BY Gerald Nicdao
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and USC dominating the Pac-10. Ever since Pete Carroll took over, it’s been the same song and dance. The Trojans are the conference champs and then it’s either Cal or Oregon vying for the title of “other team in the Pac-10.” The calendar may say that we’re only four weeks into the college football season. The calendar may say that both teams still have tests against teams like Arizona State or (whatever-happened-to) UCLA. But in the end, tomorrow’s winner has that inside track to be this year’s version of David, trying to bring down the Goliath known as USC. But some don’t agree.
“It’s one game,” Bears coach Jeff Tedford said. “Whatever happens in this game, you can use as motivation either way. But it’s one game. We’ll prepare our best for this game, but no, I don’t think this has anything to do with the rest of the season.” Really? It won’t have any bearing for what happens in the next two months? Last year, Oregon was 4-0 coming to Memorial Stadium. Cal was 3-1 and picking up some steam after losing the season opener to Tennessee. The Ducks were also averaging 40 points a game and quarterback Dennis Dixon looked unstoppable. Enter Brandon Hampton, who intercepted Dixon’s first pass. That led to an easy Bears touchdown and, as they say, the rest is history, with Cal holding the high-powered Ducks offense to 24 points in a dominating win. “I feel like we were already in (Dixon’s) head before the game started,” Hampton said about his interception. After that game, the Bears kept winning until USC got in the way. Oregon, on the other hand, won just three more games the rest of the season – two conference games and gimme over Division I-AA Portland State. Dixon wasn’t the same after losing to Cal either. He threw just three touchdowns in his last six games and was picked off eight times in that span. Dixon was also benched for the team’s rivalry match against Oregon State to end the season.
But Ducks coach Mike Bellotti won’t admit that the loss in Berkeley derailed the season—at least he won’t admit it too much. “Regardless of the outcome of this game, it won’t affect this season like it did last year,” Bellotti said. “This game didn’t affect that. We played poorly, to our mistake. It was later in the season where we really fell down. To me it was probably a combination of things that started from the Cal game, but in reality, this team has learned from that.” So Coach Tedford, you still want to dispute that this game isn’t going to have any effect on the end of the season? He may have a point, however. The Trojans still have to travel to both Eugene, Ore., and Berkeley. If whoever loses Saturday can somehow knock USC off, there is still hope to salvage the season. But that’s a huge if, and the way the college football season is turning out right now, whoever plays second-fiddle to the Trojans may get that bid to the Rose Bowl. That’s something either team has not done for quite awhile—though Cal’s drought is a little bit longer than Oregon’s.
While the coaches aren’t talking about how important winning tomorrow’s game is, the players sure are. “They’ve been beating up on people pretty bad and I’m sure that they’ll beat up on some people in the Pac-10,” Hampton said. “They’ll be right in the running during the end of the season. We’ve got to win this game early. It is important for the end of the season.” In the end, the result of tomorrow’s game can mean either a shot at the Rose Bowl or being banished to the ... Las Vegas Bowl.