EUGENE — Eugene will be the center of the college football universe this week.
With ESPN GameDay back on campus, the national spotlight will shine on No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 8 Michigan State this Saturday at Autzen Stadium (3:30 p.m., FOX).
The Ducks (1-0) are the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12. The Spartans (1-0) are the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion.
And the winner is going to have an impressive early season résumé for the College Football Playoff selection committee to consider.
“Certainly we’ll find out where we are, and more importantly where we’re going,” Mark Helfrich said during his Sunday media session with reporters at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
Oregon and Michigan State both opened the season against FCS opponents, winning by a combined score of 107-20.
Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown in the first half of the Ducks’ 62-13 victory over South Dakota.
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook survived a dangerous hit on his left knee and completed 12 of 13 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns during a 45-7 romp over Jacksonville State.
“Anytime you play a game like this, if there’s not a little edge to your preparation, we have a problem,” Helfrich said. “Our guys already had the right frame of mind after the final zeros went (Saturday) night. We redirected.”
Royce can roll faster
Royce Freeman ran for 75 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns in his Oregon debut.
Now it’s time for the 5-foot-11, 229-pound true freshman to play like he practices. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses.
“He’s a guy that was, at times, a little tentative just watching him run for how he’s trained and how he’s run in camp. It was the guy’s first college football game and that’s 100 percent natural,” Helfrich said. “His tentative is pretty good and once he cuts it loose, we’re really excited about that guy.”
The Ducks played 70 players not counting special teams. Ten true freshmen saw action in the game.
The Ducks didn’t attempt a field goal in the opener, and freshman walk-on Aidan Schneider handled the extra points.
Helfrich was asked if Matt Wogan, the starting placekicker on the depth chart, would be the guy he trotted out for field goals against Michigan State.
“We’ll find out. That will be kind of a weekly decision,” Helfrich said. “We’re going to always play the best guy available, in every positional situation for that week, for that game.”
Helfrich said the player of the game awards for the South Dakota game went to Mariota (offense), safety Erick Dargan (defense), Charles Nelson (special teams), Jeff Bieber (scout offense) Grant Thompson (scout defense) and Ivan Faulhaber (scout special teams).
“We weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re certainly going to have to fix things a lot differently this week,” Helfrich said of the defense’s performance against South Dakota. The Coyotes finished with 370 yards.