* Fifth in a series of stories previewing Cal’s six firm opponents on their revised 2020 Pac-12 schedule. This story, which appeared on Cal Sports Report in April, has been substantially updated, reflecting changes since then.
Game 5: OREGON at CAL, Saturday, Dec. 5
Original date: The Ducks originally were scheduled to visit Berkeley in Game 7 on Oct. 17.
Oregon's 2019 record: 12-2 overall, 8-1/1st in Pac-12 North
Series record: The series is tied 40-40-2, but Oregon has won 10 of the last 11 meetings with Cal, and that includes the Ducks' 17-7 victory last year in Eugene. Cal was without quarterback Chase Garbers in that game, and Devon Modster was 17-for-34 with one touchdown and two interceptions. Cal picked off Justin Herbert once and the Ducks committed three first-half turnovers, as Cal led 7-0 at the half. Since 2008, Cal's only win over Oregon came in 2016 in Berkeley, when the Bears won 52-49 in two overtimes.
Ducks coach: Mario Cristobal is 21-6 in his two seasons as Oregon's head coach. He was Oregon's co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for a year before being promoted to head coach, and he was an assistant coach at Alabama for four years before that. Cristobal was the head coach at Florida International for six seasons, going 27-48.
Recent changes: Three key Oregon players opted out of the 2020 season. Junior offensive tackle Penei Sewell, a first-team All-American who is likely to be a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL draft, was the first to opt out. Three members of the Ducks’ secondary later opted out. Safety Jevon Holland, who might be a first-round draft pick, opted out, and returning starting cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr. also opted out. However, after the Pac-12 announced it would have a fall season starting on Nov. 7, Lenoir opted back in.
Top players: Junior RB CJ Verdell (1,220 yards, 6.2 yards per carry); senior WR Johnny Johnson III (57 receptions, 836 yards, 87 TDs); sophomore DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (9.0 sacks, 14.0 tackles for loss, was named a preseason first-team All-American by Athlon); senior CB Deommodore Lenoir (47 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interceptions, 7 pass breakups); senior safety Brady Breeze (62 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups);
Strengths: RB CJ Verdell was a second-team all-Pac-12 selection last season when he rushed for 1,220 yards and caught 14 passes. He rushed for 1,080 yards in 2018. Travis Dye is a capable backup . . . The Ducks return their top two receivers from last season – WR Johnny Johnson III and WR Jaylon Redd – and both are capable of big plays . . . The Ducks should have an outstanding defensive line led by sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, with senior nose tackle Jordon Scott being one of the top interior-line defenders in the conference and Austin Faoliu returning as a starting defensive tackle. . . Despite the unexpected loss of two talented defensive backs (Jevon Holland, Thomas Graham), the Ducks should be capable on the back line with CB Deommodore Lenoir and S Brady Breeze. . . The Ducks led the Pac-12 in sacks with 43 last year, and they should have a strong pass rush again in 2020. . . Oregon yielded just 16.6 points per game last season, and its defense should be strong again.
Weaknesses: Quarterback Justin Herbert, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft and is the Chargers’ starting quarterback, is gone, leaving a giant void at the quarterback spot. Tyler Shough, last year's backup, is likely to land the starting spot. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards and 3 TDs last year, but he has never been asked to lead a team. . . . Shough’s biggest problem is that he will operate behind an offensive line that lost all five starters, including Penei Sewell, considered the best offensive lineman in the county. There is talent on the offensive line, but it is inexperienced . . . The offensive adjustments are made more difficult by the fact that the Ducks have a new offensive coordinator (Joe Moorhead) and had limited spring practice. . . The one weakness on defense is the void left by emotional leader Troy Dye at inside linebacker.
What you should know about Oregon: The Ducks have undergone a transformation under Mario Cristobal. Known for its fast-paced, high scoring attack under Chip Kelly, Oregon now tries to overpower foes with its strong offense. . . . Oregon beat Utah in the Pac-12 championship game last season, then defeated Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl. Oregon was ranked No. 5 in the final AP poll of 2019, and it was ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP poll this year . . . Oregon has played in the national championship game twice in the past 10 years, losing to Auburn 22-19 in the national title game following the 2010 season and falling to Ohio State 42-20 in College Football Playoff championship game following the 2014 season. . . . Cal's new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, was a quarterback at Oregon and was a four-year starter (1987-90). In his senior season, Oregon played Cal in Berkeley, and Musgrave got knocked out of the game in the first half with a head injury. . . Cal head coach Justin Wilcox was a defensive back at Oregon.
Spring practice status: The Ducks began spring workouts on March 5, and were able to get four practices in before the rest of spring ball was canceled due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The program’s spring game was scheduled for April 18 but was not played.
2020 Oregon Schedule: Nov. 7 vs. Stanford; Nov. 14 at Washington State; Nov. 20 at UCLA; Nov. 27 at Oregon State; Dec. 5 at Cal; Dec. 12 vs. Washington.
2020 Season projection: The Ducks are generally considered the team to beat in the Pac-12 in 2020. In fact, Athlon called the Ducks an "overwhelming favorite" to capture the conference title. Sporting News and ESPN both placed Oregon at No. 6 in their early preseason top-25 rankings for 2020. Those predictions were made before the Ducks lost three key players who opted out, but the Ducks were still ranked No. 9 in the preseason Associated Press poll. They are considered the Pac-12 team with the best chance to land a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Cal-Oregon game prediction: Oregon 21, Cal 17
Previous previews available here:
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