Kickoff: 7:00 PM (Tucson Time), 6:00 PM, PST Television: ESPN Stadium: Arizona Stadium (56.002)
A Quick Thought: If this game is anything like the 1992 contest against then top-ranked Washington, even though Arizona Stadium's capacity is 56,002, I expect there to be about 58,000 in the seats by kick off. That year, the student section was like being at a Who concert during a Keith Moon drum solo, as it was just nuts in the stands for three and a half hours. Tomorrow night should be much of the same for two reasons. The first, of course, is the Wildcats are playing BCS No. 2 Oregon. The second being the fact that all classes have been cancelled on Friday, which means this might very well likely be the drunkest student section in college football this weekend. Believe me when I say this is not a criticism. Embrace the madness young ones because games like these don't come around often. Just don't disrespect the game of football, the University, or those sitting near you. Instead, make like Texas A&M and kiss and hug after every score.
Now, onto the game itself:
Last year Arizona went up to Oregon and eviscerated the Ducks 37-10 and it wasn't even that close. Arizona forced six turnovers and completely shut down Oregon QB Dixon and the Ducks' high-octane offense. This year, the Ducks are back and they're even bigger and badder. Still, Arizona matches up well with them when on defense as neither of the opposing units has done much to change their schemes in the past three years. Despite being just 1-2 against Oregon since the close of 2003, Arizona has lost to the Ducks twice, 28-14 and 28-21, while beating them last season. In all games, the Wildcats contained the Oregon offense but could only find their own groove on offense in 2006. So, what has changed? Confidence. Oregon is 8-1 and very confident heading into Tucson. With the national spotlight shinning brightly, QB Dixon will be out to prove to the nation that he truly is a Heisman Candidate. More so, with all eyes watching, Oregon will be out to prove to those east of the Mississippi that as things stand right now, they're every bit as worthy an opponent to play LSU in the BCS Title Game as anyone. Still, the Wildcats are a confident bunch too and similar to last season, they head into the Oregon game on a two-game winning streak. The Wildcats finally seemed to have found some rhythm on offense while defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has finally found a way to incorporate blitzes and stunts at just the right time. That said, Arizona will have to be as aggressive as ever on both sides of the ball if they expect to contend with and even beat Oregon. This is no time to get conservative even with a late lead. Oregon is as explosive a team as I've seen in recent years and can strike like a lightning bolt. They are missing several key players who started the season, and QB Dixon did suffer an injury two weeks ago against Arizona State, so we'll have to see how all that shakes out. Still, the Ducks are loaded with talent and if Arizona can't find a way to contain their RB Stewart, then it could be a long night. The key to this game will be Arizona's ability to stay with Oregon early. Many times this season, especially against Oregon State and California, the Wildcats were embarrassed in the first quarter, falling way behind and making the final three quarters feel more like the annual Spring Game then a Pac-10 showdown. If Arizona survives the first quarter, the stadium will most certainly be rocking and then it'll be game on. I won't be in the stands, which means Arizona has a better than 70 percent chance of winning, but I will be watching on TV with baited breath. On offense, I have every bit of confidence in Arizona's passing attack. I agree with our football editor, Chris Bonney, in that QB Tuitama must not take unnecessary sacks as field position will be another key. For me, two young ‘Cats stand out and one senior ‘Cat may prove to be the difference. Freshmen Gronkowski and Grigsby must perform well against the Ducks. The TE and RB, respectively, must produce and the only way they can is to get them the ball. Gronk should be wide open in the middle of the field all night so Tuitama needs to look for that. Also, Grigsby, even if he struggles to gain yards on the ground, must also be utilized in the passing game. Get him the ball in the flat and let him do his thing if Oregon is able to stuff our rushing attack. The senior is back up RB Jennings. Jennings made a huge catch and score on a wheel route against UCLA and that's the kind of plays Arizona needs to run more of tonight. Throw in a reverse to WR Thomas and perhaps Arizona can pull off the upset.
