After the Oregon football team got mashed like an Idaho potato at Boise State in the season opener, I looked at the team’s upcoming schedule and laughed.
“Looks like the Ducks have their Halloween costumes picked out this year,” I said. “They’re gonna dress up like football players.”
Indeed they are. But after six consecutive wins since that loss to the Broncos, the outfits won’t be costumes in the tradition of the Oct. 31 holiday; they’ll be appropriate work attire for a Top 10 team that is poised to knock off another Top 10 team in prime time.
ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be on hand for the 5 p.m. kickoff at Autzen Stadium between the fourth-ranked Trojans and the 10th-ranked Ducks. The game will be broadcast live on ABC — UO’s third consecutive game on the network and fourth of the season.
It’s tough to image that in the aftermath of that 19-8 season-opening loss at Boise, any UO fan would have fathomed the Ducks being at this point. Most were cracking on the team the same way I was, thinking it could be a long season, embarrassed by LeGarrette Blount’s actions on national television, a little weary of the annual hype machine that had built up the Ducks’ potential to a seemingly unreachable point.
And yet, one win at a time, Oregon has erased all of that and replaced that initial hype with a reality that far exceeds early expectations.
The team has been hit by injuries and suspensions, and has responded at every turn, getting outstanding play from inexperienced youngsters along the way.
But now comes the biggest test to date, and the pressure on these players is greater than it’s been all season: USC, ESPN’s CollegeGameday, live national television, under the lights on a Saturday night.
So many things are plausible. It’s not difficult to image the Ducks laying an egg, given all that’s at stake. And remember the erratic play of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli early in the season? Has he really overcome those early issues, or will the jitters and the inconsistency return?
Can the defense keep up its stellar play and continue stifling teams like it has been? It’s one thing to hold Cal to three points, Washington State to six and UCLA to 10; quite another to keep one of the nation’s top offenses in check.
Can the youngsters continue playing beyond their years and maintaining the veteran-like poise they’ve displayed in the last few weeks, or will the spotlight finally get to them?
The answers to these questions will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game.
And I see the Ducks responding much the way they have the past six games.
Oregon 31, USC 24