Think Oregon has the upper hand tonight over instate rival Oregon State because of a high-powered offense? Think again. The Beavers have an attack that is almost as potent and they have a much better defense. Will that translate into a victory and send OSU to the Rose Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years? Or will the Ducks get the win and go to Pasadena in search of their first Rose Bowl win since 1917?
One of these teams from the Pacific Wonderland is going to provide the opposition to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and we may as well begin familiarizing ourselves with the enemy right now.
You probably already know about most of Oregon’s weapons because of the media attention it has received since the season opener against Boise State. Of course, most of the spotlight from that game was unwanted after running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in the wake of the Ducks’ 19-8 loss to the Broncos.
Since then, however, Oregon has won nine of 10 including a 47-20 prime-time pounding of USC in late October. The Ducks possess the No. 7 scoring offense in the country, averaging 37.7 points per game overall. They’ve been even better than that recently. Over their last five contests, the Quack Attack is averaging a cool 44.0 points per game.
At the controls of that offense is dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has nearly 5,000 yards in total offense for his career. This season, he has thrown for 1,865 yards and 14 TDs and run for 619 yards and 12 scores. If Masoli has a weakness, it would be his pass efficiency. He ranks only sixth in the Pac-10 in that category, completing 58.3 percent of his 264 attempts so far and averaging a middling 7.1 yards per attempt.
But he rarely makes mistakes – Masoli has pitched only four interceptions all season, meaning he throws a pick only once every 66 attempts.
The junior QB has completed passes to a number of receivers this season but he has two favorite targets. Senior tight end Ed Dickson leads Oregon with 551 yards and six TDs on 42 receptions while junior wideout Jeff Maehl has 46 catches for 548 yards and five scores.
For all of the publicity Masoli and the passing game generate, you need to keep your eye on the Oregon running game because that is what truly makes the Ducks go. They rank eighth in the country in rushing, thanks mostly to freshman tailback LaMichael James. He entered the breach left by Blount, who was suspended after the Boise State game incident, and James has proceeded to roll up 1,310 yards and 11 TDs.
Add Masoli’s slithery mobility to James’ raw talent, mix in three other running backs with at least 130 yards and two TDs each, and the Ducks make it difficult for any opposing defense to stop their running game.
Then again, they have yet to face a defense that is as good against the run as Oregon State. The Beavers rank 13th in the country in rushing defense and allow an average of only 98.5 yards per game. OSU has surrendered 149 yards or less on the ground in 10 of its 11 games this season; Oregon has rushed for at least 175 yards in 10 of its 11 games. In other words, something’s got to give tonight.
Oregon State has an attacking defense featuring 11 players with at least two tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Keaton Kristick is the unit’s leader with 80 tackles, including seven for loss. He also has two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Up front, junior tackle Stephen Paea is the guy the Ducks will have to negate. Paea has 36 tackles, including 5½ for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Want to know just how good Oregon State can be on defense? The Beavers held Cincinnati to 5 of 14 on third-down conversions back in mid-September during a 28-18 loss to the Bearcats. In addition to everything else UC does well on offense, it is near the top of the national stats in third-down efficiency.
Oregon State also held Stanford running back Toby Gerhart to 96 yards in early October during a 38-28 win over the Cardinal. Gerhart is the nation’s No. 2 rusher and the Beavers held him to nearly 50 yards below his average.
Offensively, Oregon State can pretty much match Oregon in star power with sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers and senior quarterback Sean Canfield.
Rodgers ranks ninth in the nation with an average of 119.4 yards per game, and he has totaled 1,313 yards and 19 TDs this season. Meanwhile, Canfield is the Pac-10 leader in pass efficiency. He has completed 70.3 percent of his 370 attempts so far for 2,797 yards and 19 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
The Ducks will try to rattle Canfield – they rank second in their conference in pass defense, third in sacks and third in interceptions. But Oregon has had difficulty stopping the run this season, ranking 40th nationally and fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing defense, and Rodgers could be a difference-maker for the Beavers. He missed last year’s Civil War, and not coincidentally the Ducks ran off with a 65-38 victory. Masoli threw for 274 yards and three TDs in that game as Oregon piled up 694 yards of total offense.
