On the Docket: Oregon-Oregon State

Where: Oregon

When: Thursday 7:30

Why it matters: Because it has everything a college football game will ever need. It’s one of the most heated rivalries in the nation, and this year it is the de facto Pac-10 Championship Game. The winner of Thursday night’s game will clinch the conference title and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl opposite Ohio State.

Neither team has been to the Rose Bowl in quite a while. This will be the first time since 2001 that a team not named USC finished on top of the conference.

Oregon comes in with a high-powered offense, led by the ground game combination of Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James. The duo has accounted for 1929 yards rushing this season and 23 touchdowns.

The Beavers feature an outstanding running game of their own, led by sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is averaging 5.5 yards per carry while racking up 1313 yards in his first 11 games.

Just because the two teams rely heavily on the running game during this era of pass-happy spread offenses, don’t think they both can’t light up the scoreboard.

Oregon is seventh in the country in scoring at 37.7 points per game, while the Beavers are 21st with 32.4.

Oregon State has the more productive passing game with senior quarterback Sean Canfield. With Canfield under center, Oregon State is averaging 291 yards passing per game.

Oregon State also boasts the best run defense in the Pac-10, holding opponents to 98.5 yards per game.

The Ducks have had mixed results against superb running backs this season. On Sept. 26, Oregon held Cal’s Jahvid Best to 55 yards on 16 carries in a 42-3 win. Last month against Stanford, Toby Gerhart gashed the Ducks for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinal shocked Oregon 51-42.

Against teams that like to run the ball, the Beavers have fared remarkably well. They beat Stanford 38-28 and California 31-14. All three of their losses have come to teams that have a passing-oriented offense (Cincinnati, Arizona, USC).

Player to watch: Jeremiah Masoli’s performance is the key to this game. If he is able to throw the football with any success, the Ducks should celebrate late Thursday night.

If Oregon State is able to crowd the box with seven or eight defenders and play the Ducks’ running game, it will be a tough game.

Masoli has been one of the most clutch players this season, and hasn’t received nearly enough credit for it. He led the fourth-quarter comeback against Arizona two weeks ago, and also came up with huge drives in wins against Purdue and Utah.

He has played his best in the spotlight, so expecting him to play well against the Beavers is not far-fetched.

Who has the edge? If this were a neutral field game, I would take Oregon State in a heartbeat. I love the underdog in rivalry games, but because its at the “Autzen Zoo” in Eugene, it’s hard to give the Beavers an edge. On paper, Oregon State surprisingly matches up very favorably with the Ducks.

However, Chip Kelly is a better in-game coach than Mike Riley, even in his first year on the job. He’ll have an excellent game plan to score lots of points.

Also, Masoli is far more experienced than Canfield in atmospheres like the one this game will have. This game is literally too close to call.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Oregon State 37


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