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‘Civil War’ will be Much Better Game than Presently Expected

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On the night where Oregon was universally “crowned” as Pac-1o champion, October 31, because they mercilessly crushed USC in Eugene, it sure looked like a well-earned berth in the Rose Bowl.  And to be fair, Oregon is still the very best team in the conference, at least prior to this game being played tonight.  But it’s tough to comment, especially as an outsider, on where this season would rank for the Ducks if they don’t seal the deal tonight.

This is the strongest that the Pac-10 has been in recent memory, and USC was the heavy favorite until Oregon won by three touchdowns in a shocking outcome, given the media slobber that accompanies the Trojans wherever they go.  Just being in that game would have been a pretty solid achievement at the time, and the win had people around the program and outside of it talking about the Ducks being the greatest team in the history of the program.

But since Halloween night, USC has gone on to prove incredibly mediocre in November, losing whatever shot they had at regaining the Pac-10 title from the Ducks with an absolute beatdown at the hands of a Stanford team that was simply better through and through, and a near loss to cross town rival UCLA, a win that salvages their season and saves them from questions about being the worst USC team in the last 15 years.  The Ducks, meanwhile, turned around and lost badly to Stanford, and was taken to overtime by Arizona in their tumultuous November slate.  Clearly, though, Oregon remains good enough to beat any given conference opponent on any given Saturday.

Today, however, is a Thursday.  And if Oregon doesn’t win tonight at home against their in-state rival, what exactly have they accomplished this year in a historical sense?  How would this team be any better than the Oregon team that ranked as high as #2 in the polls in 2007 before they lost All-American quarterback Dennis Dixon to an ACL tear, and later, graduation?  When they played a legitimate top ten team in Boise State on the road on opening night, they got absolutely crushed.  When they played Stanford in Palo Alto, they got beaten soundly.  And then, there’s a must win game against Oregon State, and well, a 6-2 conference record and share of the Pac-1o title with the Beavers is nice and all, but now we’re talking about no Rose Bowl berth, probably no BCS bowl berth, and a finish in the final polls somewhere between 10-15 if they win their bowl, and between 20-25 if they lose it.

Not a bad year.  And well short of their preseason goals.  But they can meet all of those goals, if they can just beat Oregon State.

Here’s why they’re in for a dogfight:  the Beavers might be the better team at this point.  Now, based on the accomplishments of each team, Oregon has earned the higher pre-game ranking, and the highest rating in the conference.  But Oregon State, especially in recent weeks, has really begun to open up the margin of victory on their opponents.  Early in the year, not so much, and point differential for the season greatly favors the Ducks.  The strength of schedule also breaks in Oregon’s favor.  But the balance favors the Beavers, who can beat teams either on the ground or through the air, as opposed to Oregon who remain a fantastic offensive team when they can run it (USC) and a horrible one when they can’t (Boise).

The other thing is that this game was played last season in Corvallis, OR with the Beavers playing for the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks playing for nothing (victoriously).  Oregon’s win extended USC’s dominance over the Pac-1o for one more year, but with USC out of the picture, there’s no element here of one team playing for nothing except a regular season victory in a rivalry game.

Few would doubt that the Ducks have the defensive edge, but with their passing efficiency and dual threats on the offense, Oregon State can put Oregon in a defensive bind the way that no other team since the season opener has.  In a shootout, the Ducks would overcome the Beavers in the second half when the roster depth begins to set in.  But I don’t think this is going to be a shootout.  In bigger games this year, Oregon has given up the opportunities at big plays with the exception of the USC match-up.  I don’t foresee a long-strike offensive showing from the Ducks, rather, a calculated rushing attack that tries to establish the run and use the pass secondarily.  Oregon State’s offense will make their share of mistakes against this fast and talented defense, but they’ll be in it to win it at the end.

And that’s why I don’t see the better team throughout the year running away with the win in this one.  The only team in the conference that matches up as well against Oregon as the Beavers do was Stanford, a ten point loss.  But, still, the Ducks are undefeated at home this year, with obscene point margins and it would be tough not to like the at the end in a close game.

Unless, of course, Oregon State has the football when it matters most.

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