Oregon is 9-2 with losses to Boise State and Stanford, teams with a combined 20-4 record and .833 winning percentage. Oregon State is 8-3 with losses to Cincinnati, Arizona and USC, teams with a combined record of 26-7 (.788).
The Ducks last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1995, losing a 38-20 decision to Penn State. They haven’t won a Rose Bowl game since a 14-0 win over Penn in 1917.
The Beavers haven’t been to Pasadena since 1965, losing a 34-7 decision to Michigan. Oregon State won its only Rose Bowl in 1942 with a 20-16 victory over Duke. However, that game was moved to Wade Wallace Stadium on the Duke campus in Durham, N.C., following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In the spirit of full disclosure, both Oregon teams know how it feels to win in the Rose Bowl, beating UCLA there in recent years. The Beavers rolled to a 34-6 win over the Bruins in Pasadena last season while the Ducks scored a 24-10 victory over UCLA on Oct. 10.
But neither team knows how it feels to beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 9-0 all-time against Oregon and Oregon State, including a 10-7 win over the Ducks in the 1958 Rose Bowl.
Enjoy tonight’s game.
THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY
** Fifteen years ago, a pair of familiar combatants squared off as the Southeastern Conference staged its first-ever championship game. On Dec. 3, 1994, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw a 2-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left, and the No. 6 Gators squeezed out a 24-23 victory over undefeated and third-ranked Alabama.
** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 1, 1951, sixth-ranked Georgia Tech forced an NCAA-record 13 turnovers (five fumbles and eight interceptions) during a 48-6 victory over instate rival Georgia; on Dec. 2, 1990, Houston quarterback David Klinger set a new Division I-A single-game record by throwing for 716 yards in a 62-45 victory over Arizona State; on Dec. 5, 1993, Wisconsin went all the way to Tokyo to score a 41-20 win over Michigan State, clinching the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl trip in 31 years; and on Dec. 6, 1873, Yale defeated Eton Players of England by a 2-1 final. It was the first college football game in the U.S. played with 11 men on each side.
**Today also marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of former Ohio State football coach Francis A. Schmidt. Born Dec. 3, 1885, in Downs, Kansas, Schmidt was one of the most accomplished and colorful coaches in college football history. He played at Nebraska, where he earned a law degree, and later rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army during World War II. Schmidt began his head coaching career in 1919 and served stints at Tulsa, Arkansas, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho. While with the Buckeyes, he became the first (and still only) head coach to beat Michigan in each of his first four tries and Schmidt also instituted the Gold Pants Club to mark each victory over the Wolverines. Schmidt retired from coaching following the 1942 season and died two years later of a heart attack at the age of 58. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** Heading down to the wire and there are still six undefeated teams remaining in Division I-A. Congratulations to TCU, which completed its regular season with perfect a 12-0 record, the school’s first unbeaten regular season since 1938. Meanwhile, Boise State, Cincinnati, Texas, Alabama and Florida still have one more contest to play.
** There were pros and cons to firing Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. One of the arguments for keeping Weis was that all his team was competitive in every game this season. All six of the Fighting Irish’s losses this season were by seven points or less. One of the main arguments for letting him go: Notre Dame has lost at least six games in each of the last three years, the longest such streak in school history.
** Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the Weis firing and the forced retirement of Bobby Bowden was the news that our old friend Mark Snyder resigned Nov. 29 as head coach at Marshall. Snyder, the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, posted a 21-37 record in five seasons at his alma mater. The Thundering Herd were 6-6 this year.
** Coaching for the old alma mater isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Virginia fired Al Groh after nine seasons with the Cavaliers. Groh’s dismissal came the day after his team finished 3-9, the program’s worst record since a 2-9 mark in 1982.
** Bobby Bowden’s departure from Florida State means that Joe Paterno will likely have the all-time Division I victories record forever. JoePa has 393 wins and counting (Bowden had 388) and next on the active list are Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech with 228 each. (Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63.) With the proliferation of big-money contracts and high-profile stress, it seems illogical to believe anyone will ever approach Paterno’s win total.
