Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Arizona Daily Star: Cal-Oregon matchup prompts media glare

By Patrick Finley

The last time Cal traveled to Oregon, in 2005, the Golden Bears lost in overtime during a biblical downpour.   The time before that, half of Autzen Stadium's lights went out, something Cal coach Jeff Tedford recalled Tuesday as "kinda freaky."   Saturday might have an even rarer occurrence — ESPN's College GameDay is visiting a Pac-10 town, and USC is not playing.   “That's kind of the sign of the times with our conference," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "There's Oregon-Cal, all that is built up into that kind of a game. They're both undefeated, and it's one of the best games in the country."  It is the conference game of the young season, set for 12:30 p.m. by ABC (Channel 9) and featuring analyst Lee Corso and crew camped out in Eugene.  But with the top-ranked Trojans lurking atop the national rankings, few have any illusions that the game will decide the conference champion.

The loser, however, probably will be eliminated from the picture.  "We'll find out this week, between us as the 11th team and them as the sixth, who's going to continue to be in line for the conference championship," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.  The winner of the game might have the inside track for the Rose Bowl.  If USC advances to the national title game, the second-place Pac-10 team likely would go to Pasadena — provided it qualifies for the Bowl Championship Series. And it is difficult to imagine the BCS admitting a two-loss Pac-10 team that does not own a share of the conference title.  But that is getting too far ahead — at least for Week 5.  The combined résumés of Oregon and Cal are impressive. They are a combined 8-0. Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 48.5 points per game; Cal is third with 41.5. Both have slayed a national power — Cal beat Tennessee; Oregon routed Michigan.  But Oregon will come in undermanned; the Ducks' leading receiver, Brian Paysinger, is lost for 9 to 12 months with an injury Bellotti has not disclosed. "It was very difficult to lose Brian," he said. "He was our best receiver."  Saturday against Stanford, two receivers filled in nicely. Cameron Colvin caught eight passes for 136 yards, and Jaison Williams caught seven for 113.  Add that to quarterback Dennis Dixon totaling 305.8 yards in total offense and running back Jonathan Stewart being ranked 11th in the nation with 125.75 rushing, and it's hard to pick your poison.  "They have so many weapons," said Tedford, Oregon's offensive coordinator from 1998 to 2001. "They can throw it. They can run it. Dennis can pull it down and run it himself. They're a really scary group."  Cal seems just as balanced. Wide receiver-punt returner DeSean Jackson is an all highlight-reel player — Bellotti calls him "the most explosive player in Division I football" — but running back Justin Forsett averages 121 yards per game.  "Right now, we're as concerned about Justin Forsett," Bellotti said. "He's the guy that makes that offense go."

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