Predicting the Weather Might be Easier

Oregon's contest this Saturday with Washington State is a difficult football game to read. <br><br> The Cougars beat the Ducks last year… but the Ducks this year appear to be much improved over the team they were last year. <br><br> (PHOTO LEFT) EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 20: Jordan Carey #8 (C) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt against the Michigan Wolverines on September 20, 2003 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Ducks get the Cougars at home in front of its raucous Autzen Stadium crowd… but the Cougars have played well on the road so far this year, beating Notre Dame for most of the game in South Bend before folding 29-26 in overtime and then beating Colorado 47-26 in Boulder.

Washington State doesn't return their outstanding all-league quarterback Jason Gesser from last year…but starter Matt Kegel is developing nicely this year, improving his passing yardage and passing efficiency statistics with every game.

The Cougar defense does appear to be an improvement over last year's excellent squad… however, the Duck offense has also improved, particularly the play from its offensive line and tandem quarterbacks, sophomore Kellen Clemens and senior Jason Fife.

The Cougars have a pretty balanced offense, with playmakers at all key positions… but the Ducks have demonstrated against Michigan the capacity to shut down the running game from a very good and balanced offense and then play just-good-enough pass defense to win.

Oregon is coming into the game riding a wave of momentum following its remarkable win over then-No.3 Michigan last weekend…but the Ducks might revert back to an ugly personality trait from last year where they seemed to count their chickens before they hatched, often punctuated by laying a goose egg in the second half of their games.

The Ducks and Cougars have enjoyed a pretty nice little Northwest rivalry over the last 102 years. Oregon leads the all-time record 37-36-7. A hundred years ago the Ducks and Cougars tied 0-0 in Eugene. During Oregon coach Mike Bellotti's watch, the Ducks are 5-3 against the Cougars matching Oregon's win-loss record against Oregon State and second only to Oregon's 7-1 record over Arizona during the same period.

But don't kid yourself Ducks fans, Washington State can be as unpredictable as the Pacific Northwest weather. They also have a propensity for playing the spoiler. They handed the Ducks their only conference loss in 1994. In 1997, the Cougars beat the Ducks 24-13 in Autzen Stadium. Since then, they have only appeared in Autzen Stadium once, losing 52-10 in 1999. The Cougars also own several Autzen Stadium records: the most yards rushing (524) including Reuben Mayes incredible individual record of 357 yards, and the most kickoff return yards (280) all achieved in 1984.

The Ducks are ranked No. 10 and the Cougars No. 21 with both teams vying to be the "next best team" in Pac-10 Conference behind USC. Oregon is presently favored to win by 4-1/2 points. However some pundits such as Sportsline and the Harmon Forecast are calling for an upset. There is also the Sports Illustrated jinx hanging over the Ducks after they made the magazine's cover this week.

One of the keys to the game could be turnovers and that doesn't bode well for Oregon as the Cougars are currently rank No. 3 in the nation in turnovers gained (13). They also rank No. 8 in the nation in turnover margin with a 1.75 average. Penalties could also be telling, particularly in a close game. Both the Ducks and Cougars have been heavily penalized over their first four games. The Ducks are averaging 89 penalty yards per game and the Cougars 105 penalty yards. However, Oregon showed demonstrative improvement in controlling their penalties against Michigan last week and that could precipitate an advantage for the Ducks

I have a feeling that this is going to be a good old fashion slugfest with the team left standing at the end demonstrating the most heart. The contest will be decided in the trenches, both sides of the ball, which are probably the strengths of both teams.

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