When Lee Corso reaches beneath the desk on the ESPN College Gameday set tomorrow morning to pull out the mascot head that represents his pick for the winner of the Arizona State matchup with Oregon, odds are it will be a Duck’s head.
The GameDay crew will be in Eugene for tomorrow’s live telecast, as the No. 9 Oregon Ducks host the No. 18 Sun Devils in a game that has major implications for both programs.
An ASU upset would drop the Ducks in the standings and water down their bid for a major bowl invitation. But ASU probably has the most to lose, even though they are underdogs in this one.
(*Update: For the first half of the game, it was impossible to tell which team was ranked higher, as ASU took an early lead and didn’t relinquish it until just before the half. But Oregon took over in the second half and powered its way to a 41-27 victory. ASU had 169 rushing yards and 291 yards through the air, as Brock Osweiler went 29-for-46 and Cameron Marshall was the leading rusher for ASU with 97 yards.)
Arizona State is off to a 5-1 start and are undefeated in three conference games. Oregon also has just one loss.
However, Oregon has climbed the ladder to the top tier of the NCAA standings, and continues to maintain that lofty status on a consistent basis now. ASU, on the other hand, is still trying to prove it can play with the big boys. If they don’t win tomorrow, it is imperative that they stay with the Ducks; a blowout would put a huge damper on the momentum they’ve got going so far.
Oregon is going to be a good barometer of just where the ASU program is right now. The two schools are actually pretty evenly matched this year, more so than in recent memory.
Although the Sun Devils actually have a 16-15 edge in their meetings with the Ducks, Oregon has won the last six times. And the Ducks are murder at home. They’ve won 19 consecutive games in Autzen Stadium.
They’ve also won four of the five times the College GameDay boys have dropped in to host the program in Eugene.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for ASU’s outstanding wide receiver, Aaron Pflugrad, so he may be primed for a great game. He played at Sheldon High School in Eugene and then put in two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to ASU. The senior has 380 receiving yards so far this season for the Devils.
Jamal Miles leads the ASU receivers with 27 receptions, but Pflugrad is right on his heels with 26, and Gerelle Robinson also has 26.
And the 6’8″ junior quarterback from Montana, Brock Osweiler, can be counted on to get them the ball. He’s already thrown for 1,677 yards and 13 scores, and last week he threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Utah.
Oregon counters with Darron Thomas, who is completing almost 60 percent of his passes in the half-dozen games so far, while compiling a 7.82 yards-per-attempt average.
But the match-up that was anticipated, between the teams’ top running backs, may not happen.
Oregon’s LaMichael James was carted off the field at the beginning of the fourth quarter in last week’s game with California. The Heisman Trophy candidate, who is the nation’s top rusher with 170 yards per game, suffered a dislocated elbow and is questionable for tomorrow’s game.
On the other side of the field, ASU’s junior running back, Cameron Marshall, will likely play, but will be hampered by a major sprain to his right ankle that was suffered in the pre-season but has been slow to heal. He played against Utah last week, but was obviously not at full strength; he carried the ball 21 times, but all for short yardage. Despite that, he already has 421 rushing yards this season and has accounted for eight touchdowns.
The ASU passing game should be a problem for Oregon. If you combine that with a potentially diluted Oregon running game, it might be the makings for an upset.
That would be huge for head coach, Dennis Erickson, who is trying to bring the program back after three straight losing seasons. A win over Oregon would validate his contention that this is the year it happens.
So far, he’s been right. But Oregon presents the first real test to the theory.
And that’s why Lee Corso will put on the Duck head tomorrow morning.