College football game of the week preview and best bets: Oregon Ducks vs Ohio State Buckeyes
There are only two all-top 25 showdowns on this weekend’s college football slate: Oregon vs Ohio State and Iowa vs Iowa State. It won’t go down as the most important Saturday of the season, but those two contests are certainly worth watching.
Oregon underwhelmed in its abbreviated 2020 campaign with a 4-3 record, but its hopes for Pac-12 and even College Football Playoff contention this time around are real. Ohio State, of course, is pretty much a staple of the CFP. The Buckeyes beat Clemson in last year’s semi-finals before falling to Alabama in the National Championship.
What will transpire when these two national powerhouses collide? Let’s take a look.
Breaking down the Ducks
Despite losing almost as many games as it won in 2020 (including a Fiesta Bowl setback against Iowa State), Oregon captured the Pac-12 title with a 31-24 victory over USC in mid-December. In what will hopefully be a much more normal year on the heels of a 2020 season that was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ducks should restore order to their proud program. Quarterback Tyler Shough is gone, but running back CJ Verdell returned along with receivers Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd. Verdell rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown during last week’s 31-24 defeat of Fresno State, while Johnson caught 3 passes for 76 yards and a score. Graduate transfer Anthony Brown’s early returns under center were favorable, as he threw for 172 yards and 1 TD in addition to 56 rushing yards and another score on 16 keepers.
If Brown can play mistake-free football (he fumbled twice against Fresno State, losing the ball once), there really aren’t any question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, the front 7 in Oregon’s 3-4 base is outstanding. If the secondary can hold up its end of the bargain, the Ducks have a chance to achieve all of their lofty goals.
Check out our Pac-12 predictions
Breaking down the Buckeyes
Task number one in Columbus, of course, is to replace quarterback Justin Fields. In 2020, Fields was a Heisman Trophy finalist who led Ohio State to an undefeated regular season. Now he has taken his talents to the Chicago Bears as a first-round draft pick. Fields’ successor is freshman CJ Stroud who, like Brown, impressed this past weekend. Stroud completed 13 of 22 passes for 294 yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception as the Buckeyes beat Minnesota 45-31.
Wide receiver Chris Olave coming back was huge for Stroud and head coach Ryan Day. Unsurprisingly, Olave is already looking unstoppable; he turned 4 receptions into 117 yards and 2 TDs against the Golden Gophers. Unfortunately for Ohio State, its defense was borderline bad last year and six starters were lost. The unit’s performance against Minnesota was hardly encouraging, so questions remain in a big way heading into Saturday.
Check out our Big Ten predictions
Predictions and best bets
Ohio State is currently favored by more than 2 touchdowns (-14.5 to be exact). I’m not giving that many points with a team whose freshman quarterback is making just his second start and will surely have to score a ton of points to win and cover. The Buckeyes’ defense is probably weeks away from being respectable and the Ducks’ offense is already looking like a well-oiled machine for the most part.
The biggest danger for Oregon is its secondary trying to contain Olave and company. That almost surely won’t happen, in fact, so the visitors will have to find other ways to be competitive. Enter Brown, Verdell, and the rest of the offense. The total for this game is set at 63.5, which is a big number, but perhaps not big enough. There is no reason why both teams can’t score in the 30s, so go with the over.
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