Oregon can make national statement with win over Cal
By TED MILLER
If it's going to happen -- and many of you Seattle-area Duckfighters certainly hope it will -- it should start this weekend against California. The semi-annual Oregon collapse.
Otherwise, expect Oregon's Zeros to become heroes again, with their green-lightning offense electrifying the Pac-10 until a red-letter visit from USC on Oct. 27. Both No. 11 Oregon and No. 6 California imagine themselves as the best potential foil for the USC juggernaut, a conflict attractive enough to lure ESPN's "GameDay" crew to the West Coast on Saturday morning. There are myriad storylines that have eclipsed the old "Cal coach Jeff Tedford used to be Oregon's offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti." Start with this: Cal hasn't won at Autzen Stadium since 1987. Then hearken back to last season. Oregon, sporting its fancy-pants, high-scoring spread offense and multitalented quarterback Dennis Dixon, was 4-0 and ranked 11th when it squared off against the Bears. Sound familiar? Wait, there's more. Just like 2006, the Ducks have notched a marquee non-conference victory over a traditional national power that had been tarnished in some way: Oklahoma last year (officiating) and Michigan this year (Appalachian State).
In 2006, the Ducks went to Berkeley to make a statement. And they did. They were drubbed 45-24, in large part because Dixon imploded, tossing three interceptions while looking overwhelmed by the moment. He lost his confidence thereafter, and the Ducks lost six of their final nine games, including a humiliating 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Yet any notion that Dixon lacked the ability to bounce back is kaput. He's been nothing less than brilliant thus far, with an 11-to-zip touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 68.8 completion percentage -- he ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency -- and 306 yards of total offense per game. The Ducks lead the Pac-10 in scoring (48.5 points per game) and total offense (536.8 ypg). If he plays well and beats Cal, how could he not become a leading Heisman Trophy candidate? Of course, the Bears offense isn't too shabby either. Quarterback Nate Longshore distributes the ball to the conference's best array of weapons: tailback Justin Forsett and receivers DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. And don't forget true freshman speedster Jahvid Best, who averages 12.4 yards per carry and might be the fastest player in the conference.
"I've got so many talented guys that my responsibility is to get them the ball in open space and let them do their thing," Longshore said. "I don't think there's much pressure on me. It's more I get it to them and stay out of the way." He got in Oregon's way a bit last year, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another. Yet that game was in Berkeley. Things won't be so pleasant at Autzen Stadium. That home-field advantage is why, if you're looking for a reason to doubt Oregon, you may not want to look at the schedule. The Ducks' remaining road games -- Washington, Arizona and UCLA -- don't appear terribly daunting. If they beat the Bears, that expected collapse could transform into something else entirely: national title contention.