Remember Thursday, September 3rd ?
That was the night that Oregon lost at Boise State, LeGarrette Blount shocked the sports world and everyone and their Nike swoosh jumped off the Ducks’ bandwagon.
So much for a magical season. A season in which the Ducks expected to challenge USC for a Pac-10 title and play in a BCS bowl. Just like that, it all seemed to have come to a crashing halt.
Well, what a difference eight weeks makes.
Since that devastating opening night for new coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks have won six games in a row, including impressive wins against ranked opponents Utah and Cal.
Suddenly, Oregon is 6-1 (4-0 in the Pac-10) and nearly all of their goals remain firmly intact.
For that, you have to give Kelly and his staff a ton of credit. Things easily could have unraveled after that opening night debacle in Boise. A tumultuous season would have been understandable, if not expected.
Instead, the Ducks have grown together as a team and have looked better each week.
This week, in comes USC. Oregon’s chance to turn a nightmare beginning into a storybook finish rides on this matchup with the No. 5 Trojans.
If USC loses here, they will have two conference losses and be all-but eliminated from Pac-10 contention. No team has had such a clear knock-out blow on the West Coast powerhouse in years (perhaps “knock-out blow” is a pour choice of words.)
You could make the case that with an Oregon win this weekend, Kelly would deserve National Coach of the Year honors.
But with a loss Saturday, what could be the story of the year in college football will turn back into another dominant season for USC, and another missed opportunity for the Ducks.
Either way, it’s pretty amazing that this game means as much as it does considering where Oregon was not too long ago.
Don’t expect that feeling to be lost on the Ducks. After all, just eight weeks ago, no one thought they’d be here.
Where will they be eight weeks from now?
To week nine we go...
Five games you can’t miss this weekend:
Darryl Clark is starting to click at the right time for the Nittany Lions, who have looked impressive in their last four games since losing to Iowa. You’ve almost got to wonder what would happen if the two teams faced again.
This week, Penn State gets a slightly dangerous road trip at Northwestern. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka leads the Big 10 in passing yards. The Nittany Lions will need to keep him contained and force him into a few turnovers. Kafka threw three picks against Indiana last week.
Prediction: Penn State 29, Northwestern 17
South Florida was my pick to win the Big East this season, but after back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, that pick looks to be long, long gone. So, what do the Bulls focus on now? Ruining the seasons of their rivals, of course.
Two years ago, West Virginia’s national title hopes were upended by a loss at South Florida. Though the Mountaineers don’t have quite as much to play for this season, the pressure will be on. And you better believe South Florida will be happy to play spoiler again.
Prediction: South Florida 24, WVU 23
I hear there’s some history between these two squads. I wouldn’t necessarily expect any dancing in the end zone, or any last-minute timeouts, but I would expect both of these squads to be very fired up. Georgia would love to spoil the undefeated season for Florida and the Gators have looked surprisingly un-Gator like, lately.
Prediction: Florida 27, Georgia 19
This should be fun. Texas, fresh off its most impressive win of the season thus far (last week at Missouri), gets what could be its stiffest test of the season; the Cowboys, in Stillwater. And Oklahoma State somewhat quietly, has won five in a row following the disappointing loss to Houston.
Last seasons’ battle between these two teams resulted in a four-point Texas win. The year before that, the Longhorns climbed back from a 21-point deficit to win by three. Bottom line for 2009: there will be a lot of points and it will be close.
Prediction: Texas 37, OSU 33
If USC has realistic expectations to play for a national title this season, this would be their chance. A win at Oregon and USC just might hop a few teams in the BCS standings and find themselves sitting pretty for a chance to play the SEC champs in the biggest bowl game of the year (yes, even if names like Iowa, Boise State or TCU remain unbeaten. It’s sad, but it’s true).
Everyone likes to talk about how difficult it is to win in Autzen stadium—and it certainly is—but the Trojans have won two of their last three trips to Eugene. Oregon will have to play its best game of the season thus far. But they should have the motivation to do just that.
Prediction: Oregon 31, USC 28
Not sure this is a real big upset, considering the Vols nearly (and perhaps should have) upset Alabama last weekend. But Tennessee still has yet to get that marquee win and this is a great opportunity. South Carolina’s offense has been less than outstanding lately and the Kiffin family coaching tree has the Volunteers playing stout defense. This should be a low-scoring, knock-down, drag-out Tennessee win.
Prediction: Tennessee 16, South Carolina 13
For your viewing pleasure:
Indiana at No. 4 Iowa (Sat. 12:00 EST, ESPN): Iowa 27, Indiana 17
No. 24 California at Arizona State (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Cal 33, ASU 28
Central Michigan at Boston College (Sat. 3:30 EST, ESPNU): BC 28, CMU 24
No. 19 Miami at Wake Forest (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Miami 37, Wake 23
Michigan at Illinois (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Michigan 30, Illinois 22
Kansas at Texas Tech (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Texas Tech 41, Kansas 34
UCLA at Oregon State (Sat. 4:00 EST, Fox Sports Net): Oregon State 27, UCLA 19
Washington State at No. 23 Notre Dame (Sat. 7:30 EST, NBC): ND 31, WSU 10
Michigan State at Minnesota (Sat. 8:00 EST, Big Ten Network): Minnesota 28, MSU 27
Wyoming at No. 16 Utah (Sat. 8:00 EST, The Mtn.): Utah 35, Wyoming 16
Eric Berry (S – Tennessee)
Yes, I’m serious. If you’ve seen this guy play, you’ll understand why ESPN’s Todd McShay thinks he is the best overall player in the country. His dominant defensive play has Tennessee competing with the Alabama’s and Florida’s of the world. This week, in a game that could prove to be a season-changer for the Vols, (Sat. vs. South Carolina, 7:45 EST, ESPN), Berry will be called on for perhaps his biggest performance yet.