How Oregon beating Auburn could help the Utes and every other Pac-12 team

i(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Jason Shelley (15) is sacked by Oregon Ducks linebacker Justin Hollins (11). Utah Utes host the Oregon Ducks, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Nov. 10, 2018.

From the outside, Chris Petersen remembers being aware of a strong national view of the Pac-12 in the middle of this decade.

“Five years later, we don’t even know how to play football anymore,” the fifth-year Washington coach said during the Pac-12 Football Media Day in July, citing outsiders’ perspective.

The Oregon Ducks can alter that storyline. Just as Petersen’s Huskies did last year, Oregon will open the season Aug. 31 vs. Auburn in a showcase game. This one’s in Arlington, Texas, giving the Ducks a more neutral site than in Washington’s contest in Atlanta that resulted in a 21-16 Auburn victory.

Asked after that game how the outcome would reflect on his team, Petersen said, “I don't really know and I don't really care. … Had we won, I'd feel exactly the same.”

The reality is the Pac-12 is scrutinized in these big games. That will happen in Oregon’s case, along with games against three other teams listed in the Westgate Sports Book’s top 15 for making the College Football Playoff: Oklahoma (vs. UCLA), Nebraska (vs. Colorado) and Notre Dame (vs. USC and Stanford).

“Our teams are going to have many opportunities to prove themselves early in the season,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott.

The Pac-12 has sent two teams to the Playoff in its five seasons, Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016. Whether the issue is too much competitive balance, the nine-game conference schedule or simply the lack of an elite team, the league has been left out for the past two years.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has spoken of the league “cannibalizing” itself, although that phenomenon is beyond his control.

“I don’t worry about it, because our goal is to win the conference,” Whittingham said Monday. “You can’t really control anything after that, so it’s not really a concern of mine. … It’s unfortunate the way the thing is set up with the Playoff, that not every [Power Five] conference is represented, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Oregon’s performance vs. Auburn is critical to the entire conference, in a Playoff context. If the Ducks win, they’ll be in position to qualify for the top four, assuming they go on to win the Pac-12 title. And if the Ducks fail to win the championship, teams such as Washington and Utah (which could meet Oregon only in the conference title game) would benefit from Oregon’s good performance against Auburn.

Other than missing Utah in the Pac-12 scheduling rotation, the Ducks have a tough conference schedule with trips to Stanford, Washington and USC. They haven't performed well on the road in recent years, but return quarterback Justin Herbert and the league's best offensive line, including Penei Sewell, a sophomore from St. George.

Stanford is another team that could really boost the outlook of the Pac-12, facing Northwestern, Central Florida and Notre Dame.


Odds of making the four-team College Football Playoff:

1/5 – Clemson.

1/3 – Alabama.

6/5 – Georgia.

2/1 – Oklahoma.

5/2 – Ohio State, Michigan.

6/1 – LSU, Texas.

12/1 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Oregon, Notre Dame, Florida, Washington.

Source: Westgate Sports Book


Significant nonconference games for Pac-12 football teams in 2019:

Aug. 30 – Oregon State vs. Oklahoma State.

Aug. 31 – Stanford vs. Northwestern, Oregon vs. Auburn (Arlington, Texas).

Sept. 7 – Colorado vs. Nebraska.

Sept. 14 – UCLA vs. Oklahoma, Arizona State at Michigan State, Stanford at Central Florida.

Oct. 12 – USC at Notre Dame.

Nov. 30 – Stanford vs. Notre Dame.

Offensive line forming

Redshirt freshman Braeden Daniels is the fourth player to emerge as a starter on the offensive line, Whittingham said after the coaching staff’s review of Saturday’s scrimmage.

Daniels, who appeared in two games last season while preserving his year of eligibility, was listed as a starting guard on the preseason depth chart. He joins tackles Darrin Paulo and Nick Ford and center Orlando Umana in the lineup. Whittingham hopes to determine the fifth player by Thursday, giving the group two weeks to work together before the Aug. 29 season opener at BYU.

Junior college transfer Bamidele Olaseni, a tackle, has joined the team after completing academic requirements. He will have a chance to move into a top-eight position among the linemen, Whittingham said.