Oregon Football: Would Ducks Want UCLA or Arizona State in Pac-12 Title Game?
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The Oregon Ducks are on a bye week; thus, the "Win the Day" mantra is momentarily being put on the back burner. We're now looking ahead at potential opponents should Mark Helfrich's team reach the conference championship game.
Yes, it's stupid to pull out the crystal ball sometimes, but save your breath. You can be sure that the team is completely focused on Stanford and Stanford alone, especially given last year's home loss to the Cardinal.
But we're free to look further down the road, where the schedule isn't set in stone. If the Ducks do, in fact, make it to the conference title game, chances are they'll be facing either Arizona State or UCLA.
So which matchup is better for a team that could, at that point, be one win away from a trip to Pasadena and a berth in the national championship?
The easy answer is to say UCLA, because the Ducks are coming off a thorough beatdown of the Bruins, 42-14.
To be clear, the score isn't entirely indicative of the game flow. Jim Mora's team played excellent defense for two and a half quarters, and the Ducks offense was unable to sustain drives due to a combination of turnovers, penalties and just plain getting outplayed.
But the defense did its job, holding the electrifying Brett Hundley to just 64 yards through the air and failing to allow a scoring drive longer than 40 yards. In fact, UCLA didn't manage a single point in the second half.
While all of this might indicate another easy win for the home team, reading between the lines paints us a different picture.
For starters, you can throw a lot out the window when you face a team for the second time in a season. The coaches would have specific game film that outlines strategies and formations already used against their team, which takes some of the guesswork out of the equation.
In 2012, UCLA lost to Stanford 35-17 in its regular-season finale. A week later on the road, they fell to the Cardinal by just three points.
Next, you have to factor in the injuries to UCLA's offensive line and backfield. The Bruins played without running back Jordon James, who piled up 463 yards and five touchdowns in just four games.
If they were to get healthy, it could be a much different team; one that won't let things get out of hand down the stretch.
Finally, we know how good the Bruins can be, and we've seen with our very own eyes their ability to slow down the Oregon offense, even with quarterback Marcus Mariota looking sharp. Linebackers Anthony Barr, Myles Jack and Jordan Zumwalt were flying all over the place, and they proved they can match the Ducks' speed on offense.
In short, if UCLA plays its A-game, the Ducks will certainly have to play theirs as well. That's a fact.
With Arizona State there are plenty of unknowns. Oregon hammered the Sun Devils last season, but this is an improved team that is capable of playing elite football, as we saw them do against both Washington and USC.
However, the matchup would favor Oregon because the teams haven't played recently and the Ducks defense has the personnel to slow down Todd Graham's team.
Taylor Kelly's biggest target in the passing game is wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a first-year starter who already has five 100-yard games this season. But Washington wideout Kasen Williams is also a big, physical weapon and the Ducks held him to just three catches for 30 yards.
The Sun Devils also rely on speed in the backfield with Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, both all-purpose guys who can run as well as receive. Fortunately for the Ducks, speed is their biggest asset on defense.
If the Ducks reach the Pac-12 title game, who would they rather face?
For these reasons, a game against Arizona State would favor Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But be clear, whichever team wins the South Division will arrive at the Pac-12 Championship with a chip on its shoulder to prove to everybody that it can knock off Oregon (in this scenario).
There aren't many easy outs in the Pac-12 in 2013, especially when it comes to the conference championship.
All stats via ESPN
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