Saturday, November 21, 2009
Stakes couldn't be much higher in the desert
By ESPN.com staff
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Will the 'Zona Zoo come through? Or will this one produce a Civil War for the ages?
The red-clad, 'Zona Zoo student section started to fill up two hours before the game, and this beautiful evening in the desert should get pretty hectic.
Oregon (8-2, 6-1), ranked 11th in the BCS standings, and Arizona (7-3, 4-2) both control their Rose Bowl destiny. All they have to do is keep winning, starting tonight.
The Ducks enter as the favorite. They own the Pac-10's No. 1 scoring offense and scoring defense. Arizona, meanwhile, slightly smudged the gravity of the matchup when it lost at California last weekend, which knocked it out of the national rankings.
But the Wildcats are a different team at home. They've won 12 of the last 14 in Arizona Stadium and all five games this season.
The buzz certainly was strong. With ESPN's College GameDay in town -- Lee Corso donned the Duck head, much to the consternation of the gathered throng -- the locals have become intoxicated with the smell of roses.
Who can blame them? Arizona is the only Pac-10 program that hasn't played in a Rose Bowl.
Arizona is no slouch statistically, either. It ranks second in the conference in total offense and total defense. It has the offensive balance to keep the Ducks defense honest, particularly with the return of elusive tailback Nic Grigsby from a shoulder injury. It has the defensive speed to keep up with the Ducks ludicrous speed spread-option offense.
But does it have the discipline? The Wildcats have lost twice this year -- at Washington and Cal -- due to late fluke plays, but in both cases they allowed the flukes to happen by not asserting themselves in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats linebackers need to play soundly tonight in order to contain Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James and company. Getting caught out of position can lead to disaster. Just ask USC.
And Nick Foles and the offense can't make mistakes and give the Ducks a short field. They need to take advantage of opportunities and score touchdowns instead of field goals when they push into Ducks territory.
As for Oregon, if it prevails, it will play host to rival Oregon State on Dec. 3 with the Rose Bowl as the stakes -- the Civil War winner takes the Pac-10 and heads to Pasadena to play Ohio State.
If Arizona finishes on top, it still must win at Arizona State next weekend and at USC on Dec. 5 to earn the Rose Bowl berth.
In large part, this one acts as a Rose Bowl elimination game.
So the stakes couldn't be much higher.