Game Day: Close Encounter? I Don't Think So!

I was lying in bed last night, when I drifted off and had a dream Oregon was beating ASU 14-3. But I woke up kinda sad. But then I realized, Oregon will beat ASU by way more than that!

Alright, maybe that wasn't my dream, but rather Lance Harbor's dream from the teenage-acclaimed-movie Varsity Blues. But while not a Hollywood hunk, Texas high school quarterback or modern day Keanu Reeves, I tend to think similarly to Paul Walker in this regard: Oregon will beat ASU by more than 11 points.

Relax, this isn't a jinx. I'm not peacocking for the Ducks in a show of bravado, but more so bringing a positive vibe to the wave of negativity which has been building for the better part of a week. It's part of the process; every week is like a new chapter to a year-long-novel titled Meet Me At The BCS Title Game and it's ghost written by the power players that cover college football.

Every Thursday night ESPN throws a couple teams into a prime time television slot and says, "Go make some magic." And every so often they do just that, but more times than not the magic isn't in the upset, but rather in the display the more talented team puts on. This week's chapter begins with a game in Tempe, Arizona pitting the second – or third depending on which rankings you choose to cite – ranked team in the nation versus a 5-1 Arizona State team looking to throw their name into the mix for the Pac-12 Championship. More than a handful of pundits are planting their flag in a Sun Devil upset. They're leaning on a defense anchored by defensive lineman Will Sutton and an offense led by sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly. They boast wins over Northern Arizona, Colorado, California, Illinois and Utah, with their sole defeat coming at the hands of a 3-4 Missouri team trying to keep its head above water in a very deep SEC pool. They like to throw the ball, play uber-aggressively on defense, and like the Dennis Erickson led teams before them, talk the talk when it comes to their opposition.

But now it's time to start walkin'.

I'll preface what I'm about to say with the following: I don't take this game or the Arizona State Sun Devils lightly, and I assure you the Ducks don't either. It's a night game, on national television, and first-year-coach Todd Graham has the Sun Devils playing competitive and disciplined football; something Dennis Erickson omitted from his coaching to-do-list many moons ago. They're a "good" team, with "good" players, who've done some "good" things over this season's first six games. But people are now expecting them to do something great.

That's what it will take to beat this Duck team Thursday night -- a great performance.

That's not to say Oregon is incapable of going out and committing three turnovers. That's not to say a couple fortunate breaks couldn't go ASU's way; and I'm not saying things sometimes don't just happen, but what I am saying is that aside from Ouija board or Magic 8-ball s**t occurring, the better team should win this game by more than two touchdowns, and that better team is the Oregon Ducks.

In Arizona State's only loss at Missouri, they scored but 20 points against a middle-of-the-pack defense and allowed 24 to a Tiger team whose offense ranks in the bottom fourth of all FBS schools. Yes, it was on the road and yes, it was more than four weeks ago, but if Missouri caused them those types of problems, what level of problems is an experienced, highly ranked team like Oregon going to pose? Missouri doesn't have a De'Anthony Thomas. Missouri doesn't have the type of athleticism ASU will see from Oregon's defense. And Missouri doesn't boast a system renowned for its tempo and efficiency like Oregon does and has for the better part of five years. This is a different animal, and I just don't think these Devils are quite ready for it.

Seriously, if you had to put a $1,000 on this game would you take Arizona State? I wouldn't, and I don't think most with affection for money would either. I've seen this movie before; an ASU team led by an overrated quarterback, much talked about but untested defense, and skill players capable of performing at times but incapable of performing all the time, puffing-out their chests' prior to a home game against a more heralded opponent only to be sent to their room without supper…again and again. Remember Rudy Carpenter? How about Steven Threet? Or Brock Osweiler? All Sun Devil quarterbacks and all would-be-winners against an Oregon team who'd later crush them beneath their foot.

After turning down a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, Chip Kelly stated that he and his coaching staff had "unfinished business" in Eugene, and that unfinished business can only be one thing -- a BCS Championship.

So why not this year?

Oregon's about half-way to that goal and while a number of obstacles remain in their way, they are still perfect and perfect is what they need to be. Thursday night's game marks the first significant hurdle in a stretch run fraught with red flags, but if we've learned anything from the Chip Kelly-era, it's that when his teams execute and protect the ball, they win, regardless of the opponent.

Can Oregon win the National Title? Yes, but they can't do it without a win in Tempe Thursday night, a win I think they'll get and easier than most are suggesting.


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