Fresno State vs. Oregon College Football Odds & Picks: Bulldogs Have Value as Week 1 Road Underdogs (Sept. 4)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Oregon Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown.
- The Oregon Ducks begin their season at Autzen Stadium against the Fresno State Bulldogs.
- The Bulldogs already have a win under their belts, blowing out a Connecticut team in Week 0.
- Check out Thomas Schlarp's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.
Fresno State vs. Oregon Odds
It's Fresno State's Super Bowl. It's the game before the game for Oregon. Does that mean there's an upset brewing?
The Bulldogs already have one game under their 2021 belts, shellacking UConn, 45-0, in 100-plus degree temperatures in Week 0, while the Ducks are shaking off offseason rust in preparation for their Week 2, season-defining trip to Columbus.
Is this your classic look-ahead game that should give Oregon backers pause or are the Ducks justifiably favored by three touchdowns?
It took a quarter to get going, but Fresno State's offense proved every bit to be the well-oiled machine that it was thought to be, gaining 538 yards and led by the Big Three of Jake Haener, Ronnie Rivers and Jalen Cropper — albeit it came against a team that hadn't played a down of meaningful football in two years.
The Bulldogs are no doubt a legitimate threat to win the the Mountain West this season with their returning talent on offense, but will the defense improve enough to slow down a Pac-12 contender?
Fresno State fans held their collective breath when Jake Haener left the Week 0 game with an apparent injury, but news over the weekend reported Haener was only suffering from full-body cramps in the extreme heat and is good to go in Eugene.
While it's easy to be infatuated with Fresno's aerial assault, the real X factor in this game will be the play of running back Ronnie Rivers.
Oregon struggled to stop the run last season, allowing more than 169 yards a game for a Defensive Rushing Success of 91st. Meanwhile, Rivers is a dynamic weapon and arguably the best back in the MWC, who last week set Fresno's all-time record for career touchdowns.
On. The. Money.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) August 28, 2021
The Bulldogs have a potent passing attack, but the key to at least keeping things close may be to just slow things down and let Rivers chip away at an Oregon defensive line that's still working up to midseason speed.
Fresno State's Achilles' heel last season was its defense and an inability to stop the run. It might have looked like a world beater against UConn, holding the Huskies to 107 yards of total offense, but Oregon is an obvious leap in talent. Plus, Mother Nature won't be an added 12th defender this weekend with scorching temperatures.
The Bulldogs Defensive TARP of 80% does suggest there should be improvement from last year, with Boise State transfer Tyson Maeva appearing to be a strong addition.
Fresno's defensive calling card in 2020 was its ability to generate a pass rush, ranking third in Sack Rate. It was led by defensive ends Kwami Jones and David Perales, neither of whom contributed toward the Bulldogs' four sacks last weekend.
Like Oregon, however, rush defense could be a problem for the Fresno State, as it allowed north of 212 yards a game on the ground in 2020, and the Ducks have one of the best running back tandems in the Pac-12 of CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.
Stop if you've heard this before, but the Pac-12's College Football Playoff hopes could rest solely on the Ducks' wings.
Oregon might be more concerned with its looming 9 a.m. PT game against Ohio State next week, but Fresno State shouldn't be casually dismissed.
Now in his fourth season, head coach Mario Cristobal has proven to be a success, winning a pair of conference titles and three times building a conference-best recruiting class. Will 2021 finally be the year Oregon gets over the hump and is taken seriously on a national level?
Recently, Oregon settled its offseason quarterback battle, naming fifth-year player and former three-year Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown the starter over prized freshman-recruit Ty Thompson.
Brown took over for Tyler Shough in the Pac-12 Championship game and Fiesta Bowl last season, having modest success. Brown likely raises the floor of Joe Moorhead's offense, especially early on when compared to the true freshman, but its ceiling is also more limited with Brown than with Thompson, and I expect the latter to become the full-time starter by season's end.
Nonetheless, a Moorhead-led offense is a headache for opposing defenses to scheme, and the Ducks certainly don't lack for skill-position talent. They have running back CJ Verdell, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2018 and 2019, and a loaded arsenal of receivers led by Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd. Johnson III and Redd pace a group that's legitimately seven guys deep that could compete for starting time at just about any program in the country.
With an offense that ranked 11th and 13th in Rushing and Passing Success last season that returns essentially every skill player of note, the Ducks could be in for a big day.
Oregon returns all but one starter from an otherwise average offensive line in 2020 that allowed quarterback pressures on 31% of dropbacks, the fourth-highest mark in the Pac-12, according to Pro Football Focus.
If you haven't heard of Kayvon Thibodeaux by now, become familiar with the defensive end who will likely be a top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Thibodeaux is a machine, racking up 12 sacks in 21 games, on a defense that otherwise failed to generate much quarterback pressure, ranking 101st in Sack Rate and 97th in Havoc.
New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who also happened to be the Fresno State head coach from 2012-16, has plenty of returning talent to lean on as the Ducks bring a Defensive TARP of 86 percent. That said, the transition to DeRuyter should be easy, as he doesn't plan to change the scheme much.
Oregon allowed more than 200 yards on the ground last season on three occasions in a seven-game schedule and loses long-time starters Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Isaac Slade-Matautia from that line. However, there's no shortage of incoming talent to try and improve that front seven.
Fresno State vs. Oregon Matchup Analysis
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Fresno State Offense vs. Oregon Defense
Oregon Offense vs. Fresno State Defense
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Fresno State vs. Oregon Betting Pick
Does Oregon's season end before it even gets started? In the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast." However, that doesn't mean it's going to be a walk in the park.
Fresno State's offense is the real deal and will be able to score points against even the top Power Five teams. Oregon's defense is good, but not great, and team's usually make their biggest improvement from Week 1 to 2. That's something that the Ducks won't have the privilege of, though.
I don't see Oregon's offense having too much trouble getting up and down the field, but how much of his hand does Joe Moorhead want to expose before Ohio State and how long will the starters remain in the game?
I expect the Ducks to get out to a substantial, early lead before taking their foot of the gas a bit, while Jake Haener and Ronnie Rivers keep cooking until the final whistle against possibly some backups. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to score a late touchdown and cut the deficit to fewer than three touchdowns.
I like the Bulldogs for a backdoor cover.