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December 1, 2011

UCLA faces tough road against Oregon

Appalachian State beat Michigan in '07. That same season, Stanford shocked heavily favored USC. Last season, James Madison stunned eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech. And back in 1992, The Citadel beat Arkansas.

Those examples prove the outcomes of apparent huge mismatches cannot be taken for granted.

EXPERT PREDICTIONS
Olin Buchanan: Oregon 52, UCLA 10
David Fox: Oregon 49, UCLA 14
Mike Huguenin: Oregon 52, UCLA 17
Steve Megargee: Oregon 49, UCLA 14
(Insert heavy sigh here.)

[Viewer's guide: Titles on the line]

Yes, it's come to that: The pregame hype for Friday night's inaugural Pac-12 championship mow down er showdown has been reduced to listing big upsets. Frankly, it's a feeble attempt to show UCLA, fresh off a 50-0 loss to USC and the firing of coach Rick Neuheisel, has a chance to defeat seventh-ranked Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

UCLA wouldn't even be playing as the South Division representative if USC wasn't ineligible because of NCAA sanctions and if Colorado hadn't upset Utah last week.

"There aren't many folks who give us much of a chance, and certainly that's understandable given our last performance and given what kind of team we're playing," said Neuheisel, who will coach his alma mater for the last time Friday. "I've tried to preach to these kids that it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get back up.

"So we're going to get back up and see if we can't play a great game on Friday night."

The Bruins have significant experience in getting up after getting knocked down. They rebounded from a humiliating loss to Arizona by upsetting California and Arizona State. And they rebounded from a 31-6 trashing at Utah with a dominant showing against Colorado.

But Cal, Arizona State and Colorado aren't in Oregon's class.

Oregon, which is seeking its third consecutive conference championship, averages 45.9 points and ranks third in the nation in scoring. Quarterback Darron Thomas hasn't thrown an interception in four games. Tailback LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing yards per game.

[Bowl projections: Who's in, who's out?]

Oregon is fifth in the nation in rushing offense. UCLA is 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense.

Indeed, when the Bruins ventured into Eugene last season, they were crushed 60-13, and there doesn't appear to be any reason to assume this trip will be any more pleasant.

Hey, maybe Oregon will be overconfident, though Ducks coach Chip Kelly doesn't think that will be the case.

"This group that I coach now ... they like to practice football and they like playing football," Kelly said. "This is another opportunity to play on our home field. I know our guys will be ready to play. They take everybody we play very, very seriously.

"I know when UCLA comes in here, they will bring their A-game."

Hey, playing their A-game was enough for Appalachian State and James Madison and Stanford.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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