Though the road to this point of the season has had a few more bumps than most Oregon Duck fans would have liked, the junction they have reached is right where they wanted to be; in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.
Even with the heartbreaking loss at home to USC a few weeks ago the Ducks (10-2, 8-1) had the best conference record and will host south division “champion” UCLA (6-6, 5-4) on Friday night at Autzen Stadium. The Bruins were given the chance to play in the game because USC (10-2, 7-2) remains ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.
Though this is hardly the scenario that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had in mind for the conferences first ever championship game, someone had to represent the south and UCLA managed to win a division that seemingly every eligible team tried to lose down the stretch.
The Bruins have been in the news this week, but not because of their impending matchup with the Ducks.
Following their embarrassing 50-0 loss last week at the hands of their cross-town rival USC, head coach Rick Neuheisel was told he would not be returning next year to the program. Neuheisel will coach the Bruins on Friday night and would coach in a bowl game should UCLA make it to one, in effect making him an ironic “lame duck” coach when his team takes the field against Oregon.
If UCLA is going to even keep this game close they will need to play their best game in the soon-ending Neuheisel era. They are physically outmatched by the talent and speed of Oregon on both sides of the ball.
The Ducks enter the game averaging 45.9 points a game, 291.0 rushing yards per game and 510.6 total yards per game. All rank Oregon in the top 5 in the nation, and if the Bruins are going to be competitive they will need to control the stable of athletes the Ducks can trot onto the field.
Though quarterback Darron Thomas and All-American running back LaMichael James get most of the headlines, true freshman De’Anthony Thomas has shown he is a real threat on the Oregon offense.
De. Thomas has 16 total touchdowns this year and is likely to eclipse the 2,000 total yard mark this week. He lines up all over the field in Chip Kelly’s spread offense, from running back to receiver. No matter where he is on the field at the start of the play, if he finds himself in space with the ball he is dangerous. The Bruins have no one that will be able to chase him down in the open field, and that includes their track team as well.
James, who injured his elbow last week against Oregon State, is questionable for Friday but the injury did not appear to be as serious as when he dislocated his other elbow October 6th against California. That injury required James to sit out 2 games and likely cost him an opportunity to return to the Heisman Trophy presentation for a second straight year.
Regardless of who the Ducks put on the field on offense the Bruins simply are not athletic enough to stop Oregon if they get into a rhythm. For that reason this game will not be close come the 4th quarter.
The only way the Bruins win this game is if Oregon turns the ball over 4 or 5 times in their own territory and UCLA turns all of those opportunities into touchdowns. Barring injuries, lack of focus and an unexpected apocalypse the Bruins are going to be hard pressed to stay within 3 scores of the Ducks.
One other thing that could keep things interesting for the first half is the emotion that the UCLA players will take the field with. They will be playing for their coach, and motivation like that can be dangerous for opponents that do not come prepared.
Oregon will be ready. They can smell a third straight conference championship and a birth in their 2nd Rose Bowl in 3 years.
The Ducks have to prove to the nation that they can win a big game against a premier opponent. They won’t let a chance to face Michigan State or Wisconsin slip by because they let a team like UCLA surprise them. The Rose Bowl is exactly one month after the Pac-12 championship game so there is no reason why the Ducks wouldn’t put all of their focus and effort into winning this game.
Oregon wins 55-20 and will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl January 2nd in Pasadena.
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.