January 29, 2013
College football's most dynamic, prolific and frenzied offense of the last four seasons is coming to the University of Virginia in 2013, albeit without its architect.
The Oregon Ducks will play the Cavaliers on Sept. 7 at Scott Stadium, the schools announced Monday after weeks of schedule juggling that included other schools. Virginia will play at Oregon in 2016.
January is unusually late to be finalizing non-conference opponents, but this opportunity emerged when Nevada asked out of its game against Oregon, and Penn State and Virginia agreed to delay or cancel their 2013 date in State College, Pa.
Based on Twitter, Cavaliers players welcome the chance.
"Couldn't be more excited," receiver Tim Smith tweeted.
"Big Time Game," safety Mason Thomas added, with the hashtag "#CantWait!!"
Some fans took a more pragmatic view, fearing that Virginia, with one bowl appearance in the last five years, risks a blowout defeat and/or its chances of winning the six games necessary for postseason eligibility.
It's a fair question.
But despite its NCAA sanctions, Penn State (8-4 last season) wasn't going to be a layup, especially on the road. Oregon gives Virginia a record eighth home game, which helps the budget, should goose sagging ticket sales and figures to merit a national television appearance.
"We initiated a conversation with Oregon about a potential game in 2017 in Europe," Jon Oliver, Virginia's executive associate athletics director, said in a statement. "As the conversation progressed it became clear we might have an opportunity to initiate a series in 2013 starting in Charlottesville. We saw that as a great opportunity for our program and our fans.
"The chance to add Oregon presents us with the unique opportunity to have eight home games in a single season. Kicking off the season against BYU on Aug. 31 and playing Oregon on Sept. 7 will be a challenge, but one that Coach (Mike) London has been on board with since the very beginning. I am hopeful that our fans will embrace this schedule and create a home-field advantage to help make our team successful."
Leaving aside the issue of how well a Ducks-Cavs game would draw 'cross the pond, 2013 will arguably be the Cavaliers' most ambitious home schedule ever, the presence of Championship Subdivision VMI (2-9 last season) notwithstanding.
Ball State (9-4) and Brigham Young (8-5) are the other non-conference opponents. Virginia's home ACC games are against Clemson (11-2), Virginia Tech (7-6), Georgia Tech (7-7) and Duke (6-7).
Virginia was nearly as ambitious last season, playing Penn State, Richmond, Louisiana Tech and Texas Christian, the latter on the road.
No offense to Clemson and reigning ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd, but Oregon, the only program to reach the Bowl Championship Series each of the past four seasons, is 2013's marquee opponent.
The Ducks were 46-7 the past four seasons under Chip Kelly, finishing 11th, third, fourth and second in the Associated Press national poll. Kelly parlayed that success and fascination with his warp-speed spread offense into the Philadelphia Eagles' head-coaching gig.
Oregon quickly promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to replace Kelly. Helfrich inherits a roster that expects to return 15 starters, eight on offense, seven on defense, from the squad that routed Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl to conclude a 12-1 season.
The Ducks' lone defeat was to Stanford, 17-14 in overtime. Their only loss in the 2010 season was to Auburn and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton in the national championship game. That Oregon team led the country in scoring — the Ducks ranked eighth in 2009, third in 2011 and second in 2012.
Oregon lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl following the 2009 season but defeated Wisconsin in postseason's granddaddy two years later, the Ducks' first Rose Bowl victory in 95 seasons.
Among those expected back on Oregon's offense are quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back DeAnthony Thomas, both of whom averaged more than 7 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner, the nation's No. 4 rusher at 135.7 yards per game, was a senior last season.
The series with the Ducks continues the western gaze of Virginia's non-conference schedule under Oliver, a former administrator at Washington State.
After a 1976 game at Washington, the Cavaliers did not play another Pacific 12 team until Oliver scheduled Southern California for 2008 and '10. He has since negotiated home-and-homes with UCLA (2014 and '15) and Stanford (2017 and '18).
That means Virginia will play a Pac-12 opponent in six consecutive seasons, from 2013-18. With the ACC's scheduling partnership with Notre Dame set to commence in 2014, the Cavaliers also will face the Fighting Irish at least once, and perhaps twice, during that stretch.
Virginia's addition of Oregon means the ACC in 2013 will play the Nos. 1-4 teams in the 2012 season-ending coaches' poll.
Virginia Tech opens with two-time defending national champion Alabama, Pittsburgh faces No. 3 Notre Dame, and Clemson and Georgia Tech play No. 4 Georgia. Moreover, Clemson and North Carolina collide with No. 7 South Carolina, and Florida State with No. 10 Florida.
"We want our players to be able to compete against great teams," London said in a statement.
That's apparently a prevailing ACC sentiment.
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