Tuesday, October 22, 2013
State of Oregon takes center stage
By Ted Miller
If you catch the state of Oregon collectively lip-syncing to the will.i.am/Britney Spears song "Scream and Shout" this week -- "All eyes on us! All eyes on us!" -- it's understandable.
Oregon, our 27th most populous state, with one tenth the population of fellow Pac-12 state California, one that produced just 13 FBS football signees last February, is the center of the college football universe on Saturday.
QB Sean Mannion and Oregon State look to win their seventh straight, but it won't be easy against Stanford.
First, No. 12 UCLA visits No. 3 Oregon, with ESPN's College GameDay setting up shop. This is a nice test for the Ducks, one that should allow them, if they win, to climb past Florida State into the all-important second spot in the BCS standings. And, obviously, the Bruins could make a national statement in Year 2 under Jim Mora with a victory.
Then, the nightcap just 45 miles down the road in Corvallis: No. 6 Stanford, the top one-loss team in the BCS standings, visits No. 25 Oregon State. With a win, the Cardinal could set up a marquee North Division match up with Oregon on Nov. 7. Or the Beavers could announce themselves as North contenders, and perhaps hint at another high-stakes Civil War matchup to end the season, not unlike 2009.
If we use the BCS standings as our rankings (the Beavers are No. 28 in the AP poll), it's the first time ranked Oregon and Oregon State teams have played host to ranked visitors on the same Saturday in state history.
Of course, there are other marquee games. No. 10 Texas Tech, unbeaten but untested, visits No. 15 Oklahoma, where it is 100 percent certain Bob Stoops is grumpy. And No. 21 South Carolina, one of the SEC's reeling powers, faces No. 5 Missouri, the unbeaten upstart from the Big 12 that was hopelessly overmatched by the SEC grind (or so almost everyone thought).
Give those games a nice pat on the head. And revert your admiring gaze back to the Beaver state (apologies Ducks, but, well, that's where you live).
A few decades ago, the very notion of the state being even worth a glance from the college football nation would have been difficult to imagine. In 1971, the Beavers began a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. From 1965 to 1988, the Ducks never won more than six games.
When Oregon won the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season, it was the first victory in the Granddaddy by either since 1942. The Beavers last Rose Bowl appearance came in 1965.
But since 2000, both programs have been regular inhabitants in the national rankings. The Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame after the 2000 season and finished ranked fourth, the first of five Top 25 rankings in the final AP poll, including No. 20 in 2012.
And, obviously, Oregon has been on a bit of a roll of late, finishing ranked for the past six seasons in a row, including top-four rankings in the past three.
The Ducks and Beavers, however, presently have different bars over which they are trying to jump.
Oregon is smack in the middle of the national-title hunt, where there is no margin for error. So far, the Ducks have dominated every foe. Their closest game was a 21-point win at Washington.
Oregon State started the season nationally ranked by faceplanting with an opening loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. In that game, the defense was abysmal. Yet since then, the Beavers have clawed their way to six consecutive victories and are a win away from jumping back into the national polls. Beating Stanford, in fact, could immediately propel them into the teens, not the 20s.
And that defense that got torched by EWU has held the past three Pac-12 foes to an average of 19.3 points per game.
There's obviously a lot at stake for all four teams, but an interesting subplot is the QBs from the Oregon schools. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is No. 1 in ESPN's total quarterback rating (QBR) and tops among Heisman Trophy candidates. Beavers QB Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdowns. He could legitimize his Heisman candidacy with a big game against a rugged Stanford defense.
So there's a good reason all eyes will be on the state of Oregon this weekend. Both games will have significant national and Pac-12 ramifications.
And if the home teams win, it would become reasonable to speculate upon the possibility of another epic Civil War on Nov. 29 in Eugene, one that again would captivate the college football nation.