In an increasing rarity in modern college football, we’ve got two defending P5 conference champions facing each other in an early-season matchup on campus. Ohio State heads to Oregon in Week 2 of 2020, and they’re doing it home-and-home instead of on some soulless neutral field in a cash grab as the Ducks head to The Horseshoe in 2021.
How about more of this, athletic directors? It makes the sport much more fun, and really helps with context when ranking teams at the end of the season.
When and where
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
Ohio State -6.5
Ohio State -250
Why the line is what it is
Usually a defending P5 conference champ would get a lot more respect at home, but Ohio State has the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Justin Fields returning, and a roster that’s by far the most loaded on talent outside the SEC. They were 13-0 heading into the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson, and were a bit unlucky with calls and bounces to not end up facing LSU for the title.
And though they lost two super-elite talents in JK Dobbins and Chase Young to Sundays, they’re still loaded on both sides of the ball. Master Teague, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson won’t leave much slack as Ryan Day is reloading more than rebuilding.
Meanwhile Oregon won a conference title and the Rose Bowl last year, but loses quarterback Justin Herbert to the NFL’s first round. Sophomore Tyler Shough is in the driver’s seat for that spot, but he’ll be pushed in camp. CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are as good a 1-2 punch at running back as you’ll see west of the Mississippi River, but four of the five offensive linemen that opened holes for them last year won’t be there. And the Buckeyes control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball as well as anyone in college football.
Why it might change
There’s still some very good players in the transfer portal, and the summer semester might find a few more. Oregon could use a few of them, particularly bigger bodies or a pocket passer that would want to put up numbers throwing a lot of play-action passes set up by the run game.
Where the value is now
You don’t just walk into Autzen Stadium and think it’s going to be an easy day. Oregon closed very strong last year, but also lost a lot of the reason they did. Justin Fields is the favorite to take the trophy out of the Downtown Athletic Club after the Army-Navy game at +350, and he’s the most electric player in college football. The Buckeyes just lost less talent and replaced more of it. We’ll take Brutus and The Best Damn Band In The Land to cover with some comfort. For now.
OSU is -230 to repeat as B1G champs, while UO is +225 to do the same in the PAC-12, and the Big Ten is a significantly tougher league in 2020. One more thing to remember: Mario Cristobal’s last stint as a head coach went this way as well. He won a conference title at Florida International — and was fired less than 365 days later. Just sayin’.
Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ/WV/PA) or 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN) or 1-800-522-4700 (NH). NH/NJ/WV/IN/PA only. 21+ (18+ NH). Eligibility Restrictions Apply. See website for details.