It’s that time of year again.
The smell of freshly swept artificial turf fills the nostrils, intoxicated fraternity guys sleeping at the gates of stadiums, and empty promises of relocating Texas and Oklahoma to the Pacific Ocean.
It must be time for Pac-12 conference play.
The #10 Oregon Ducks will open up their conference season in Tucson against the Arizona Wildcats, a team and location that has provided a few of the highs and lows for the Ducks in the past 5 years.
Late in 2007 Oregon was on track to make an appearance in the National Championship Game, led by Heisman hopeful Dennis Dixon. But all of those dreams came crashing down in southern Arizona.
Dixon tore his ACL, the Wildcats won the game and the night belonged to Arizona as the Ducks exited the field amongst raucous fans rushing the field to celebrate with their team.
In 2009 the Ducks were the ones with the magic.
With their team ahead by 7 with less than 3 minutes left in the game the field became surrounded by Arizona fans that had already rushed onto the field in preparation for celebrating yet another huge upset of Oregon.
That was what you would call a mistake on the part of the “Zona Zoo.”
The Ducks drove the length of the field, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and current running back LaMichael James.
With 6 seconds remaining Masoli found tight end Ed Dickson in the endzone, which was followed up by the most nerve-racking extra point attempt in Oregon history. The snap bounced to holder Nate Costa, but was artfully handled and placed to tie the game.
The Wildcat fans that had jumped onto the field stood in silence as Oregon departed the field in celebration after a Jeff Maehl touchdown in the second overtime period.
Now it’s 2011. Who walks away with the victory?
Oregon (2-1) is coming off of two straight wins against vastly inferior opponents in Nevada and Missouri State.
The Ducks didn’t win over any doubters by beating those teams, but the blowouts were needed to get the powerful Oregon offense back on track after a lack-luster performance against now #2 LSU to open the season.
Arizona’s defense has struggled this season, though they have faced elite competition in Oklahoma State and Stanford (both currently ranked in the top 10).
Oregon’s issue should not be their offense, which once again is loaded with electric talents and potential to run any opponent clear out of the stadium.
The only weakness for the Ducks on offense could be an offensive line that is still gaining necessary experience. The group will be playing their first true road game in the hostile Wildcat environment, though it could be argued the LSU game was a road game due to the vast outnumbering of Oregon fans by Tiger faithful in Dallas.
The key to the game will be on the Duck defense to stop quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Juron Criner and running back Keola Antolin.
All three offensive stars for Arizona have extremely productive numbers against Oregon in previous games.
Keeping Criner under control is key for the Ducks. The 6’4 wideout has had his way with Oregon, having 5 career touchdowns against the undersized Ducks.
Oregon may have their secret weapon, cornerback/punt returner Cliff Harris, back in full participation to stop Criner. Harris has yet to earn back his starting spot on the field following his suspension to start the season.
Harris was a preseason All-American a cornerback and punt returner and his skill could give the Ducks another dimension that the Wildcats will have to worry about.
In the past the aggressive Oregon defense has used turnovers to spark their offense against tough teams, Arizona included. If the Ducks can win the turnover battle, the Wildcats will struggle to keep the game close.
This rivalry has provided fireworks in the past that have written stories that have become defining moments in each programs history.
Under the lights in Tucson, this year may just be the next chapter.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.