The Oregon Ducks open their 2014 college football betting campaign with a tune-up against South Dakota. Will this game launch Marcus Mariota's bid for the Heisman Trophy?
Mark Helfrich is well aware of the expectations his Oregon Ducks face heading into the college football season. The Ducks are prohibitive favorites to win the Pac-12 title, current NCAA football futures odds pricing them at -125 for the conference crown, and among the top picks to be part of the first Division-I playoff when the bowl season comes around.
Oregon's push to reach both goals begins Saturday night in Eugene against the FCS South Dakota Coyotes. One of several mismatches in Week 1, kickoff at Autzen Stadium is set for 10:30 PM (ET) with the broadcast available on the Pac-12 Network.
There are no official college football odds for the matchup, though some spreads in the mid-50s are rumored to be available. The lack of odds doesn't mean we can just dismiss this contest and wait for Oregon's next game, however. The Ducks have a huge clash on deck a week from now with the Michigan State Spartans, who have a similar tune-up in Week 1 vs. Jacksonville State, and college football bettors will need to pay close attention to how both teams get ready for the showdown against overmatched opponents.
Mariota Returns To Lead Experienced Oregon Offense
One very disappointing upset loss at Arizona as a 3-TD favorite was the only real black mark on Helfrich's first season on the job as Chip Kelly's replacement. The Ducks got off to an 8-0 start to 2013 -- covering seven spreads in the 12-59 point range during that stretch -- and easily handled Texas in the Alamo Bowl to put the finishing touches on an 11-2 season that left Oregon 10th in the BCS Standings.
The Ducks enter 2014 ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 4 by the coaches. Oregon is an 8/1 choice to win the National Championship, trailing only Florida State (7/2) and Alabama (13/2). A big reason for the Ducks to be among the favorites is the fact they'll have most of their starters on offense back for 2014. Leading that unit is Marcus Mariota, a 7/2 choice to win the Heisman Trophy and deny FSU's Jameis Winston (5/2) taking home the hardware yet again.
If not for knee injuries to WR Bralon Addison and tackle Tyler Johnstone, Oregon would have 10 starters back on the offensive side. The Ducks ranked second in the country in total offense last year, rolling up 565 yards per game, and also grabbed top 10 honors in scoring (45.5 ppg) and rushing (273.5 ypg).
Oregon will be a bit inexperienced in the defensive backfield, the loss of corner Terrance Mitchell the biggest subtraction. But a majority of the front 7 return, the line anchored by end Tony Washington and LB Derrick Malone back after leading the Ducks with 105 tackles.
Coyotes Throw Young Secondary To The Wolves
Joe Glenn's second season as South Dakota's head coach ended in a rut as the Coyotes dropped their final five Missouri Valley games to finish 4-8. As bad as that record may sound, it was a fairly substantial improvement on a 1-10 mark in 2012 when USD was winless in eight conference tilts.
Like his counterpart at Oregon, Glenn has his QB from last season returning as junior Kevin Earl will once again guide the Coyotes. Sophomore running backs Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts complete the backfield after combining for over 1,350 yards rushing in 2013. Glenn's biggest concern has to be a completely revamped and inexperienced defensive backfield. They may come together and gel as a unit by the time the conference schedule is underway, but having their first test against Mariota and the high-powered Oregon offense could get ugly.
It should be a pretty nice evening for football Saturday in Eugene. Check for updates as game time draws near, but the weatherman is currently calling for temps in the low-70s at kickoff with an 8-10 mph westerly breeze.
It should also turn out to be an easy victory for the Ducks who can name their score in this one. How long Helfrich keeps his foot on the pedal will determine how big a number Oregon puts up in the end, but even with Mariota and the rest of the 1st-teamers likely only playing the first half, if that much, look for the Ducks to have a gap of 60+ points between them and the Coyotes when the final gun sounds.
College Football Pick: Since no betting lines have been posted for this game yet, we can't offer a specific college football pick yet.