The Countdown concept is based around the idea that there are five factors that will win the game for Oregon, and five factors that can lose it. But this is Missouri State week. So the factors that can lose us the game will inevitably end up being things like, "radioactive monkeys run amok in the Oregon locker room, shrinking the Ducks football team to the size of action figures", "Don Essig drinks too much Scotch and runs onto the field nude from the waist down in the second quarter, leading to an Oregon forfeit", or "evil amusement park owner Mr. Flanagan sprays peanut extract on all the footballs, knowing full well that Darron Thomas has a peanut allergy, causing his hands to swell to the size of microwaves. Thomas goes 0-19 with four picks, and the Scooby-Doo gang is nowhere to be found". If I were to write something like that, I'd lose all my credibility. And the only thing I've got going for me is the fact that you people take what I say seriously.
Instead, you get the Top 10 things that, if they happen Saturday, are good signs that Oregon is favored to win the Pac-12.
- Darron Thomas completes over 66% of his passes - As much as I love our endless supply of running backs, Darron Thomas is the key to the season. This game is another opportunity for our still-young field general to improve in his biggest area of concern: starting a game in rhythm.
- Tra Carson gets 15 carries - We have LaMichael James, Oregon's all-time rushing leader. We have Kenjon Barner, maybe the most dangerous athlete in our backfield. We have De'Anthony Thomas, the most electric offensive freshman since Jonathan Stewart. What we don't have is a punishing, 230 pound power back who can run over linebackers and turn three yards into six yards with brute strength alone. That's where Latrarion Lee Carson comes in. Getting him acclimated to the college game adds yet another dimension to the Oregon offense. This is a great chance to do it.
- True freshman take some steps - We've already seen what DAT can do. Jake Fisher has played three different offensive line positions in two games. And Colt Lyerla had a tremendous touchdown catch against Nevada. It's time for more newbies to join the party. Look for those three to make more of a name for themselves, as well as for Rodney Hardrick and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to make their first real noise as Ducks.
- Someone rushes for 100 yards - Is it arbitrary? Yes. Does it mean anything in the long run? No. But is it important? Absolutely. The Oregon offense, the offense that was the most explosive and feared rushing attack in the country last season, has produced exactly zero 100 yard rushers so far this season. This needs to change, if only so I can sleep better at night. No one likes a cranky Tako.
- Matt Daddy can't find anything to complain about regarding the offensive line - Despite hanging 69 on the Wolf Pack, the offensive line showed room for improvement. The unit needs to have a solid game, both to build confidence and to quiet the naysayers heading into Pac-12 play. I expect the shuffling of personnel to settle down a bit, as Chip Kelly and Steve Greatwood start to lock regular groups in for conference play.
- Linebackers show depth - The linebacking corps has played very well so far this season, and the standout has been Michael Clay. With Clay almost certainly sitting out Saturday's game, it will be up to the rest of the position to show growth. Can Kiko Alonso play his way back into the starting lineup, or will Dewitt Stuckey continue to shine? Can Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick prove to be assets? Will Boseko Lokombo score another touchdown, his third as a Duck?
- Cliff Harris struts back into our hearts - Last week, he wasn't on the two-deep, and didn't see action until the second half. But Oregon isn't at their best without Kash in the starting lineup. Off-field decision-making aside, he's our most talented defensive player, and we need him to compete with college football's elite programs. It's up to him to show the coaching staff that they can't keep him off the field any longer.
- David Paulson has a big game - Project Mayhem has been all but invisible so far this season, after entering the year as Darron Thomas' presumptive #1 passing target. Getting Paulson integrated into the offense is vital to Oregon's gameplan, especially considering our receivers.
- Wide receivers prove me wrong - I've done nothing but hate on our WR play this year. I would love to eat my words, I really would. Oregon's receivers just have to go out and make plays, a more than obtainable task against an FCS opponent. We have the talent to compete on an elite level, our guys just have to play to their potential. Am I simplifying? Yes. Are you sick of me asking rhetorical questions to myself? Of course you are.
- The defense pitches a shutout - Nevada has a potent offense. They run an effective system, and they run it better than anyone else in the country. But Oregon still shouldn't have given up 20 points and a number of big plays. Against a more inferior opponent in Missouri State, the defense should be satisfied with nothing less than perfection.