Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 10:48 AM
The Oregon Ducks have mostly slid under the radar in the Pac-12 conversation, both in the preseason and after two weeks of play. The fact their two wins, over UC-Davis and Virginia, have been ATS losses mean that isn't going to change. But as the Ducks prepare to go to Nebraska for their first big test on September 17 (Noon ET, ABC), there are reasons to think Oregon is being underrated.
Let's start with those ATS losses. There's no excusing the defensive lapses in a 53-28 win over UC-Davis, but this past Saturday's win over Virginia was different. Oregon led this game 44-13 as a (-24) favorite in the closing moments of the third quarter. The Ducks basically shut it down and UVA got a couple cheap touchdowns for a backdoor cover. It's a bad beat for anyone who bet on Oregon, but it's not a reason to downgrade the Ducks' chances in the Pac-12.
The manner in which Oregon won this game was impressive as well. They did it with a punishing ground attack, led by Royce Freeman going for 207 yards. The Ducks are going to need to win the rushing battle in key Pac-12 North games against Washington and Stanford down the road and Freeman—a value darkhorse in the Heisman race at 40-1 odds—is going to be a crucial factor.
Oregon also got good quarterback play from Dakota Prokup, an efficient 21/31 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Prokup is much more unproven than Freeman, so we don't want to read too much into a home game with Virginia. Watching how he handles the road pressure at Nebraska will shed further light on what might go down in conference games .
The betting markets are still focused on Washington and Stanford. Oregon is (+325) just to win the North Division. If we broaden the focus to the Pac-12 overall, the Ducks come at a 13-2 price tag, also behind USC and even with UCLA.
That's a lot of value to give a program with a solid pool of talent on hand. Oregon's recruiting classes consistently grade out significantly higher than either Stanford or Washington's, and close to a par with USC & UCLA's.
It's a lot of value to give a program with a proven record of success. Oregon has won three league championships since 2009 and played in two national title games, including as recently as 2014. And it's a lot of value to give in a league that has no clear-cut favorite. Washington hasn't been tested and won't be until conference games start. Stanford played well in a narrow cover over Kansas State, but not necessarily better than Oregon did against Virginia. USC & UCLA have already lost games.
We're not suggesting rushing to bet on Oregon. We are suggesting keeping a close eye on them against Nebraska on Saturday with a focus on whether they can take a Pac-12 championship.