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No. 12 BYU Can Make Playoff Case With Win At No. 25 Oregon

Sep 16, 2022, 12:50 PM | Updated: 12:51 pm
BYU/Oregon, John Nelson, Playoff...
BYU/Oregon is an opportunity for the Cougars to put themselves in the thick of the Playoff conversation. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

EUGENE, Ore. – Saturday’s BYU/Oregon matchup is an excellent non-conference tilt in the college football landscape.

The storylines are endless and feature a BYU football team with a lot on the line as they prepare to enter Autzen Stadium for the first time since 1990.

A win over the No. 25 Ducks would likely catapult No. 12 BYU into the top 10 of the AP Top 25 rankings and give the Cougars a legitimate case to be considered in the College Football Playoff race.

A lot of football needs to be played this season, starting this Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium (1:30 p.m., FOX, KSL NewsRadio). But when you look through BYU’s 2022 schedule, it’s not as daunting as many envisioned it would be entering the season.

BYU/Oregon gives Autzen Stadium its first Top 25 game since 2018

Meanwhile, No. 25 Oregon is a complete mystery. The Ducks have one of the most talented rosters in all college football, boasting the No. 7 rated roster based on talent. That’s a ranking from 247Sports’ Composite ratings. But, on the flip side, the Ducks haven’t lived up to those lofty recruiting rankings.

“They are some of the most athletic football players I’ve seen on film,” said BYU wide receiver Chase Roberts. “Just their measurables and everything. We’re going to get their best. Obviously, they want to beat us.”

In four of their last five games against FBS competition, Oregon has lost by an average of 30 points per game in four setbacks. All four of those losses were to ranked teams.

Saturday marks the first time Autzen Stadium will host a Top 25 meeting between two ranked teams since 2018. A win over BYU would be a massive jolt of energy for first-time head coach Dan Lanning and his process-oriented approach that he took from stops in his young coaching career at Georgia and Alabama.

Jaren Hall leads the way for BYU

While Oregon is still trying to figure out who they are, BYU is firmly entrenched in who they are personnel-wise and its culture. Led by second-year starting QB Jaren Hall, BYU has been excellent against Power Five competition.

When Hall is the starter, BYU is 7-1 in games against P5 opponents. The former Maple Mountain High standout is also a perfect 5-0 against teams from the Pac-12 Conference.

Then beyond his stats and winning, he leads BYU away from the field as a leader. The general public got a glimpse of that in the moments immediately after BYU got the fourth down stop in double overtime against Baylor, when he embraced embattled kicker Jake Oldroyd.

“When we voted for captains, it was like, eight guys got most of the votes and then another ten got a bunch of votes,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “And you’re sitting there going, ‘we have really good leadership on this team and depth.’ But, it also takes a good group of young men that are willing to follow. Our culture is about truth and not really worrying about being a captain to speak the truth.”

But Eugene might be the toughest test yet for Hall and BYU because of what’s at stake. If they win, BYU could become this year’s Cincinnati. A team outside the Power Five structure that’s trying to crack into the College Football Playoff.

A loss? BYU could still be a double-digit win team, as they’ve shown the past two years. But the realities of a postseason destination at a pre-Christmas date start to creep in. That’s life as an Independent, at least for one more year, before BYU goes to the Big 12 in 2023. Being an Independent team makes these clashes against a ranked Oregon team so valuable for BYU’s big-picture outlook on the national landscape.

The Playoff narrative is growing for BYU football

It’s hard to imagine Playoff talk, especially considering that BYU hasn’t had an undefeated season since its National Championship in 1984. But the narrative is already building.

ESPN’s SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, college football podcasts such as Split Zone Duo, College Football Enquirer, and College Gameday all look at this BYU/Oregon matchup for BYU as an opportunity to place themselves into the thick of the Playoff race. A race that seems poised to have one newcomer in the final four.

“They can move up the ladder if they keep winning, but they have to get the win in Eugene this week,” said Steve Coughlin, a.k.a. “Stanford Steve,” on SportsCenter.

What can we expect from Bo Nix?

At quarterback for Oregon is former Auburn and five-star recruit Bo Nix. Nix had a career-best five-touchdown effort last week against Eastern Washington, proving he can execute at a high level in Kenny Dillingham’s offense. He’s got a talented offensive line in front of him to protect. But in Nix’s career, his decision-making has been a question.

BYU feels confident that their secondary is the best they’ve had in 25 years. Oregon State transfer DB Kaleb Hayes has played in Autzen Stadium before. He expects a great environment on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere,” said Hayes. “I’ve been … Autzen Stadium brings out a lot of energy which I feel is going to help us because it’s exciting. This is what we dreamed of when we were little kids to be in a spot where millions [are] looking at us. So I’m just telling [my teammates] to just enjoy it and be in the moment and play our football.”

BYU still looking for a complete game

Despite the fast start to this season, BYU players and coaches feel they haven’t come close to putting their best 60 minutes together. In addition, questions remain on the availability of star receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, info we won’t have a better idea of until closer to kickoff.

But even without those two, BYU has proven they have the depth at wide receiver that the coaches praised all off-season. Redshirt freshman Chase Roberts is a rising star after a breakout performance that saw him put up 122 receiving yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.

How will he fare on a week where he is likely elevated on the opponent scouting report? But BYU also has Kody Epps, another redshirt freshman who Jaren Hall praised during his interview on the KSL Sports Zone earlier this week. In addition, there’s Brayden Cosper, Keanu Hill, and a trio of tight ends due for a breakout game.

BYU/Oregon Key: Third-down defense

Oregon has star power on its defense with defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus and linebackers Noah Sewell (former Orem High star), Justin Flowe, and former Kearns High standout Jeffrey Bassa. The Ducks have speed and athleticism to give BYU’s offense headaches. A big problem for Oregon is that they’ve struggled on third-down defense.

In week one against Georgia, they allowed the Bulldogs to convert on 90% of their third-down attempts. Both defenses in this matchup struggle in that area, and it will be a huge area of focus.

BYU/Oregon has all the makings to be a great football game, and it’s a massive stage for BYU to potentially make a statement that they need to be taken seriously in the College Football Playoff race.

No. 12 BYU at No. 25 Oregon

Date: Saturday, September 17, 2022

Kick: 1:30 p.m. (MT)

Location: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, Oregon)

TV: FOX

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM — Extended pregame begins at 10 a.m.)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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