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Fearless Predictions: Oregon State vs. Oregon

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Fearless Predictions
No. 13 Oregon State
at No. 7 Oregon
Thursday, 9 p.m. ET

Line: Oregon -10
In all walks of life, out of rarity comes tremendous interest. With that in mind, this year's edition of the Civil War is going to be wildly intriguing on a national scale. Oregon and Oregon State have met 112 times in this heated rivalry, but this is the first time in history that a winner-take-all scenario for the Rose Bowl is in place. As if this game needed the addition of more kerosene, this one promises to trump all others in terms of intensity and significance. Hey, the state of Oregon has to feel pretty good about owning the spotlight on Thursday night, but how about the Pac-10? In a year when the league's calling card, USC, is down and out of the running for an eighth straight title, an ad hoc championship game in prime time between two rivals has been an unexpected gift. If anything, the Pac-10 ought to be celebrating parity, which will be in full bloom in Eugene this week. If the only Oregon game you caught this year was the opener at Boise State, you'll have a hard time believing where it resides today. Since getting blown out by the Broncos and losing star RB LeGarrette Blount to a temper tantrum, the Ducks got off the mat quicker than anyone could have imagined, winning nine of the next 10 games and slowly scaling the Top 25. With Chip Kelly feeling his way through his first season as the boss and a defense littered with anonymity, the program caught fire around playmaking QB Jeremiah Masoli and an unlikely hero behind him in the backfield. Hey, the staff in Eugene loved the upside potential of Blount's heir apparent, redshirt freshman LaMichael James, but no one could have imagined he'd be this good. And certainly not this quickly. A microcosm for the school's next-man-in culture, he promptly took over in Week 2 and has gone on to rush for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, including at least 117 yards in each of the last six games. While he may be the most heralded of the upstart Ducks, he's certainly not alone. When Oregon needed the rebuilt offensive line to mesh, it did. On defense, new pass rushers have emerged and the secondary has somehow survived a spate of injuries, including a season-ender to top corner Walter Thurmond. Perseverance has had squatter's rights in Eugene this year, yet it hasn't kept the Ducks from being just one game away from Pasadena. Before the year began, the Beavers were pegged to finish somewhere in the middle of the Pac-10 pecking order. What else is new? Yet, here they are with eight wins and plenty of raised eyebrows across the country. What else is new? Oregon State doesn't get the four- and five-star players, yet when the raw material becomes a finished product, you've got all-star talent, like RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers and LB Keaton Kristick. The Rodgers brothers, in particular, have once again spearheaded the charge in Corvallis, helping the Beavs to four consecutive wins and six in the last seven games. Life will be anything but civil in Eugene on Thursday night. There's too much at stake and too much history between these two rivals. Oregon hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since the 1994 season. Oregon State? Try 1964. A date with Ohio State awaits the winner of this week's much-anticipated Civil War. Oregon State will win if... It can stand up to Oregon's first few uppercuts and take the Autzen Stadium crowd out of the game ... sort of. Last November, the Ducks jumped all over the Beavers, scoring the first 10 points, leading by 20 at halftime and never letting up in a 65-38 ambush. Oregon State absolutely, positively has to start strong and prevent Oregon from ever building a double-digit cushion. The more confident that Masoli and James get, the louder that lathered-up crowd is going to become. Long, sustained drives that blend the passing of QB Sean Canfield with the running of Rodgers will keep the Ducks where they're least dangerous — on the sideline. On defense, Oregon State needs to play its best game of the year, maintaining its trend as the Pac-10's top run D, while avoiding the breakdowns in pass defense that have plagued it from time to time during the season. Oregon will win if... It keeps the Rodgers brothers from completely taking the game over, which they're more than capable of doing. When Jacquizz is zipping through small holes in the defense and James is driving opponents batty on fly sweeps, Oregon State is capable of beating anyone in the country, including the Ducks in Eugene. Oregon has to keep these jackrabbits in check, putting Canfield in the unenviable position of having to do too much without a ton of help from the receiving corps. The onus will fall on Duck linebackers Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and Eddie Pleasant, an underrated group, which needs to quickly fill running lanes and string out plays from sideline to sideline. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Oregon needs to answer that question for all 60 minutes. Who to watch: Oregon State simply would not be in this position if not for the emergence of Canfield at quarterback. A fifth-year senior who's been booed lustily at times in his career, he's made the most of his final season, throwing 19 touchdown passes and leading the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. The Beavers will need him to navigate an Oregon secondary that's been sneaky-good all year, ranking 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with the help of rover Javes Lewis and FS T.J. Ward, who's healthy again after missing parts of the beginning of the season. The Beavers realize that if you can't slow down Masoli and that eighth-ranked Oregon running game, you've got no chance. One look at last year's film of this game confirms that point. The encouraging news for Oregon State is that it leads the Pac-10 in run defense at 98 yards a game. Kristick has been one of the keys with a team-high 80 tackles, but the unsung hero is DT Stephen Paea, a freakishly strong and quick interior lineman who makes everyone around him better. If the junior can spend enough time in the backfield, the Beavers have a shot to contain the Ducks' spread.
Prediction: Oregon 38 ... Oregon State 27
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