Overall, the winner will be the team who makes the least mistakes. Last season, Oregon all but ended their chances of even keeping the game within reach with six turnovers. The stadium will be as loud as ever and whichever team is able to control their adrenaline and emotions while playing within themselves will win. Even though Oregon is the better team, this is not the time for them to look ahead for even one second. Tucson is about to explode and if Oregon isn't prepared, the Wildcats could easily blow them out. Of course, the same may be even more-true for Oregon. The Ducks are nearly two touchdown favorites but as we all know, Thursday night home underdogs are never to be taken lightly. I like Arizona's chances a lot and the fact that I wasn't able to make the trip even though my buddies Troy and Barry arrived late Wednesday, makes me like Arizona's chances even more as T&B always get to have all the fun!
California (6-4, 3-4 Pac-10) @ Washington (3-7, 1-6 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 12:30 PM Television: ABC Regional Coverage Stadium: Husky Stadium (72,500)
I'm going to be in Seattle this weekend for a wedding so I have every intention of heading to the UW campus for an abbreviated tailgating experience made in part by the early kick off. For some reason or another, Cal has fallen so far off the radar it's pretty amazing. They played well last week against an emerging USC, but still not good enough to defend their home turf. They've been riddled with injuries this season which has affected their continuity, but they still have plenty of skill players to make things happen. Against the Huskies they'll get their chance, but I have a sneaking suspicion that UW is going to give the Bears all they can handle. Here's the problem, though. UW QB Locker may not play Saturday after suffering a neck injury in a helmet-to-helmet hit against Oregon Sate last weekend. If he doesn't play, and I'm beginning to doubt that he will, then fifth-year senior Carl Bonnell will get the start. Against the Beavers, Bonnell actually threw the ball well, completing second half touchdown passes of 41 and 86 yards. He also ran for another score in their 29-23 loss. So, the big question is can the Huskies win with Bonnell? Sure they can. Offensively, the season statistics are a spot on match outside of passing yards but that's only because Locker is as good a runner as he is a passer. With Bonnell at the helm, expect the Huskies to throw the ball more and improve upon the team's 211 passing yards average when Locker was taking most of the snaps. RB Rankin is a proven rusher and UW always has talented WR's to help out their QB's so certainly the Huskies can win with Bonnell. Add to the mix that Cal's own QB Lonshore is having a very down season (2,056 YDS, 12 TD's, 10 INT's) and the likelihood of a Cal loss becomes even more apparent. As is customary with any Cal game, the player to watch is WR and special teams star Jackson. He's been somewhat contained this season as every opponent has game planned for him on defense while kicking away from him on special teams. But there's always that chance he'll pull a game changing performance (shameless ESPN plug). So, add it all up and here's how I see this thing playing out. Regardless if Locker gets the start or not, Washington will stack the line of scrimmage to stop Cal RB Forsett while forcing Longshore to throw under immense pressure. They'll also pull out all the stops on offense and will score on at least one trick play. They'll also punt and kick the ball away from Jackson to neutralize the superstar, while shadowing him with their speediest cornerback underneath and a safety over the top. In the end, Rankin will outgain Forsett on the ground and Cal will have a turnover late that perhaps costs them the game. Washington 27, Cal 23.
Oregon State (6-4, 4-3 Pac-10) @ Washington State (4-6, 2-5 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 3:30 PM Television: FSNW – DirecTV Channel 653 Stadium: Martin Stadium (37,600)
This is not an attack on either team, but I actually just yawned before I began typing. WSU is still playing for a .500 season while OSU is looking for a high Pac-10 finish and birth into a respectable bowl game. With all this on the line, expect to see a competitively played contest. WSU QB Brink led the Cougars past Stanford last weekend while OSU QB Moeveo replaced season-starter Canfield in the line up. Moeveo did not perform much better (10/22, 109 YDS, 1 TD), but did help lead the Beavers to a win. This week, OSU will rely heavily on their defense to try and shut down the Cougars who are playing at home. The weather will be cold, but both teams are used to that. While WSU is not very good in defending the pass, OSU is clearly not that good in the passing game. Similarly, WSU is a strong passing team but OSU is one of the conference's best in pressuring the passer. What does this all mean? It means this game has the potential to be a knock ‘em out, drag out, defensive battle. This is a game that OSU should clearly win, but something tells me they won't as I'd rather rely on the experienced Brink running the show for WSU in the fourth quarter than anyone the Beavers can throw in behind center. For that reason, I like the Cougars in the upset. Washington State 20, Oregon State 17.