Paul: How amazing is it that the one team to beat the SEC's elite isn't even really an SEC team?
Joe: If by "amazing" you mean "awesome," I would say very. An SEC friend of mine couldn't help but mutter the following after last week's upset: "I'm glad Alabama lost but I wish it had been to a real SEC team." Yup, that sound you just heard was the SEC bluster bubble bursting. Of course, it isn't like the loss dealt a mortal blow to the Tide's BCS chances. How many teams can lose a critical game this late in the season (at home!) and still end the weekend in the top 5?
Paul: Only two: LSU and Alabama. It's a moot point, though. I just don't see two of the three remaining undefeated teams losing a game. Notre Dame could very easily lose to USC (and I predict they will), but Kansas State and Oregon are more or less in the driver's seat. (1) How do you see the BCS picture shaking out?
Joe: Obviously, it got a lot clearer last weekend and for the Ducks especially. I agree we will win out (more on that later) and, because of that, are definitely sitting pretty. We'll be facing only ranked opponents the rest of the way and that will significantly buoy our somewhat underwhelming computer profile. Plus, we're going to stay No. 1 in the human polls the rest of the way. K. State is still relatively secure, as well, but I guess I can't dismiss the possibility of Bama leapfrogging them with a shellacking of Georgia in the SEC title game. Simply put, I think Bama v. Oregon is still the matchup people want to see and I wouldn't put it past voters in the human polls to clandestinely, but unanimously, engineer it. As for the other games? I've got a confession to make: I don't actually know how the various bowls select their matchups. I think some combo of these teams will play in the games: Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Florida State, Alabama, Rutgers (ugh), Notre Dame, and...UCLA (yup).
Paul: The Bruins? No way. USC is going to shellac those pretenders this weekend (more on that later). Though I agree Tide-Ducks is the preferred Natty matchup (even for most Oregon fans, since I think we'd all love a shot to drop 40 on that defense), it'd be fitting for the BCS to fail to be controversial the one time we want it to be. K. State and the Ducks will pull off undefeated seasons and end up playing for the Natty in Miami. Period. As for the remaining BCS matchups, I think it's Alabama-Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, Florida State-Louisville in the Orange Bowl, Nebraska-Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and Oklahoma-Texas A&M in the Fiesta Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl, in this scenario, would be by far the most entertaining (aside from the title game, of course).
Joe: Who'd have thought A&M would be part of the bigger BCS picture about five weeks ago, huh? I guess that's what happens when you take out most of the SEC, capped by a virtuoso performance against the top-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa. Speaking of virtuosos, I guess that Johnny Manziel kid is pretty good, huh? Naturally, the question of whom folks would rather have (Manziel or Mariota) has been asked ad nauseum this week. So, I'll ask you: (2) Who would you rather build your program around, Johnny Football or Super Mario (and "both" isn't a valid answer)?
Paul: Well, considering Oregon had commitments from both at one point, I think that should be a valid answer. My answer, though, is that it depends. When it comes to running Chip Kelly's offense, I'd have to say Manziel. He's an electrifying athlete, a tough-nosed competitor, and his somewhat unorthodox mechanics make him a great fit for Oregon's eccentric program and fan base. But, overall, I think Mariota is the better quarterback. He's bigger, arguably faster, more accurate, and less mistake-prone.
Joe: This rarely happens, but...you almost took the words right out of my mouth. I've always felt the one thing missing from Chipper's offense since Dixon left was a truly motivated and truly dangerous running threat at the QB position. Masoli was certainly motivated and someone you had to account for as a defensive coordinator, but he was more bowling ball than electrifying athlete. Thomas was neither motivated nor electrifying and almost never left the pocket, probably for fear of being caught from behind by defensive linemen. Mariota, conversely, is a truly dangerous runner who, save for only a couple occasions, seems perfectly content to sit in the pocket and complete over 70% of his passes (read: he's not that motivated). Is that such a bad thing, though? He's completing over 70% of his passes! Yeah, Mariota's ultimately going to be the better quarterback and the better fit for this offense, though he may not always thrill us Duck fans like Mr. Manziel thrills the Aggie faithful.
Paul: Considering our discussion last week about Chipper's potential departure to the NFL after the season, I think it's safe to say we're in good hands with Mariota at the helm. And while we're on the subject again, (3) who are your top candidates to replace Chip if he is in fact gone next year?
Joe: Oregon hasn't gone outside the program—other than to pick successors they wish to groom—for almost 40 years. I'm thinking they'd be unlikely to start doing that now even though the expectations have clearly been elevated in those four decades. In this order, I think they'd look at Mark Helfrich (it's as much his offense now as it is Chip's), Chris Petersen (technically an insider since he used to coach the Duck receivers), and Scott Frost (doesn't he just look like a head man?).
Paul: Here's one few are even considering: Mike Bellotti. Sure, the program has reached new heights since Kelly took over, but let's not forget who went out and recruited the little-known coordinator from New Hampshire in the first place. AD Rob Mullens will no doubt go hard at Petersen, but I'd love to see the 'Stache back on the sidelines if Kelly heads for the NFL.
