The Ducks will be a solid favorite in their three remaining games, a road trip to Cal next week, a home date with Arizona on Black Friday and rivalry road game with Oregon State. But "solid favorite" shouldn't be equated with "lock win" and as explosive as Chip Kelly's team is, there are flaws that we should at least be alert to. The biggest one of these is penalties--Oregon routinely draws eight or nine flags in Pac-10 games and the yardage totals aren't insignificant. If it happens once it's just a rough game. If it happens in five games it's a clear pattern and Oregon gives away too much free yardage. The defense is not national championship-caliber, giving up 23.3 points a game in conference play. A mistake-laden team that gives up a lot of points is hardly unbeatable. So we come to the question--can any of the three teams do the job?
If the question is whether Cal, Arizona or Oregon State are better than Oregon the answer is clearly no. But with two of these games being on the road, the Ducks can be upset. The game with Arizona has drawn most of the attention, although that was prior to the Wildcats' loss on Saturday at Stanford. Arizona can throw the ball with Nick Foles, giving them at least a sliver of hope for keeping up with Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Jeff Maehl and the rest of the Quack Attack. But the game is also in Autzen Stadium and Oregon's not going to lose at home. Upset-seekers would be better served to target the trips to Berkley and Corvallis.
Cal is two completely different teams--the one at home looks like a Pac-10 title contender and the one on the road looks like a contender for eighth place in the Sun Belt Conference. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they'll see the good Cal. The Bears can run the ball very well with Shane Vereen and while they lost quarterback Kevin Riley to injury, they didn't rely on him all that much to begin with. If the Bears could slow the tempo by controlling the ground game, they can put themselves in position for an upset. A better chance to upend the #1 team will be in the December 4 finale when they play Oregon State. The Beavers have the capacity to move the ball, with Jacquizz Rodgers running and receiving and Ryan Katz throwing the ball down the field. Perhaps just as important, this game has the intangible factors of a big rivalry game on the road, with Oregon State wanting revenge from a heartbreaking loss last season in a game that settled the Rose Bowl bid.
Ultimately though, it's all about Oregon. If you break down the matchups individually, it's very difficult to make a case for any of these three opponents to beat the Ducks. They can all hang with them, but winning is unlikely. The bigger question is whether a high-octane offense can keep it going week-in, week-out to cover for too many penalties and shaky defense. That's a much tougher call.
On a final Pac-10 note, in my bowl projections of yesterday I had Stanford targeted for the Rose, assuming Oregon will win out and the Rose needs a replacement team. I've read on ESPN's Pac-10 blog that the Rose is faced with a requirement to take a non-automatic qualifier (either Boise or TCU) if they lose a team to the national title game. I'm familiar with the requirement that if a non-AQ is in the top six of the BCS they must be included in the general at-large pool, but this is the first I've heard of a specific bowl being required to take them. My early projections had TCU playing for the national championship and Boise in the Sugar. I can't imagine ESPN's blogger, Ted Miller, is wrong, but I have to do some checking on this rule.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.