Oregon Ducks Look to Maintain Focus
With the last ranked team on Oregon's schedule coming to town, there seems to be a common understanding that anything short of a BCS berth will be a disappointment to the team and the fans.
That's how exciting this season has been for the Ducks though. They've gone from a Brut Sun Bowl hopeful to one of the final teams vying for the national title—with a top Heisman candidate to boast.
So if the Ducks win over Arizona State this week, where will they go from there?
If you've listened to the players talk, you know they realize that every game is a big game and each win is more important than the last. That is going to have to be the motto for the Ducks to win their final game at Arizona, at UCLA, and vs. Oregon State.
It will be up to Oregon to match the intensity that those opponents are going to bring down the stretch. The two away games will come with sufficient crowds to cause some hostile environments and Oregon's real test will come in those games they are supposed to dominate.
"We know we got a big target on our back," said senior quarterback Dennis Dixon following the win over USC. The Ducks focus this year seems to be directed at the opponent at hand, which you have to appreciate.
Running back Jonathan Stewart, who got some mention on ESPN.com's Heisman watch and other watch boards this week, commented on the win over SC. "I mean, it's a big win, it's seven and one, but we got more work to do this weekend." Stewart exemplifies that mentality that has made the difference between this team and teams past.
On top of that, when is the last time Oregon's offensive line was considered one of the country's best? Dixon has been the statistical leader as well as the general for this Oregon spread/option offense. His three interceptions are largely responsible for the Ducks 7-1 record.
The foundation for Oregon's success has partly been the development of Dixon and the presence of Stewart, but the most consistent piece has been the offensive line. Lead by center Max Unger, the O-line has given Dixon protection and has controlled the line of scrimmage every game.
The fact that they haven't endured any major injuries on the line has kept this group tight and, as a result, they have opened up holes the Duck mascot could run through. Their continued success will determine how many more games they win.
If Oregon avoids getting upset the rest of the way—they will be favored for all their remaining games—their chances of finishing the season No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS are frighteningly good. For that to happen, of the three teams that are ahead of Oregon besides ASU, two would have to lose one more game.
Ohio State still has to play Wisconsin, Illinois, and the big one at the big house. Boston College could lose any one of its next four games against Florida State, at Maryland, at Clemson, or at Miami. As for LSU, they will play at Alabama, at Ole Miss, and against Arkansas. Even if LSU wins those games a loss in the conference championship game would likely vault a one-loss Oregon team who won their conference ahead in the polls.
With the thought of national championship in the minds of a team that was picked to finish sixth in the second-best conference in football, I think Belotti would have to seriously be considered for some coach of the year honors. He has done a remarkable job of turning around a team that finished at the bottom of the pack by their standards last year.
So enjoy the game this weekend and enjoy the season to the fullest because this opportunity doesn't come around that often. Just hope the team seizes the moment because now is the time for Oregon Football. I'll be out there bright and early Saturday near the gameday set, looking forward to a wild day Autzen style.
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