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December 2, 2010
They've overcome the loss of a starting quarterback, an 18-point hole against their primary conference challenger, opposing teams faking injuries and a slow start a week ago.
Now, all that's standing between the Oregon Ducks and a berth in the BCS national championship game is an opponent with a losing record that is coming off a 38-point blowout loss.
But it's also an archrival that has shown an ability to bounce back strong from big defeats.
So, even though Oregon has 11 consecutive victories and Oregon State is in serious jeopardy of failing to become bowl eligible, the Ducks aren't taking a "Civil War" victory for granted.
"I don't look at them [as] struggling," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of the Beavers. "I look at them that they beat a really good USC team two weeks ago, really almost dominated a USC team two weeks ago at their place.
"We always look at what's the team's best attributes, not did they have a down game when they played Stanford last week. It's a good football team with very, very good football players. I would argue two of the best football players in our conference are Stephen Paea -- he may be the best DT in the country -- and Jacquizz Rodgers at running back. So, we know we have our hands full."
Some might look at Oregon State's 5-6 record and last week's 38-0 loss to Stanford and dismiss Kelly's appraisal of the Beavers as typical coachspeak. But the Beavers rebounded from a 35-34 overtime loss at Washington with a convincing 35-7 blowout of California -- the same team that Oregon struggled to subdue 15-13. Then, after consecutive losses to UCLA and Washington State, the Beavers posted a surprisingly lopsided 36-7 victory over USC.
That trend would seem to reinforce Kelly's thoughts that the Beavers cannot be taken lightly.
"I think confidence is a major, major, major factor in every ballgame that you play, and I think that is a big factor for the Beavers right now," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "The one thing that I have faith in is this team has gotten up off the mat.
"We've had some really good wins and some clunkers, and we have come back from the clunkers and played some good football. We just have been horribly inconsistent. We've got to one more time get up off the mat and play our best game, and confidence will be a major factor in competing to win this game."
Of course, where confidence is concerned, it would be difficult to find a more confident team than Oregon, which has overcome all sorts of issues to win the Pac-10 championship.
Last season's starting quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, was dismissed from the team in the spring. But the Ducks actually upgraded there with sophomore Darron Thomas, who threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in leading the Ducks back from an early 21-3 deficit against Stanford for a 52-31 victory.
Oregon won its next three games by at least 21 points until struggling to a two-point victory over Cal, which admittedly faked defensive injuries in an effort to slow the Ducks' offense.
Last week, Oregon trailed Arizona 19-14 at halftime but came alive in the second half for a 48-29 victory.
Perhaps the Ducks should be on alert because this year's "Civil War" is in Corvallis. While they have steamrolled opponents at Autzen Stadium, they've seemed at least somewhat vulnerable on the road.
Oregon was tied at halftime at Tennessee. The Ducks won by 11 and allowed 597 yards of offense at Arizona State and by two at Cal. They trailed USC in the third quarter in the Coliseum and held a mere 22-17 lead late in the second quarter at lowly Washington State.
But Kelly said the Ducks won't worry about where they're playing or who they're playing.
"We talk every week about playing a faceless opponent," he said. "It's about our preparation, not who we're playing against. We're approaching this game the same way we approached USC, the same way we approached Stanford, the same way we approached Arizona last week and the other 11 games we played. That won't change."
The Ducks just want to make sure the results don't change.
Best matchup: Oregon offensive line vs. Oregon State defensive line. Early in the season, Oregon State barely had a pass rush. But led by DT Stephen Paea, the Beavers have ratcheted up the pressure. They lead the Pac-10 with 30 sacks. But adding to that total against Oregon's offensive line won't be easy. The Ducks have allowed just seven sacks all season to rank fourth in the nation.
Player on the spot: Washington QB Jake Locker. He has been here before, but never has his role been more crucial than this week against Washington State. Locker has thrown for at least 237 yards in four of the Huskies' five victories. They likely will need a strong performance from him to win the Apple Cup and clinch bowl eligibility. That will be more difficult than some might think. The Cougars have made strides recently. They played Cal within a touchdown on Nov. 6, then posted a 31-14 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 13. They have had three weeks to prepare for Washington.
