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Ducks' matchup with Spartans highlights difficult 2014 slate

EUGENE — Strength of schedule shouldn't be an issue for Oregon when the selection committee meets to choose four teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Navigating the 2014 schedule, released Wednesday by the Pac-12, will be the challenge for the Ducks.

The season begins with an FCS cupcake, when Oregon hosts South Dakota on Aug. 30. The campaign concludes Nov. 29 with the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvallis.

All eyes will be on Autzen Stadium on Sept. 6 for a marquee nonconference game between Pac-12 contender Oregon and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State. Both teams could be ranked in the top-five of the preseason polls based on strong finishes this year — the Spartans ascended to No. 3 after beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks ended up No. 9 following a 30-7 victory over Texas at the Alamo Bowl.

According to Oregon, the Michigan State game was moved up a week from its original date to accommodate a national television broadcast and ensure it will not be a night game. Wyoming's visit to Autzen Stadium was pushed to Sept. 13 to conclude the nonconference slate.

If ESPN's College GameDay doesn't broadcast from Eugene for the showdown with the Spartans, Lee Corso and Co. figure to be on site for the Nov. 1 game against Stanford. The Cardinal have spoiled Oregon's national championship runs the past two seasons.

Mark Helfrich will have a chance to avenge his other loss when Oregon plays Arizona in a Thursday night (Oct. 2) rematch at Autzen.

Former Boise State coach and Oregon assistant Chris Petersen will try to snap Washington's 10-game losing streak to the Ducks when the Huskies appear at Autzen for homecoming Oct. 18. The new head Husky was 2-0 against the Ducks while coaching the BCS-busting Broncos.

"We are fortunate enough to provide one of the strongest schedules in the country," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said in a press release. "With the Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans, Stanford and Washington visiting, we are confident our fans will rise to the occasion again and make Autzen one of the toughest venues in college football."

Oregon's first road game is Sept. 20 at Washington State. The Ducks will also play in the first college football game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, against California on Oct. 24.

The Oct. 11 game at UCLA is a possible Pac-12 championship game preview. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, two quarterbacks who were projected as first-round picks had they entered the NFL draft, have the talent and surrounding casts to lead these programs to the conference title and possibly into the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks have a tricky road game at Utah (Nov. 8) after the Stanford game and a home date with Colorado (Nov. 22) before the Civil War.

Oregon State opens the season with Portland State (Aug. 30) at home, plays at Hawaii (Sept. 6) and hosts San Diego State (Sept. 20) before starting the Pac-12 grind with away games at USC (Sept. 27) and Colorado (Oct. 4).

The Beavers' other home games are against Utah (Oct. 16), Cal (Nov. 1), Washington State (Nov. 8) and Arizona State (Nov. 15). Oregon State also has tough road trips to Stanford (Oct. 25) and Washington (Nov. 22).

Because of the unbalanced schedule, Oregon will not play either Arizona State or USC again during the regular season. All kickoff times and television broadcasts are to be announced.

The Pac-12 championship game between the North and South Division winners will be played on Dec. 5 on the field of the team with the best conference record.

Some other notable regular-season games include: USC at Stanford (Sept. 6), UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13), Stanford at Arizona State (Oct. 18) and UCLA at Washington (Nov. 8).

"The depth of our conference will be on display every week next season," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a release. "Coming off a record nine teams in this year's bowl season, next season's nine-game conference schedule will be the toughest in the nation."

The Pac-12 parity led to Stanford being the only conference representative in a BCS bowl game to end the era. A 13-person committee will select teams for the College Football Playoff following the 2014 regular season.