The Oregon Ducks will host the Arizona Wildcats Friday in a football game with national championship implications. But, then, Oregon has been playing with the national championship on the line since the BCS Standings were first unveiled for the 2010 football season. They’ve held the #2 and #1 positions (those positions that are rewarded with a trip to the BCS National Championship Game) every week, holding the latter spot for the last four weeks. But the #21 Wildcats have proved a spoiler for Oregon’s hopes for a national championship before — and are hoping to prove so one more time.
The game between the two PAC-10 Conference schools has evolved into a strong rivalry in recent years. Last year, Arizona’s shot at the Rose Bowl was crushed when Oregon tied the game with six seconds remaining, then went on to kick a field goal for a second overtime victory. Oregon would go on to the Rose Bowl.
Back in 2007, the Oregon Ducks were #2 in the nation and undefeated when Arizona knocked them off and sent them into a multiple-loss skid to finish the season.
“Every year since I’ve been here our battles with Arizona have been real knockdown drag-outs and that’s what this is gonna be,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly told ESPN.
But this year Oregon rides high on all the major polls going into their next-to-last game. They have the #2-ranked offense in the nation, according to NCAA.org, gaining over 542 yards per game. That offense is led in part by the #1 rusher in the nation, LaMichael James. It may be the fastest offense in the nation, moving with a 2-minute-style precision that has racked up an astonishing 50.7 points per game.
Arizona’s defensive coordinator, Greg Brown, offered his plan to stop the Ducks:
“Thirteen guys,” he joked. “We’ve got a special petition into the NCAA to see if they’ll go for it.”
And even if the offense were to possibly drag in a game against the nation’s #20 defense, Oregon can match Arizona’s 20th-ranked offense with a #15 nationally ranked defense.
But Oregon had trouble two weeks ago against a tough California squad that had only won half their football games. Although the Ducks held on to win by a field goal, their star runner, LaMichael James, suffered a leg injury. His status is questionable for the Oregon-Arizona game and, even though he practiced somewhat in the past two weeks (Oregon had a bye week last week), his effectiveness against Arizona might be limited.
But as bad as Oregon might have played two weeks ago, the Wildcats dropped two of their three losses in the past three weeks (as they too had a bye week last week).
Still, not only is there a national championship on the line, there is also the matter of the PAC-10 championship to consider. A win by Oregon seals the championship for the Ducks. A win by the Wildcats sets Stanford up for a possible PAC-10 championship, depending on how the Ducks and the Cardinals finish the regular season (Oregon plays Oregon State next week, Stanford plays them this week). A PAC-10 championship without the national championship would ensure Oregon an automatic berth in the Rose Bowl.
Oregon’s road to a national championship remains far from certain. In fact, they have only defeated two teams all season that have winning records. Be that as it may, they are one of only four undefeated teams left in the entire nation. A win against Arizona gives them added credibility. More importantly, it gets them one football game away from the BCS National Championship Game.
“2010 BCS Standings,” ESPN.go.com
“Arizona-Oregon Preview,” ESPN.go.com
“FBS Football Statistics,” NCAA.org