For at least four of the final six OSU opponents, the first half of the season has shown the only thing certain is that it's uncertain which team, on any given Saturday, is going to show up.
The Bears might be the most Jekyll and Hyde of them all. They gave up 52 points in a loss to Nevada. Then they lost 10-9 to No. 15 Arizona. What. They crushed UCLA. And then got crushed by USC. Um, come again? They followed up that 48-14 beatdown by hanging 50 on Arizona State, who supposedly, according to the media wags, has one of the top defenses around.
This Saturday's game is in Corvallis. And at 3-3 (1-1), the Beavers still hold their destiny in their hands. But if they lose against Cal, the skies darken considerably, and in large part because of the way the schedule lays out.
The Bruins, they invented the concept of hot and cold. This year, that means looking utterly inept their first two games -- only to come back and knock off then No. 23 Houston and No. 4 Texas. All is coming together for Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow, right?! A 35-7 pasting at the hands of Cal, followed by a 60-13 debacle against Oregon pretty much put that theory in the paper shredder.
at Washington State
The Cougars are improving, they're no longer looking like the junior college football team of the past two years. And yes, they're a Pac-10 team again, but they're still a bad Pac-10 team this season at 1-7 with no Pac-10 wins. This one is in Corvallis and unless Oregon State plays awful, and Washington State plays inspired ball and for the full four quarters, it's hard to see the Beavs losing this one. But not impossible, as WSU has been in it late against Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and Stanford.
THESE FIRST THREE GAMES are huge, huge, huge for Oregon State. All are inherently winnable. And two of the three could just as easily be losses.
If Oregon State is to accomplish their goals this season, and they are lofty goals, they almost certainly have to run the table here on Cal, UCLA and WSU. Not two of three wins, but three-of-three.
The Beavs have already had their hiccup, against Washington. There's no more margin for error.
The final stretch of three begins against USC. The Trojans are certainly not as good a team as in years past -- even most of their wins have been uninspired and unimpressive. But they appear to be on an upswing of late. Still, you try and figure them out because no one else can. They beat Virginia, and then lost to Washington, (who got crushed last night by Arizona, who Oregon State beat, but then OSU lost to UW.) USC barely lost to Stanford, and then crushed Cal. But USC faces Oregon next, and if the Ducks take them apart as many are forecasting, it could set the stage for a deep, dark spiral. One other note here -- Oregon State gets USC at home, the week after 'SC plays Arizona.
Arguably the conference's most complete team, they run and pass equally well and have a solid, physical defense. The Beavs play this one on the road, and Oregon State will probably have to play at the top of their game if they want to win. They'll also have to probably surprise Stanford in some way, whether that's with some new defensive or offensive wrinkles or by crafting a game plan that features one or more of their role players more prevalently.
It's hard to see how to stop the Duck offense when you only have a week to prepare. Teams have stopped them for a while, but then bam, they score 14 points in about three minutes. The Oregon defense is a physical unit but they do have holes, particularly in the secondary. This one might be a shootout, but that scenario would seemingly favor the Ducks. The Beavs have to take something away from the UO offense, either the running back or quarterback, and then they need to play as stout as they have all season on defense. This one is in Corvallis, although that hasn't meant much for the home team in the recent Civil Wars.
THE FINAL THREE games of the season, for Oregon State, need to be set up by the first three.
Oregon State needs to be a different team by the time this final stretch rolls around. And they need to be brimming with confidence heading into USC if they're going to finish strong.
Trying to forecast wins and losses on these final six games is folly. The 180 degree turnabout of most every team in the Pac-10, on a week to week basis, has been nothing short of eye-popping.
But one thing's probably for sure. The season, for Oregon State and in the Pac-10, is about to get wild. As if it hasn't been enough already.