PAC-12 CONFERENCE MID-SEASON REVIEW
It may still be a bit early for predictions, but from my angle it looks like the Pacific-12 conference championship could well be decided by the Civil War game (Oregon State at Oregon) in Eugene on Friday, November 29. The Ducks and the Beavers. Oregon is 7-0 overall, and 4-0 in the Pac-12, and Oregon State is 6-1 and 4-0.
Before we get to that point, Oregon has to get past UCLA in Eugene next Saturday, Stanford in Palo Alto on Thursday, November 7, Utah in Eugene Saturday, November 16, and Arizona in Tuscon on November 23.
For their part, the Beavers, they host Stanford next Saturday and USC on Friday November 1. They travel to play Arizona State in Tempe, AZ Saturday, November 16. They then host Washington in Corvallis before traveling to Eugene for the Civil War game.
If the Ducks are able to handle UCLA and Stanford, they should also be able to beat Utah and Arizona. The Ducks have been dominant through their first seven games, averaging 57 points per outing. They have a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has a variety of excellent receivers to throw to, and Byron Marshall has developed into a quality running back in the absence of D'Anthony Thomas, who had generated Heisman Trophy buzz prior to the season but was lost to an ankle injury several weeks ago. While Thomas is one of the better running backs in the country, his absence has allowed the Ducks to develop and refine other talents and approaches. Assuming Thomas will be back during the next week or two, Oregon's offense could surpass its current level. The Ducks have a good defense too. Not as dominant as the offense, but good enough to allow just 17 points per game.
Oregon State's season got off to a bad start when they lost at home to Eastern Washington, but since that game they have gradually become better and better each week. Quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks lead the nation's second-best passing offense. The OSU defense has been settling down and not allowing as many points as they were in their first few games. What looked like it might be an awful year for the Beavers has turned into what is their typical pattern under head coach Mike Riley... start off the season unprepared and not ready for the first game, but them become unbeatable by around mid-season. This approach tend to keep OSU out of the national championship discussion, but by the time the games that matter (Pac-12 conference games) roll around, the Beavers are usually ready to go.
Oregon's toughest remaining games are against UCLA and Oregon State, and they get to play host to both teams. The Beavers' toughest games are both on the road, against the Sun Devils and the Ducks.
Predictions? I'll go ahead and make them now, but in five weeks I will probably return to this post and have a good chuckle, because you just never know.
Leading up to the Civil War game, I'll say Oregon beats UCLA and Utah at home. Tuscon can be a tough place to play, but the road game against Arizona shouldn't be a problem because Arizona simply isn't that good this season. The Beavers are collectively higher than a kite right now, and I think they will take Stanford and USC at home. They will face a big test at Arizona State, as ASU has a highly-prolific offense and is tough on their home field. I don't think they will get past the Sun Devils. After that, they should rebound against the Washington Huskies in Corvallis before heading to Eugene. Oregon could enter the Civil War game 8-0 or 7-1 in the conference, and the Beavers could be 8-0 or 7-1. I think UO will be 8-0, and OSU will be 7-1, and whatever their records as they enter,, the game will have big bowl implications.
As a Duck fan, I have to say I'm happy the Civil War game is in Eugene this year. Oregon's defense had a tough time defending Washington State's quarterback Connor Halladay, who completed 58 of 89 pass attempts for 557 yards. The 89 pass attempts was a record. If there is any silver lining for Oregon, it was that the first string defense allowed about 400 yards of the total, and 24 points of WSU's 38 point total.
But Oregon will have to defend against Mannion, and against Cooks and the rest of the OSU receiving corps. I believe they will be able to shut that down somewhat, because 1) their pass defense is good, and 2) defensive coordinator Nick Alioti will have OSU figured out enough by that time that his good pass defense will find success in forcing the Beavers to run the ball... and OSU does not have much of a running game at all. As for OSU defending against Oregon's mulit-faceted offensive attack, I don't believe they will has as much luck keeping the Ducks from scoring.
A more versatile offense and an adequate defense will beat a one-dimensional offense and an adequate defense. Oregon has more weapons, and I think that will be what determines who wins.
However you look at it, the state of Oregon looks to be in the Pac-12 driver's seat this year