Oregon at Arizona
Does anyone want to win the Pac-10?
The conference’s ticket to the Rose Bowl is still up for grabs with the Pac-10′s contenders dropping games week after week.
The Oregon Ducks appeared to have their BCS bowl dreams shattered with a 51-42 loss to Stanford in Week 10, opening the door for the Arizona Wildcats to control their destiny at the top of the conference.
However, Arizona was snuffed out by California last weekend, dropping to 4-2 in league play and, along with a couple more top-tier programs losing, anointed Oregon (6-1 in conference play) Rose Bowl favorites, again.
Football bettors should expect more of the unexpected when these two teams clash in Arizona on Saturday. Oddsmakers have set the Wildcats as 6-point home underdogs. Arizona has won two of the last three meetings with the Ducks but lost their most recent conference contest, 55-45 in Eugene last season.
The Wildcats’ Rose Bowl dreams are not totally shot. If they can defeat Oregon, then finish off the schedule with wins over rival Arizona State and Southern California, Arizona would be the Pac-10′s entry into the Rose Bowl to face the Big Ten’s Ohio State.
However, in order for that to happen, the Wildcats can’t afford another performance like last weekend. Arizona held a 16-15 lead in the fourth quarter but gave big gains to Cal’s second-string running backs and eventually cracked for a 24-16 loss as 2.5-point underdogs. The defense allowed 175 yards on the ground for more than four yards per carry.
Arizona has one of the best run defenses in the Pac-10, allowing just under 105 yards per game on the ground. Before the loss to the Golden Bears, the Wildcats stuffed UCLA for only 65 yards and held Washington State to a mere 59 yards rushing.
Now, Arizona’s stop unit must deal with a recharged Oregon rushing attack that returned running back LeGarrette Blount last week after the shamed senior was suspended for most of the year for punching an opponent following the opening loss to Boise State. Blount had just eight carries in Saturday’s win over Arizona State, but ended up rushing for minus five yards.
In Blount’s absence, the Ducks discovered a home-run hitter in freshman running back LaMichael James. Since taking over the starting job, James has grabbed national attention and is currently second in the Pac-10 in yards per game. He’s topped the century mark in seven of his 10 games and is coming off a 150-yard performance versus the Sun Devils in which he scored three touchdowns, to bring his season total to 11.
Arizona’s ground attack may not have the explosive power of Oregon, but is has rumbled for enough yards to rank third in the conference behind the legs of junior running back Nic Grigsby. He’s totaled 535 yards and five touchdowns but was limited in last week’s loss with a shoulder injury. He did not carry the ball once and caught one pass for five yards. The Wildcats managed to run the ball just 70 total yards.
Arizona’s passing game may have to carry the weight against the Ducks and their conference-best pass defense. The Wildcats are second in the conference through the air, posting more than 242 passing yards per game. Quarterback Nick Foles has struggled with turnovers all year but was at least finding his receivers for scores. In the past two games, Foles has passed for just one touchdown.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is coming off a light game against Arizona State. He passed the ball just 20 times, connecting on 10 of those throws for two touchdowns and one interception. Masoli did, however, rush for 66 yards. He’s the top running quarterback in the Pac-10, averaging 62 yards per game on more than six yards per carry.
The Ducks bring a 7-3 over/under record into Saturday night’s game. The Wildcats are 4-5 over/under on the season. These teams have gone over the total in two of their last three meetings, including last season.