Not much will be learned about the Oregon Ducks in the season-opening game, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

The outcome won't be an issue, as the Ducks will rout South Dakota, a Football Championship Series school that went 4-8 last season. The Ducks will either post a shutout or come close to it.

There are some intriguing things to watch, including:

• Whether anybody gets hurt

• Hyped true freshman running back Royce Freeman

• New receivers, such as Darren Carrington

• The offensive tackle positions; Jake Fisher has moved to right, new starter Andre Yruretagoyena to left, supposedly

• Ballyhooed defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who hasn't shown star play in two years

• The secondary, which has new starters outside of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

There'll be lots of touchdowns, lots of young Duck fans cupping their hands in the stereotypical "O" position and lots of talk of how great Oregon is.

But, it won't mean anything. THE big test will be the following weekend against Michigan State, another top-10 team with a quality quarterback, running game and defense. The Ducks lose, and it shows their susceptibility; they win, and it's all systems go toward the Pac-12 schedule and the (potential) national championship.

I forecasted Oregon to go 8-4, losing to Michigan State and three Pac-12 opponents, based on Pac-12 teams getting better and the Ducks not maintaining their dominance under coach Mark Helfrich. Clearly, the Ducks believe their way and their recruited players and their coaches can still win — why else would the administration promote Helfrich and coordinators Scott Frost and Don Pellum from within after the mastermind Chip Kelly left for the NFL? They were clearly moves for continuity sake.

The Ducks sport maybe the country's best player in Marcus Mariota, and he'll be the key piece in Oregon's drive toward the national championship — if he stays healthy. Without him, the Ducks would be in trouble, because of a suspect backup QB situation and a nagging feeling that the Ducks have been hyped too much.

(For the record, Portland Tribune colleague Stephen Alexander predicts the Ducks will go 8-4 in the regular season and win their bowl game; Sports Editor Steve Brandon says "maybe" 9-3; columnist Kerry Eggers picks 11-1).

It's national championship or bust, and it starts Saturday night (yeah, a night start time in a game expected to be a boring blowout, go figure).

THE PICK: Oregon 66, South Dakota 9

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