Onward, Oregon! [Snave]
I am a big fan of the University of Oregon Ducks, as UO is my alma mater. I was talking with a co-worker a few weeks ago, and he is a big fan of the Ducks' archrival, the Oregon State University Beavers. He told me “Mark my words, there won’t be any undefeated teams in the Pac-10 this football season.”
His words have proven prophetic, as the upper two-thirds of the league appears fairly well-balanced. UCLA and Arizona State are undefeated in league play at 4-0, and Oregon (6-1 overall) and the USC Trojans, also 6-1, are right behind at 3-1 in Pac-10 play. Cal and Oregon State are next at 2-2.
This weekend and the next could go a long way toward determining who is in the driver’s seat for being top dog. Oregon hosts USC tomorrow in Eugene, ASU (7-0, 4-0 in league play) hosts Cal (5-2, 2-2), UCLA (5-2, 4-0) has to go to Pullman, WA to play the Washington State Cougars (2-5, 0-4), and the Beavers (4-3, 2-2) play host to Stanford (3-4, 2-3). In the remaining game, less important to the league standings, the University of Washington Huskies (2-5, 0-4) host the Arizona Wildcats (2-6, 1-4) in Seattle.
On November 3 in key games, Oregon hosts ASU, Arizona hosts UCLA, WSU is at Cal, and USC hosts Oregon State. The Washington Huskies are at Stanford.
As a Duck fan, I love the team’s high ranking in all the polls, but I know it could be short-lived. While Oregon plays USC and ASU in the next two weeks, both contests are at the Ducks’ friendly Autzen Stadium. Washington State may not win at Cal in two weeks, but their stadium can be a hostile place to play… the UCLA Bruins could find that out tomorrow. Cal is a very good team, and could give Arizona State a tough time in Tempe tomorrow.
At any rate, it is possible that Oregon, with a couple of wins tomorrow and next weekend, could be 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Pac-10, possibly tied at 5-1 with UCLA. If the Ducks can beat Arizona in Tucson on 11/15 to go 9-1, 6-1 it would set up a showdown with UCLA in Los Angeles on November 24.
Oregon has one of the best offensive teams in the nation, led by QB Dennis Dixon (pictured above). Dixon has the best timing on ball-fakes that I have seen in recent memory; he can get the defensive team moving toward a running back or receiver, and before you know it he has broken off a long gain. Mention of Dixon as a Heisman Trophy candidate is not unfounded, as his QB rating is 165.8. Dixon has completed 69.3% of his passes for 1728 yards and 16 TDs, with only three interceptions. The same Heisman justification applies for RB Johnathan Stewart, who has 940 rushing yards with an average of 7.2 yards per carry. He also returns kickoffs and averages 29.8 yards per return! The offensive line is good, Jaison Williams leads an injury-riddled but still solid corps of receivers, and the defense continues to manage with its “bend but don’t break” strategy. The Ducks tend to allow a lot of points, but their offense is so dominant they can get by with a defense that is average.
Lots of college football fans deride the Pac-10 for too much finesse and a lack of hard-hitting defense. Some like to talk about the SEC as the best defensive conference in the country, and that’s fine. It is probably true. As for defense in the Pac-10, the teams come up with the good defensive plays when they are needed most.
With all that said, in a league where defense does tend to take a back seat to the offense, I have to think my Ducks, with one of the best offenses in the nation, could find themselves in the Pac-10 driver’s seat in a couple of weeks.