Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicago Sun Times Picks Cal over Oregon

A challenging situation

Winner of Pac-10 showdown will be marked as primary threat to Trojans

BY HERB GOULD Staff Reporter

SPOTLIGHT GAME: NO. 6 CALIFORNIA AT NO. 11 OREGON 2:30 p.m. Saturday: Let's face it. Partly because their games tend to kick off at about the same time as the Bears' pregame radio shows begin, we usually overlook the Pac-10.  The exception is USC, which transcends time zones because of its storied history and its recent dominance. And isn't the Trojans' Oct. 20 trip to Notre Dame going to be a treat, or scary, depending on your feelings about the Irish?  The real question, though, is whether anyone in the Pac-10 can lasso Traveler. The top two contenders will provide some answers Saturday, when sixth-ranked California visits No. 11 Oregon. Are the upstart Ducks, who already ruffled feathers by piling on at Michigan 39-7, the real deal?

And how good are the Golden Bears? Cal generally is considered the Pac-10's best hope for unseating USC. To make that Nov. 10 meeting in Berkeley as momentous as possible, though, Cal will need to survive the Ducks in Eugene. And raucous Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest trips for visiting teams. ''I feel pretty sure what our potential can be, but, no, we haven't reached that yet,'' Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. ''We've shown flashes at times, but we're not there yet.'' One X-factor in this Pac-10 showdown is the health of the Golden Bears. The list starts with tailback Justin Forsett (ankle, quadriceps), who left in the second quarter of a 45-27 victory over Arizona but returned in the fourth quarter. Forsett, who averages 121 yards, will play Saturday but will need to play tough. In addition, three defensive starters missed the Arizona game. Another concern is Cal's 14 penalties for 121 yards against the Wildcats, the most in Tedford's six seasons in Berkeley. Yet another issue is the Golden Bears' tendency toward second-half letups. Arizona got back in the game with 17 unanswered second-half points. Cal also blew big leads against Tennessee (a 45-31 win) and Colorado State (34-28).

The combination of Forsett and wide receiver/punt returner DeSean Jackson is worrisome to Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. ''[Jackson] is the most explosive player in Division I football,'' Bellotti said. ''And we're as concerned about Justin Forsett. He's the guy that makes that offense go.'' Cal has been giving up points, but it attributes that to seeing three no-huddle spread offenses in its first four weeks. At least Oregon's wide-open offense won't be something new. ''When you're in a spread, offenses are just going to move the ball,'' Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. ''That's just the nature of the game. I've been proud of a lot of things we've done, but it doesn't get any easier.'' In an apt preamble, Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon and Cal safety Thomas DeCoud were this week's Pac-10 players of the week on offense and defense. Who's a candidate for next week will go a long way toward crowning a winning team. The other unknown is how Cal will handle Autzen Stadium, which has been a haunted house for many talented visitors, including Oklahoma, which howled for weeks about getting jobbed by the referees last September.  In 2005, the Golden Bears lost in overtime in a drenching rain. On their visit before that, half of Autzen's lights went out.

One final matchup to watch: Cal's Golden Bear mascot will need to keep an eye on his Oregon Duck counterpart, who's coming off a one-game suspension for pummeling Shasta, the Houston Cougar mascot, during Oregon's home opener. Video of that battle is a staple. Matt Stolt, who plays Shasta, gave this scouting report to's Pat Forde: ''My advice to any mascot that goes against him is not to worry. I think the duck's in enough trouble right now.'' Sizing up the Ducks and the Bears is not as easily done. But Saturday's game will provide plenty of answers.

The line: Oregon by 5½.

Herb Gould's pick: Cal, 35-31.

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