** Of course, JoePa still ranks third in all-time coaching victories at the college level. He trails the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling (408) and Division III Saint John’s (Minn.) head coach John Gagliardi, still going strong with 471 career wins. Gagliardi guided the Johnnies to a 10-0 record this season, but they were upset 34-27 by Coe College (Iowa) in the first round of the D-III playoffs.
** By the way, in case you entertain the notion that Tressel or Beamer could reach Paterno’s win total, realize that both men would have to win 10 games every season for the next 17 years just to get close to 400. That would put both men well past retirement age – Tressel will be 57 on Saturday and Beamer is 63 – and neither has expressed any desire to stay in the profession that long.
** I won’t cast my vote until early next week, but after watching his performance on Thanksgiving night against Texas A&M, I am 99.9 percent sure I will vote for Texas QB Colt McCoy. Who gets my second- and third-place votes are still to be determined this weekend from a group that includes Florida QB Tim Tebow, Alabama RB Mark Ingram, Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Stanford RB Toby Gerhart.
** The talking heads at ESPN are probably the only people in America (outside of Florida, of course) who believe Tim Tebow still has a chance to win the Heisman. According to ESPN, Tebow is the greatest player in college football history. While I have absolutely nothing against Tebow, and will admit he has been an outstanding player, he is not the greatest player in history. In fact, he is not even the greatest player of his era when you crunch hard numbers. For his four-year career, Tebow has rushed and passed for a combined 11,389 yards and 140 TDs. Compare those stats to Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour, who has accounted for 15,140 yards and 145 TDs in his career.
** This week’s fun stat (unless you are a fan of the following teams): Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida State, Georgia and USC combined for a 39-32 record this season. Go back just three short years ago to the 2006 season and you find a 59-20 combined record for those six schools.
** For the record, I didn’t like the Nike Pro Combat uniforms worn by Ohio State during the Michigan game. And after watching Florida wear their version last Saturday, I’m convinced Nike is letting some third-grader design some of these unis with a bunch of Crayolas. For the record, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and Missouri joined the Gators in wearing Pro Combat uniforms last weekend and the record was 3-2 for the duds (pun intended).
** Congratulations to SMU for earning its first bowl bid since earning the NCAA death penalty back in 1987. The Mustangs got a pretty nice invitation, too. They will spend the Christmas holiday at the Hawaii Bowl, set for Dec. 24 in Honolulu. Of course, a trip to the islands is old hat for SMU head coach June Jones, who spent nine seasons as head coach at Hawaii from 1999-2007.
** For sheer excitement, it would have been hard to beat the Division I-AA playoff game last weekend between top seed Montana and South Dakota State. The undefeated Grizzlies fell behind SDSU by a 48-21 score with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter before storming back for 40 unanswered points and a 61-48 victory.
** There were other fantastic finishes in the Football Championship Division (aka I-AA) playoffs. Elon missed a pair of field goal attempts in the final 90 seconds, allowing defending national champion Richmond to squeak by with a 16-13 victory. And Appalachian State took a 20-13 win over South Carolina State when the Bulldogs botched a snap on a field goal attempt and Appy State’s Dominique McDuffie ran 50 yards with the loose ball for the game-winning touchdown.
** In Division III, powerhouse Mount Union remains the team to beat. The Purple Raiders, seeking their fourth championship in the past five seasons and 11th title since 1993, rolled into the quarterfinals with a 62-14 win over Montclair State.
** Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres has been named one of five regional winners of the 2009 Division III AFCA Coach of the Year award. It is the 14th time Kehres has been so honored.
We must have forgotten about that old saying that says you can throw out the records when forecasting rivalry games. We were a middling 11-7 straight up to drop the yearly total below 80 percent to 112-32.
Against the spread? No other way to describe it other than we got crushed. We zigged while nearly everyone else zagged and had a 4-14 week ATS that sent the yearly total spiraling to 57-73-2. Well, at least the turkey, mashed potatoes and noodles were good.