Numbers game: UCLA K Kai Forbath has equaled a school record with 85 career field goals. He needs three more to break the NCAA record held by Georgia's Billy Bennett. Forbath, who has converted 54 of his past 61 attempts, has one game remaining in his college career. Forbath has never attempted a field goal against USC. The Bruins have scored just seven points in all three games against USC in Forbath's career.
What they're saying
"I wouldn't do it again, to be honest with you. To point at the head coach ... I don't think he's going to hear this, but I apologize for doing that, Coach." -- Arizona K Alex Zendejas, who ran and pointed at Chip Kelly after kicking a field goal just before halftime last week. Kelly had called two timeouts in an attempt to ice Zendejas.
"We have to show up and play like we did against [USC]. I think it's going to be up there. It's up to us. We just have to keep our heads up and get ready for Oregon." -- Oregon State's Stephen Paea
"The slightest thing can set things off in this rivalry. There was definitely some real anger last year. None of it was faked. There was nothing we could do about it at the moment. We get a fresh start in the first quarter. There is something we can do about it now to make sure it doesn't happen again. Payback, you know." -- UCLA LB Akeem Ayers, recalling that USC threw a 48-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining in last season's 28-7 victory over the Bruins.
"I should have caught the ball. I should have made the play. Unfortunately, I didn't, and next time I will." -- USC senior WR Ronald Johnson, who dropped a sure touchdown pass that could have provided the winning score in last week's loss to Notre Dame
Etc.: There is speculation that Washington State coach Paul Wulff's job may depend on the outcome of Saturday's game against Washington. Wulff is 5-31 in three seasons in Pullman. Athletic director Bill Moos has maintained he has made no decision on Wulff's status. ... Arizona State reportedly has asked the NCAA for a waiver to get into a bowl should the Sun Devils record their sixth win with a victory over Arizona. Two of Arizona State's wins were over FCS opponents. Typically, only one victory over an FCS team per season counts toward bowl eligibility. ... Arizona C Colin Baxter is playing with torn meniscus in his right knee, but he should make his 48th consecutive start when the Wildcats face Arizona State. The injury will require surgery, so he may not be available for the Wildcats' bowl. ... California closed the season 5-7, its first losing record under coach Jeff Tedford. Anticipate great competition for the Bears' quarterback job next spring. Brock Mansion finished the season as the starter when Kevin Riley was injured, but Beau Sweeney, redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford (who has been slowed by a shoulder injury), true freshman Austin Hinder and Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard will challenge. ... Stanford has posted three shutouts. It's the first time Stanford has blanked three opponents in the same season since 1969. ... Early this week, USC coach Lane Kiffin indicated that QB Matt Barkley would play against UCLA. Barkley did not play last week because of a sprained left ankle. Later in the week, though, Kiffin said he "hoped" Barkley would play. Senior QB Mitch Mustain will start if Barkley is unable to play. ... Sophomore Brock Osweiler has been named Arizona State's starting quarterback after he relieved an injured Steven Threet last week against UCLA and threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns. ... Washington State is looking to post consecutive victories for the first time since beating San Diego State and Idaho in the second and third games of the 2007 season. ... Oregon State defensive players ran sprints between plays during practice to prepare to face Oregon's rapid-pace offense. ... Oregon P Jackson Rice missed practices early this week because of illness. He was unable to play in last week's game against Arizona, which forced Oregon to burn the redshirt year of freshman Alejandro Maldonado. ... Stanford QB Andrew Luck is just the fourth player in school history to pass for 3,000 yards in a season. He also set a school record with 28 touchdown passes. ... UCLA DT Cassius Marsh missed practice early in the week because of a concussion, but he is expected to play against USC. ... Arizona junior QB Nick Foles is coming off a career-high 448 passing yards against Oregon. ... Washington LB Mason Foster has 137 tackles and ranks second in the nation with an average of 12.4 tackles per game. .... Oregon RB LaMichael James continues to lead the nation in rushing with an average of 154.8 yards per game and in scoring with an average of 12.0 points per game. ... RB Stepfan Taylor is the first Stanford sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards since Darrin Nelson in 1978. ... USC S T.J. McDonald has an injured right shoulder and won't play against UCLA. ... Washington has allowed just 20 points and one offensive touchdown in the past two games. ... Washington State freshman WR Marquess Wilson needs 32 receiving yards to become the ninth player in school history to reach 1,000 in a season.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.