No pressure, Oregon, but your season—and perhaps the seasons of every team west of, oh, the Rockies—ride on your opener against Auburn.
We said this last year, when Washington traveled (dubiously) to Atlanta to open its season against that other team from Alabama. Win, or crush the hopes of the Pac-12 and two time zones.
In the case of this game, it just means more, to borrow a phrase, for the West Coast’s hopes. The Tigers will have many SEC opportunities to atone. The Pac-12 doesn’t give the Ducks that kind of comfort level.
Turned out that Auburn wasn’t that good last year. But here’s the thing. The Pac-12 has to beat somebody to be somebody. And who would you rather pin your hopes on? Oregon vs. Auburn? Or USC and Stanford vs. Notre Dame?
Sorry, but Washington and Utah vs. BYU isn’t going to cut it.
And, no I’m not going to make a wry observation about the importance of football to various religions.
Because this is a question about geography. Forget the San Andreas Fault. The Larry Scott Chasm is threatening to submerge Pacific Coast football.
And so, it’s up to the Ducks. Honestly, Utah could be in this discussion. Because they reside in the moribund Pac-12 South, the Utes have a chance to cruise into the conference championship game, while Oregon faces all kinds of peril in the Pac-12 North, notably but not limited to Washington.
And here’s the other thing. Utah led 7-6 with seven minutes left at Northern Illinois last September. What is a Pac-12 champion doing in DeKalb, Illinois? Who goes to DeKalb? Even NIU alums don’t go to DeKalb.
Seriously, the Utes will be very good, especiially with the return of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who was at Utah in 2005-08, including the shocker over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
I just like the idea that Mario Cristobal, cleansed at the feet of Nick Saban, will restore Oregon to glory. He’s got all that Nike money on his side. Receiver Juwan Johnson, a Penn State transfer, will be a good target for quarterback Justin Herbert. And Cristobal was 3-1 against Auburn as an Alabama assistant.
The O line is strong, the defense should be stout. It’s Oregon’s time. But it needs to begin in Jerry’s World against the Tigers.
There are some promising signs. Unlike last year, Auburn won’t be riding a bus to this game. Its fans will need to buy plane tickets. Or sleep in their cars.
It’s good that this game will be in Texas. The subtitle should be How the West Was Won. Or Lost.
Oh, and by the way, if Oregon wins, that’s just the first step in the journey. But that beats the alternative.