Saturday Spotlight: Oregon at California

For this week's article, Seahawks.NET's Scott Eklund stays on the west coast, particularly focusing on the Bay Area, where the Oregon Ducks head to Berkeley to take on the Cal Golden Bears. When all is said and done, this game could be for supremacy in the Pac 10, but from a talent standpoint, both teams are loaded with NFL prospects.

Oregon has a plethora of offensive talent and some big offensive lineman who have plenty of starting experience. Head coach Mike Bellotti's offensive attack is a hybrid of the spread-option attack that has become so en vogue in college football these days and he's got a great trigger-man to lead the way.

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford coached under Bellotti for several years before getting the nod in 2002 as the man to lead the moribund Golden Bears football program back into prominence. He's done that and more and made Berkeley a destination for plenty of talented players.

Here's a look at the players NFL teams will be looking at when these two programs face off in what could end up being a "track meet" on the gridiron. Sit down with some chips and beer and enjoy one of the best games on Saturday's schedule. Kickoff time is 5 p.m. (Pacific).

Oregon

QB Dennis Dixon – He's only a junior in his first season as the full-time starter, but there's no denying Dixon's immense talent and flair for the dramatic. In four games, Dixon has completed 65% of his passes for 1,032 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He probably would have four more touchdown passes if the official stats didn't consider a lot of their wide receiver screens runs (they are considered laterals because they are backward passes). Dixon is very lean and has good speed and an above-average arm. He's still learning the nuances of playing the quarterback position, but with Bellotti and Oregon offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's guidance, the sky is the limit. Most likely, Dixon will remain in Eugene for his senior season, but he'll probably, at the very least, dip his toe in the proverbial NFL-pool following the season to at least see how interested some teams are.

C Enoka Lucas – Lucas is the leader of one of the best and most athletic lines in the conference this year and he's one of the best pivot-men in the country. Lucas is smart, strong and he's got that nasty side that you just can't teach. Oregon's system calls for him to pass-block on a regular basis so that may be his strong-suit heading to the next level. Usually that's what linemen have to work on most. Probably a late-second or early-third round selection at this point.

TE Dante Rosario – Rosario is a solid football player that has a high football I.Q. He runs well, has good hands and is an above-average blocker in running situations. He could also get a carry or two in short-yardage situations. He's started for three years and he's got plenty of experience in complex offensive systems and against top-flight defensive players.

Other Oregon players to watch:

WR James Finley (6-2, 204)
WR Jordan Kent (6-5, 210)
DT Matt Toeaina (6-3, 301)
LB Blair Phillips (6-2, 246)
OT Geoff Schwartz (6-7, 340) **underclassman
WR Jaison Williams (6-5, 243) **underclassman

California

RB Marshawn Lynch – He's playing in a funky-version of the spread-option that offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar brought with him from Northwestern this year, but make no mistake, Lynch is the real deal when it comes to outstanding running backs. He can run out of the I-formation, split backs, one-back or any other formation you want. He rushed for almost 1,900 yards in his first two years at Cal and he's off to fine start so far this season putting up 555 yards – a robust 7.02 yard average per carry – along with four touchdowns on the ground. He also catches the ball well, hauling in 11 receptions for another 123 yards and three touchdowns. He's fast, has great vision and he's tough. Along with Adrian Peterson, Lynch is one of the most complete backs in college football right now. It's been a foregone conclusion that Lynch is likely headed to the NFL after his junior season (2006) and it's likely he's a first-rounder if he shows like he's expected to.

DT Brandon Mebane – Versatility is a great attribute for a football player to possess and Mebane can play either tackle or end, depending on what system the team that drafts him likes to use. Mebane is super-quick off the snap and he's very strong. He's got a big body (6-3, 295) that can fill gaps and occupy blockers. He isn't a great pass-rusher, but he can collapse the pocket well. He's a first-rounder at this point, but if he performs well at the pre-draft workouts, you could see him sneak into the top 15 selections.

CB Daymeion Hughes – Hughes has some work to do to be considered a top-flight cover-corner, but he's got the physical skills teams look for when they project a player's ability to move on to the next level. He's 6-2, 190 – big for a corner – and he's got good speed to go with that size. He isn't as fluid in his hip turn and he may project better as a free safety, but he's a solid tackler and someone who learns quickly. He's currently tied for second in the country with five interceptions through five games. Tough to project where he ends up in the Draft, but he should have his name called sometime during the weekend.

FS Thomas Decoud – He's the "quarterback" of the secondary and he's also a sure-tackling safety. Because of his size (6-2, 200) and his ability to cover receivers, Decoud could end up as a cover-safety or a nickel corner. The coaches rave about Decoud's heart and his ability to get his teammates lined up correctly. He's likely a second-rounder at this point, but with solid performances at the all-star games and during pre-draft workouts, he could sneak into the end of the first round.

Other Cal players to watch:

FB Byron Storer (6-0, 230)
OT Andrew Cameron (6-5, 320)
OG Eric Robertson (6-2, 310)
DE Albert Maafala (6-4, 270)
LB Desmond Bishop (6-2, 240)




Other games to watch this weekend: Arkansas at Auburn (2); LSU (9) at Florida (5); Texas (7) at Oklahoma (14); Tennessee (13) at Georgia (10); Michigan State at Michigan (6); Washington at USC (2).

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