sophomore Bryan Bennett in a taut battle for starting quarterback. Bennett helped the Ducks to a pair of victories last season while Thomas was injured, but Mariota outplayed him in the preseason. Kenjon Barner, who had four 100-yard performances last year, takes over for James and the star of the show might be De’Anthony Thomas, an all-purpose sensation. Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 North Division, but USC is the overall conference favorite.
1. Arkansas State was picked second in the preseason Sun Belt poll.
2. Oregon will use its season-opener to debut another one of its flashy new uniforms. The jerseys will come in green, yellow, black and white and feature its liquid metal helmets.
3. The Ducks averaged 46.1 points, third in the nation last season.
PREDICTION: Oregon 52-14