We continue our series looking at what several Pac-12 teams must do to catch reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford. Next up: Oregon.
How they make the Pac-12 championship game: If the offense moves like a well-oiled machine with quarterback Dakota Prukop at the wheel (and if the center -- whomever it might be -- can get him the keys/ball). Between the insane depth at running back and the weapons at wide receiver, the Ducks have playmakers all over the field. If the offense is potent enough, it could be similar to the years when Marcus Mariota was at the wheel -- the defense would need to make just enough stops so that the offense could outscore its opponents.
What’s holding them back: The fact that Prukop has yet to take a true snap with the offense. After seeing what the Ducks had in their reserves last season, it seems like their best hope is Prukop. But that’s putting a lot of eggs into a basket that has yet to play (a) at the Division I level or (b) with the Ducks. The defense, though it might not be a liability if the offense scores enough, is also holding Oregon back from being elite. There might be games or stretches when the offense struggles to get going, and in those moments the defense needs to do its best to get a turnover and make something happen. Or, at a minimum, not let teams run all over them. Last season Oregon finished with just a plus-5 turnover margin. Worse, the Ducks scored just three more points off its opponents’ turnovers than their opponents scored off their turnovers. Compare those numbers to 2014 -- when Oregon finished with a plus-23 turnover margin and a plus-151 points-off-turnovers margin -- and it’s just staggering.
X-factor: It’s twofold. One, can Prukop ease into this position? He doesn’t need to make miracles. There are plenty of big-play types on offense. He just needs to do his job, take care of the ball and extend plays. Two, can the defense stand its ground? If Prukop adjusts well and the Ducks roll over opponents and score, then the defense standing its ground is a bonus. If Prukop is slower to advance, if the offense turns the ball over a bit, if there are any injuries offensively, then this becomes much more key to the success of this group.