Of all the venues in the Pac-12, Arizona Stadium is my least favorite, and I'm sure many Oregon fans share my sentiment. In 2005, I didn't watch the game, and Kellen Clemens broke his leg. In 2007, I did watch the game, though I still can't recall exactly why they stopped the game in the second quarter, or what happened to the pants I was wearing that night. In 2009, still riddled with bad juju from Dennis Dixon's Technicolor Nightmare, I didn't watch the game, and missed a double overtime thriller. Frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow night; I might watch the game, I might quarantine myself in a reinforced disaster bunker with six cans of Spam and a Whizzinator. I figure I'll just play it by ear.
The Top 5 Reasons Why Arizona Will Beat Oregon
1. Loki, the Norse god of mischief - On September 10th, 2003, Oregon went into Arizona Stadium and beat the Wildcats 48-10. Oregon QBs Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife combined put up a 22-32 passing mark with 4 touchdowns. After the game, before boarding the team bus, Fife noticed the glint of something shiny in one of the security tunnel trash cans. He walked over to investigate, and was astonished to find a green mask. Not wanting to be made fun of by his teammates as "they guy who wore the garbage can mask on the team bus", he slipped it in his duffel bag and boarded.
The mask consumed him. He wore it religiously throughout the 2003 season. He no longer cared about football, or the college life; he was the mask, and the mask was him. Finally, after his career was over, Fife took a long look at the mask, the magic and mystique long worn away from its smooth silhouette, and said, "Mask, you've ruined me. I love you, but we cannot be if I am to continue in society. I'm sorry." He buried it in the Pioneer Cemetary, where it remains to this day, haunting the Oregon Ducks and craving a return to the Hell from whence it came.
2. Oregon quarterbacks have healthy legs. In 2005, Loki and his band of otherworldly miscreants smote Kellen Clemens. In 2007, they did the same to Dennis Dixon. In 2009, they attempted to break Jeremiah Masoli, but were deterred by the crimefighting robot by the name of Nate Costa. Costa's lack of ACLs confused and disturbed the gods, who could not find functioning human anatomy below Costa's thighs (except his huge...nevermind) on which to wreak their havoc. They retreated to the heavens, frustrated but focused. I'm scared to think about what madness they have planned.
3. The Arizona running game shows up. Is is likely? No. The Wildcats are averaging 55 yards per game on the ground, and only attempted to run 17 times last week against Stanford. But if Oregon's front seven still haven't gotten it together, you better believe Arizona will go with whatever works. Keola Antolin is capable of breaking off a big game, and will do so if the holes are there.
4. Nick Foles and his hot starts. Foles completed his first seventeen passes against Stanford. With Criner back and healthy, Arizona is chock full of weapons in the passing game. If they can get into a rhythm early, and Oregon's offense sputters, an early lead is within reach. And Arizona has to get ahead quick and hang on if they have any chance of winning.
5. Star Trek: The Wrath of Zendejas. Jamie "Shankapotamus" Salazar is out. Alex Zendejas is back in. He has been maddening in his career as a Wildcat, ending the 2010 season with missed PATs against ASU and missed field goals in the Alamo Bowl, but he has hit 75% of his kicks in his career, and is the more proven talent. In a close game, the kicker switch for the more seasoned vet could be pivotal.
The Top 5 Reasons Why Oregon Will Beat Arizona
1. Arizona's defense is primed for shredding. Injuries have decimated the Wildcat defense, leaving the unit undermanned and significantly less talented. This spells major trouble when facing one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
2. Arizona's offensive strengths match Oregon's defensive strengths. Arizona is almost completely one-dimensional on offense; they will throw and throw often. That strategy is matched by Oregon's secondary, the deepest and most talented defensive unit for Oregon. Anthony Gildon has played extremely well so far this season, and Terrance Mitchell is developing nicely. Safety John Boyett looks to be back and healthy, and Cliff Harris will look to make an impact in his first significant action this season. For all the athletes Arizona has to throw to, Oregon has athletes to cover them.
3. Oregon's offense is gelling. The work over the last two weeks has gone a long way in establishing an offensive hierarchy. Oregon knew what they had in LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, and Lavasier Tuinei. But the arrivals of Rahsaan Vaughn, Colt Lyerla, and De'Anthony Thomas have added more opportunity for Chip Kelly's offense to thrive. And we may even see the return of Chip Kelly's "joker", Kenjon Barner, to the fold.
4. They play fast, and so do we. Both teams will look to push the offensive tempo, and get as many possessions as possible. Both teams will be aggressive, looking for 7 points a drive rather than 3. But Oregon's depth and experience on both sides of the ball makes them better equipped to win a shootout, especially in the heat of the desert night.
5. Coaching. Chip Kelly is 24-5 as Oregon's head coach.
Mark Bob Mike Stoops is 40-45. Granted, Stoops took over an Arizona program that was atrocious. But even if you throw out Stoops' first two years at the helm, he still only has a 28-23 record with the Wildcats. Stoops has done a great job guiding Arizona from the cellar of the Pac-10 to a perennial bowl contender, similar to the work Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti did at Oregon. But Chip Kelly is a next-level coach, the kind of coach that takes a good program and makes them great. And that gives Oregon a significant edge in not only this game, but in nearly every game they play.