Joe: That had not occurred to me, dude. Are we sure he'd even be interested in coaching again? I felt he moved on earlier than he wanted to four years ago but he's still in press boxes and not roaming someone else's sideline, so...I'm not sure I feel that way today. Regardless, he wouldn't be a significant downgrade...if he was even one at all. That's especially true if he managed to retain the two guys I mentioned previously, Helfrich and Frost.
Paul: I agree wholeheartedly. The key to any coaching transition is minimizing the turnover in the staff. The current assistants are all long-tenured guys, some of whom have been at Oregon since the days of Rich Brooks. Retain those guys, and we're in good shape.
Joe: Continuity is the name of the game, for sure, both on the sidelines and between the lines. Speaking of which, it's exceedingly hard to maintain when injuries start taking their toll. The Ducks are certainly deep and it appears all that playing time the second-teamers received back in September (and October) is about to pay big dividends. Nevertheless, when I start hearing offensive guys are getting reps on defense, I start to get nervous. (3) What do you make of the recent news that De'Anthony Thomas and Bryan Bennett are putting in work on the other side of the football?
Paul: The news is no doubt surprising, but as we enter the toughest stretch of the schedule to close out the year, the coaching staff needs to do whatever is necessary to put the Ducks in the best position to win. Few remember DAT was actually recruited as a cornerback out of high school and ultimately chose Oregon over USC, allegedly, because the Trojans wanted him on the defensive side of the ball. Oddly enough, I think his NFL prospects improve mightily if he can show potential at CB. And Bennett is a physically gifted athlete, so it shouldn't surprise anyone he's taking defensive reps in case of an emergency.
Joe: Yeah, I guess it's that "in case of emergency" part that makes it smell vaguely desperate to me. Perhaps I'm looking at it the wrong way, though. Maybe it's just plain awesome that our multitude of athletes can be so unbelievably versatile. I mean, there's plug-and-play (next man up) and then there's plug-and-play (anyone up...and anywhere). Whatever the case, I'm sure Stanford isn't spending a whole lot of time looking for ways to exploit some emergency noobs on defense. They haven't yet solved the riddle that is the Oregon offense. We'll get to our game in a bit, of course, but let's talk about the other meaningful game (yes, game) in the Pac-12 this weekend. (4) Who wins the battle of Los Angeles and why?
Paul: Well, I'd much rather play UCLA in the Pac-12 title game in two weeks, which is precisely why I think the Trojans will win: They're better. I don't want to take anything away from Jim Mora Jr., as I think he's done a fantastic job in his first year at the helm of a struggling program, but USC just has more talent. Period.
Joe: You're probably right but I think the talent gap has been closed considerably in recent years. Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin are legit studs and will definitely give a soft USC defense fits. Moreover, the Bruins are for sure winning the battle of respective brain trusts as Mora is a far superior coach to Lane Kiffin. In short, I think it's anybody's game and turnovers/penalties may play a huge part. I'll go with SC 38, UCLA 31, though, just because. I'm not sure the Men of Troy really want another shot at our Ducks, but they're getting one anyway.
Paul: I'm just not convinced UCLA is that good. Well-coached? Yes. Skill talent? Absolutely. But top to bottom, USC is still the more talented squad. Mora needs a few more years of solid recruiting and program building before the Bruins can take over the "best football team in L.A." mantle. Besides, we still need to get by Stanford's stout D and a resurgent Kevin Hogan-led offense to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game. (5) What do the Ducks need to do today to beat the Cardinal for the third year in a row?
Joe: It sounds trite but...exactly what we've been doing for the past two years: running away from them. The Cardinal are a solid football team built on the most solid of football foundations, a rugged, power rushing attack and a stiff defense. Stepfan Taylor is one of the nation's best and the Cardinal defense is actually leading the nation against the run heading into tomorrow's game. Read that last part again: leading the nation against the run! Of course, they won't be able to make that claim after this weekend because they simply don't have the team speed to contain our absurdly prolific running game. This is how the 14th ranked team in the nation, best in the country against the run, ends up on the business end of a three-TD spread in Vegas. Nobody who's watched both teams play, with the exception of noted Duck-hater, Lou Holtz, really thinks the Tree stands a chance. That includes me, naturally: Ducks 49, Stanford 24.
Paul: I can see where folks who don't watch much Pac-12 football could look at stats and the injury report and think we're in trouble. Yeah, we're banged up on defense, and yeah, their biggest advantage, their stout run defense, seemingly matches up well with our offense. But the game is at Autzen Stadium! The Ducks under Kelly have lost once—ONCE—at Autzen in four seasons. We'll start slow again, but wear them down as always. Ducks 49, Stanford 28. Bet on it.
Joe: Bet on it and...win my stake back? It's precisely a 21-point spread almost everywhere you look, Paully.
Paul: It was a figure of speech. Fine, let's assume we get a 2-point conversion in there. Ducks 50, Stanford 28. That better?
Joe: It's your prediction, Brother. Calmer than you are, dude.
Paul: Phone's ringin', dude.