By: Kevin Hudson
While I believe that the 55-31 final score does qualify Oregon's win over Stanford as a blowout, it feels to me like the Ducks really dodged a bullet. But in recent seasons, even successful ones, Oregon has been caught squarely in the chest by it, and Stanford has been a likely suspect. Remember 2001? Stanford ripped a ticket to the National Championship game out of Oregon's hands; they may have stolen a Heisman trophy from Joey Harrington, too. But this fall Duck fans' dreams weren't crushed by the Cardinal, and the good news is that they dodged this bullet by a combination of tenacity and poise, traits that the team has lacked over the last few years. And though I (and I'm sure many of you) sat with my head in my hands after that dreadful second quarter Saturday night, I woke up Sunday morning grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of No. 6 California facing No. 11 Oregon here at Autzen Stadium this weekend. So let's dust off the hype machine and get it cranked up. Games like these only come along once in a great while, and I'm thrilled to get a chance to cover such an event. As a native Oregonian, son of a Duck, and a football fan in general, the game itself promises to be one for the ages - and it will be a grand spectacle as well. "This game will obviously have a lot of hype and a lot of attention," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
Rumors have been swirling all week about ESPN College GameDay coming to town for the matchup, and the athletic department confirmed Sunday that Chris Fowler has contacted school officials to get the ball rolling. It will be the third time that the show has covered a Duck game. The first two times were for games against UCLA, in Los Angeles in 1998, and in Eugene in 2000. You might not have heard it yet, but the buzz around this game will build up to a dull roar by mid-week. By Saturday this town will be an absolute madhouse. Those that turn up their noses at the passion of Duck football fans will lament that the heathens have cause to be boisterous. The rest of us, especially the sports media, will savor it.
Bellotti sees GameDay coming to town as a good thing for the program, and a factor in preparation. "It's a very positive factor," he said. "In this day and age young people view that as an enticing thing ... the hype involved lends, not more importance to the game, but more attention." As for the matchup, I have to believe that Cal will be the favorite, even on the road. DeSean Jackson, sure to be every college football analyst's favorite "x-factor" this week, torched the Ducks last year with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 36-yard touchdown reception in Cal's 45-24 victory over Oregon in Berkeley. And don't forget Justin Forsett. He is second in the conference in rushing to this point and he had a career day against the Ducks last year, rushing for 163 yards in the second half after Marshawn Lynch was sidelined by a leg injury. To this point, one-third of the way through the season, the Ducks have answered many of the questions that surrounded them coming in. The offense has proven that if teams stack the box against the run it can burn them with the long ball, and vice versa. The defense has proven that it can buckle down and get stops when it counts. The team as a whole has proven that it has strong veteran leadership and poise under pressure. The only question left for this team is how they will perform against elite competition. We'll find out Saturday.