Game of the Week: Oregon looks to justify top 10 ranking against ASU
When the Oregon Ducks last exited college football's center stage, they were limping back to Eugene after a 40-27 loss to LSU on opening night. The high-flying Ducks had been humbled again by an SEC defense, and some questioned if Oregon was really going to be as explosive in 2011 as it was during its run to the BCS title game in 2010.
Those questions have been answered, as the Ducks have rung up an average of 56 points in their last four games. Now they get another shot at playing a ranked opponent and justifying their top 10 standing when they host a dangerous Arizona State squad on Saturday night. The No. 18 Sun Devils are 5-1 and looking for a signature win that would at least put them in the discussion for a BCS bowl bid.
Oregon enters the game as a 15-point favorite. The Ducks have some favorable trends. Oregon is 10-5 against the spread at home under Chip Kelly, including 6-3 in league games. The Ducks are 5-1 in their last six against the spread versus Arizona State, failing to cover an 11.5-point spread last year in an 11-point win. Arizona State is an impressive 10-5-1 versus the number as an underdog over the last three years, but 0-1 this year (a three-point loss at Illinois as a two-point dog). The Devils are 2-4 versus the spread this season.
Arizona State has forced 18 turnovers in six games, including 10 in its last two. Oregon has turned the ball over just four times in five games.
It's easy to dismiss James' absence and predict the Ducks will put up their usual 50-plus points, but Arizona State has a strong linebacking corps and running lanes might not be as easy to come by for Oregon. Darron Thomas has not been as consistent throwing the ball for the Ducks this season, putting more stress on the running game. If Arizona State can move the ball through the air and keep the game close, the Ducks may not react well, even though they are at home. Everything -- special teams, penalties, turnovers -- will have to go right for Arizona State to keep it close. That's probably too much to ask with the game in Eugene, where the Ducks have won 19 straight, but this one won't be a runaway.