Today is the day that was supposed to set the terms on which Pac-12 and the SEC would be decided. The SEC has mostly held serve; if LSU wins at home they’ll likely knock Alabama out of the SEC championship game, and (probably) out of national title contention. Not so much in the Pac-12, where USC’s losses to Stanford and Arizona mean that the Ducks will probably host the Pac-12 championship game regardless of today’s outcome. Still, USC could effectively end the Ducks national championship hopes, so it remains a pretty important day.
Were I a betting man I would probably take the Ducks -8.5, but I wouldn’t give much more than that. Marcus Mariota has played well, but I wouldn’t say at this point that I’d rather have Mariota running the offense against USC than Darron Thomas. Mariota appears to be more talented than Thomas, but holding it together in a critical game against an excellent opponent on the road is a thing, and Thomas had that as part of his skill set. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mariota turns out to be brilliant, but he has demonstrated a tendency to try to force passes into triple coverage, which won’t play against the Trojans.
Then again, the Trojans lost 39-36 to a team that the Ducks beat 49-0, so it’s hard to be bullish on their chances. Even in the wins they haven’t looked great. Barkley has demonstrated a surprising tendency to make significant mistakes, and I don’t like his chances against the Oregon secondary. That said, USC is sufficiently talented to pull it together for a single game and beat anyone in the country, so there remain grounds for concern.
I’ll also say that the Ducks defense has been even better than I expected. The 2010 defense was deeply underrated, mostly because surprisingly few people could make the connection that even an excellent defense will give up a lot of points in Chip Kelly’s scheme. But this is really a fabulous defense; shutting out Arizona (which scored 39 against USC), and holding ASU and UW to seven each in the first half are genuine accomplishments. USC probably has the best offense the Ducks has faced so far (although Arizona is close), but I’d be pretty surprised if they put up the same 38 that they did last year.
As for the other game, Alabama looks really, really good, and LSU has struggled in a couple of victories. I think that the nine point spread is fair, in that it would leave me sorely tempted to bet on LSU. I hope that LSU wins, as that’ll make it less likely that the Ducks will get pushed out of the national championship game in favor of one of the other undefeateds. Incidentally, Kansas State was scheduled to play at Autzen this year, before they opted out; coulda been a great game, but serves to demonstrate the disincentives that elite teams have for playing one another in the preseason.
…[EL] Here’s a great story about the nation’s best running backs coach, Oregon’s Gary Campbell. The underrated reason Oregon is so dominant is an amazing assistant coaching staff, especially at the running backs and offensive line. I’ve followed Oregon football for 30 years, almost the exact same amount of time Campbell has been there. I don’t think they’ve ever had a year with a bad running game.