12/02/2011 04:27 PM
Oregon -31 over UCLA (bought half):
This can't be what Pac-12 organizers had in mind for the newly renamed conference's first title game. UCLA will become the first team with six losses to play for a conference crown in Rick Neuheisel's final game as Bruins coach Friday night on the road against heavily favored No. 8 Oregon. Oregon (10-2, 8-1) won the North Division and has reached double digits in victories for the fourth straight season. UCLA (6-6, 5-4) never reached those heights in going 21-28 in four years under Neuheisel, who was fired Monday less than an hour before conducting the Pac-12's promotional teleconference for this game. The Bruins captured the South despite finishing two games behind USC, which was serving a two-year postseason ban.
The Bruins' 50-0 loss to the arch-rival Trojans last Saturday was probably the last straw for AD Dan Guerrero. Neuheisel will be allowed to coach this game. These teams did not meet this season, and the Ducks won 60-13 at home in 2010. The athletic department's timing for the firing has upset some Bruins, given the short week of preparation for this title game. Oregon will have a major advantage in playing at home in this new format. The Ducks, winners of 22 of their last 23 games at Autzen Stadium, are trying to capture the their third straight conference title.
The Ducks boast the nation's fifth-best rushing attack at 291.0 yards per game, thanks to FBS leading rusher LaMichael James. He ran for 123 yards and two scores in last year's rout of UCLA. Darron Thomas threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns in that contest. Thomas has 27 touchdown passes to five interceptions this season. Neuheisel will be gone partly because his 'Pistol' offense produced only 36 touchdowns - the conference's fourth-worst total. Oregon faced a similar offense in its Sept. 10 home opener, a 69-20 win over Nevada.
Any hope for the Bruins probably rests on whether the tailback tandem of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman can get untracked. Franklin had a team-high 912 yards during the regular season and Coleman had a team-best 11 touchdown runs. The winner of this contest will play the winner of the inaugural Big Ten championship between No. 11 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Neuheisel wouldn't coach that game even if the Bruins pull the upset Friday, and his future is extremely uncertain. The Bruins, ranked 84th in the nation among FBS teams in total defense, are ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 178 yards per game. The Bruins have proven this season that they've been able to rebound after big losses, recording wins in each game after falling to Stanford, Arizona and Utah. But they're not taking any solace in that stat.
To say that the Bruins have absolutely zero confidence going into this game is a bit of an understatement. The truth of the matter is that the Bruins would probably rather not be in this because, because a loss, a very likely scenario, would leave them at 6-7 and technically ineligible for a bowl game despite the NCAA issuing a successful waiver. Oregon’s BCS National Championship dreams went up in flames right on this very field when the Trojans beat it by a field goal two weeks ago. The truth of the matter is that the game probably didn’t ultimately mean all that much to the Ducks, as they are still playing for the right to go to the Rose Bowl one way or the other, and they probably would not have ultimately challenged for the national title anyway. They flew up and down the field against Oregon St last week in a romp in the Civil War, and there aren’t many out there that think they have any shot of losing this game. This very well could be the final home game for James, who could be heading to the NFL after this season is over with. James has rushed for 1,427 yards and leads the team with 15 touchdowns in spite of the fact that he missed two games injured. With a great game against the Bruins, he might have made one final case to be the winner of the Heisman Trophy this year. If you like high scoring blowouts, your evening is set for at least 3.5 hours. Quack attack big, all night long. Best of luck however you play!
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