Power of the ‘O’ strong for Oregon’s Dan Lanning, Bo Nix

EUGENE, ORE. -- Greetings from the Land of Green, which is not to be confused with Greenland.

Everything in Western Oregon seems to be dyed one shade of green or another, from the picturesque conifers to the endless spate of grass fields between here and Portland. Turns out that Oregon is the No. 1 producer of grass seed in the world. Who knew?

That makes sense once you learn that Eugene is located just south of the 45th parallel. That means it’s equidistant from the North Pole and the equator. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that National Geographic ranked Eugene No. 1 in their “green guide” for air quality, recycling, transportation and green spaces. It’s truly beautiful out this way.

The real green around here is the “Oregon Green” of the Oregon Ducks. That is the primary reason we’re here. Oregon football is under the leadership of new coach Dan Lanning, previously the defensive coordinator at Georgia. As fate would have it, Lanning is preparing his team face the defending national champion Bulldogs in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff on Sept. 3 in Atlanta.

How crazy is that?

“Oh, yeah, I knew that from the beginning,” Lanning said with a chuckle. “You want to play against elite competition, right? And Georgia’s definitely elite. Obviously, it’s a unique experience that I’m excited about. But that’s certainly not my focus right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do before Game 1.”

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We’ll hear more from Lanning Tuesday. The Ducks on Monday held their third practice of preseason camp in preparation for that game. They look to be a pretty good team. The coaches who vote on the USA Today preseason poll ranked them 12th. Georgia was rated No. 3 in the first official poll of the 2022 season.

Football-wise, the primary focus is on the quarterback battle. First-year offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham was grilled after practice about when a starter might be named.

“It’ll be when it’ll be,” he shrugged.

Senior Bo Nix transferred here from Auburn and would seem like the easy choice. But he’s competing with a pair of redshirt freshmen, including a former 5-star Ty Thompson of Mesquite, Ariz. The Ducks won’t show their cards and probably won’t until game day in Atlanta.

As for Nix, he faced the Bulldogs each of the last three years. He got married over the summer and is relishing his new role as a veteran leader on a team he feels is closer to playing for championships.

“When you look at Oregon, you ask yourself ‘why not?’” Nix said during the Ducks’ media day. “The brand of Oregon, the ‘O’ itself signifies so much in college football. You know year in and year out they have a chance to be in the top 4 in the country and that’s what I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to have a chance to play in the playoff.”

Credit: Chip Towers

Credit: Chip Towers

Soon enough, the season will reveal whether that goal is realistic or foolhardy. But Nix is right about the sway of the “O.” The money and power behind it is evident everywhere you turn on Oregon’s expansive campus.

Noted alumnus and Nike shoe empire founder Phil Knight is responsible for much of the Ducks’ gleaming athletic enterprises. Interestingly, none of the athletic buildings bear his name – the Casanova, Hatfield-Dowlin, Mahofsky, Autzen -- but the cascading walls of glass and steel that are everywhere bear his architectural signature, as did many of the checks that paid for them.

Knight’s relationship with Oregon was a significant factor in Lanning wanting to pursue this opportunity. Lanning read Knight’s book Shoe Dog long before being considered for the job. Now they have met and talked “a few times.”

“Unreal,” Lanning said of meeting Knight. “A lot of people see the baby and not the labor pains. Phil and his wife Penny put in so much work to create what they have and I’m so grateful to have their support. It’s certainly one of the things that makes Oregon so unique.”

Knight ran track at Oregon in the late 1950s. That’s another big sport around here. Hayward Field – another Knight-funded facility not bearing his name – plays host to indoor and outdoor national track championships almost every year.

Credit: Chip Towers

Credit: Chip Towers

Monday’s journeys included stops at Hayward Field and a drive up Skyline Boulevard to play homage to Oregon’s track legacy. “Pre’s Rock” stands out from the vine-covered side of that road. It is a memorial at the base rocky outcrop where famous Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine died.