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Ranking Utah’s 2017 Football Schedule: No. 5 Oregon

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NCAA Football: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah at Oregon

Saturday, Oct. 28

Eugene, Ore.

The Oregon Ducks return this season with a lot of talent, but will their young roster keep them from moving past Utah? On paper the Ducks are nothing short of a great team and match up well against the Utes. But on paper and on the field are two different things. From the whole Darren Carrington DUI situation (he’s now a Ute), to the Jalen Brown transfer, most of the veterans graduating, and the addition of new head coach Willie Taggart, the Ducks had a lot of movement in the offseason.

With the Ducks coming off of a 4-8 losing season on the gridiron last fall, the young guys are going to have to come in and step up fast.

The Utes are going to be looking for revenge this season after the Ducks came to Rice-Eccles Stadium and escaped with a 30-28 win after an overturned call in the end zone with two seconds remaining in the game – but it won’t be easy. I know they’ll be serious business from kickoff though because last season’s loss to the Ducks cost them the South Division Title.

THE STAR

Charles Nelson. That’s whom Utah is going to have to shut down. Named the Nation’s Most Versatile Player on the Paul Hornung Award Watch List in 2015, the standout wide receiver caught a team-high 52 passes for 544 yards last season, while also tying the team-high five touchdown catches. Nelson is hard to cover because he can be a threat when spread out wide, plus he can play in the slot. If that’s not enough, the senior shines on special teams, is a feasible ball carrier and can play defense.

QUARTERBACK SITUATION

Oregon hasn’t officially announced who their starting QB will be but we can pretty much guess it’s going to be sophomore Justin Herbert. The main reason I believe Herbert will get the starting job is because…well…there’s no one else. That is a good thing for Utah. If you get Herbert rattled up and off his game, there’s nowhere for the Oregon offense to go but down.

Entering spring practice, the Ducks had five quarterbacks on their roster, but Herbert was the only one with any significant experience. That means if he were to get injured, there’s not another quarterback that can step up and make the big plays needed. That means Taggart might have to shy away from a dual-threat quarterback because of issues with depth at the QB position.

LOADED AT RUNNING BACK

Oregon has a stable of talented backs they can lean on, led by senior Royce Freeman. He’s a big, physical back, yet he also has good speed. They also have the smaller, shifty, speed backs too with Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin. Brooks-James averaged 7.63 yards per carry last year, and Freeman is one of the top returning running backs in the country.

DEFENSE

Can Oregon rebuild their defense from the dumpster fire it was last season? Well, the new coaching staff might be able to with former Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on board. He turned around a disastrous CU defense in only his second season in Boulder before leaving for Oregon after last season. Taggert’s USF team ranked No. 120 in total defense last season, which was six spots ahead of the Ducks, though Leavitt was not on Taggert’s coaching staff at South Florida.

Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the nation, and I doubt we see the same result as the last time Utah played there when they demolished the Ducks 62-20. Oregon will be able to score points this year. They have a great rushing attack, and a quarterback who matured during his freshman season. Taggert is a well respected coach, and he should change the culture in the locker room, which was supposedly quite poor at times last season. Oregon should be a markedly better team in 2017, and this game will be tough for Utah.

Toughest Games in 2017 Countdown

No. 12 North Dakota

No. 11 San Jose State

No. 10 Arizona

No. 9 Arizona State

No. 8 BYU

No. 7 Colorado

No. 6 UCLA