No. 16 Oregon State at No. 7 Oregon: The Beavers have a slightly better defense while the Ducks have a slightly better offense. Autzen Stadium is usually money in the bank for Oregon, but Oregon State went home a winner on its last trip. So, we looked at common opponents – all eight of them – and came up with this final score … Oregon 43, Oregon State 38. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Ohio vs. Central Michigan: Temple’s turnaround season got most of the MAC publicity this season, but it will be the Bobcats and the Chippewas squaring off at Ford Field to decide the conference championship. CMU has dominated the all-time series with a lopsided 20-4-2 edge, and with an offense led by senior QB Dan LeFevour, the Chips should pad that advantage by one more victory … Central Michigan 28, Ohio 21. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
No. 5 Cincinnati at No. 15 Pittsburgh: Will Heinz Field turn out to be the Bearcats’ Waterloo? After playing footloose and fancy free for most of the season, suddenly there is a lot on UC’s plate. A win preserves a perfect season and the remote possibility of playing for the national championship. If that’s not enough pressure, how about the distraction of head coach Brian Kelly rumored to be headed to Notre Dame? We smell an Upset Special … Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 26. (12 noon ET, ABC)
No. 21 Houston at East Carolina: The Pirates are the defending Conference USA champions, but it’s difficult to see how they can repeat against the Cougars and quarterback Case Keenum. He needs only 78 more yards to reach 5,000 for the second year in a row … Houston 45, East Carolina 28. (12 noon ET, ESPN2)
No. 23 West Virginia at Rutgers: The Mountaineers have won 14 straight in this series, winning those games by an average of 26.6 points. The Scarlet Knights have won eight of their last 10, but one of those losses was to Syracuse. If the Knights can’t beat the Orange, how can they be expected to beat WVU? … West Virginia 31, Rutgers 17. (12 noon ET, ESPN)
Fresno State at Illinois: Extending the season past Thanksgiving was supposed to keep the Illini fresh for their bowl game. Instead, it has simply prolonged the agony of a dismal season. Perhaps the Fighting Zooksters could rise up for Senior Day, but don’t count on it … Fresno State 34, Illinois 31. (12:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
New Mexico State at No. 6 Boise State: If Ohio State can hang 45 on the Aggies, how many points do you think the Broncos can score? Probably as many as they want … Boise State 56, New Mexico State 0. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Arizona at No. 18 USC: As tough as things have been in Trojanland this season, USC can still win 10 games with wins this week and in its bowl game. The first hurdle toward that goal should be made easier since the Wildcats will be without injured TB Nic Grigsby … USC 34, Arizona 24. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s chances hinge on the health of Heisman hopeful tailback Mark Ingram, who missed most of last week’s win over Auburn with a hip pointer. Those kinds of injuries are tough to overcome, especially for running backs, and how Ingram performs could make the difference … Florida 27, Alabama 21. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 19 California at Washington: The Bears are still without star running back Jahvid Best, but sophomore Shane Vereen has been a more than capable fill-in. Vereen runs mostly out of the wildcat formation, and he will likely do a lot of damage against the Huskies, who rank 76th nationally and ninth in the Pac-10 against the run … Cal 35, Washington 24. (6:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 22 Nebraska: One final chance for Colt McCoy to prove why he deserves this year’s Heisman Trophy. If McCoy simply has his normal game against the Cornhuskers, who have the Big 12’s stingiest scoring defense, it should be a coronation for him and a momentum-builder for the Longhorns as they head to the national title game … Texas 34, Nebraska 20. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. Clemson: If South Carolina can gash the Tigers for 223 yards on the ground, doesn’t it make sense that the Yellow Jackets and their running game (No. 2 in the nation) can do as well or better? … Georgia Tech 34, Clemson 27. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Wisconsin at Hawaii: Some teams have trouble adjusting to the swirling winds at Aloha Stadium. Not the Badgers. They have won three in a row in Honolulu by an average margin of 27.3 points and will probably just run Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay about 40 times … Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 24. (11:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Here are the spreads for the above games: Oregon State (+10) at Oregon; Ohio (+13) vs. Central Michigan; Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (+2); Houston (-2½) at East Carolina; West Virginia (+2) at Rutgers; Fresno State (+3) at Illinois; New Mexico State at Boise State (-44); Arizona at USC (-7); Florida (-5½) vs. Alabama; Cal (-7) at Washington; Texas (-13) vs. Nebraska; Georgia Tech (-1) vs. Clemson; Wisconsin (-11) at Hawaii.