Although it is now all but forgotten, Oregon and California had quite the rivalry in the aughts. The two schools, helmed by Mike Bellotti and his former protégé, Jeff Tedford, butted heads over recruits, ran the same offense—for a time—and seemed locked in endless one-upmanship over whose team could sport uglier yellow uniforms. Cal pioneered the now-infamous strategy of feigning injuries to slow down the Oregon offense. Former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (now with USC) was the proto-Derek Mason, winning praise for solving the Oregon spread-option following the one time Cal held the Ducks under 40 points during his tenure.
But all of that feels like an eternity ago. The Golden Bears under new head coach Sonny Dykes march into Autzen Stadium on Saturday as 37-point underdogs. They’ve lost four straight matchups in the series—12 of the last 16—with Oregon poised to take a lead in the all-time series some time this decade.
The game is slotted for that most prestigious of time slots: 7:30 pm (10:30 EST) on the Pac-12 Network. A fitting place for what may well be the football equivalent of a snuff film. Should your exciting Saturday night plans find you staring at a TV with access to the Pac-12 Network tomorrow night, here are the keys to the game:
1). Bear Raid vs. [punny name for the Oregon offense] — With the hiring of former Texas Tech and Lousiana Tech offensive wunderkind Sonny Dykes in the offseason, Cal has switched from the moldy, old pro-style offense of Tedford to the pass-happy air raid offense. The Golden Bears are averaging a svelte 438.7 yards passing per game. Dykes’ team scores an averages 33.7 points per game, including 37 against noted powerhouse Portland State. Oregon scores on average almost twice as many points. Suffice it to say, there ought to be some scoring tomorrow night.
2). True Freshman QB Jared Goff Makes First Career Road Start at Autzen — It’s not every day that a true freshman quarterback enters a program and earns a starting job at a Pac-12 school. It’s even rarer that a true freshman quarterback throws for over 400 yards per game. But tomorrow will be Goff’s first start outside of California Memorial Stadium. How will the true freshman handle the pressure of a hostile, raucous, heavily intoxicated crowd at a sold-out Autzen Stadium? Against a top 20 defense in passing efficiency no less. (Note: The last time I thought lack of experience at quarterback would give Oregon an advantage was when a young Kevin Hogan made his first career road start at Autzen and led his Cardinal to a historic upset. Albeit Goff is going to have to do more than lob passes to tight ends in hopes for the game to come down to beleaguered kickers…[Author’s 1,000 word rant about the 2012 Stanford game cut to spare your sensibilities—Ed.]
3) Rain, rain, rain! — Despite Oregon PA announcer Don Essig’s many claims, it does, in fact, rain in Autzen Stadium. It’s going to rain tomorrow night. If twitter is to be believed, it’s going to be a monsoon. The ball gets slippery when it rains. It gets heavier. It becomes harder to operate a passing offense and a successful kicking game. Oregon’s running-focused offense should be fine during the downpour—the less said about the kicking game, the better. Cal’s offense, on the other hand, may have trouble moving the ball.
Prediction: Oregon 49, Cal 17
Around the rest of the Pac-12 Colorado vs. Oregon State (noon, Pac-12 Network) — A clash between the worst program since the formation of the Pac-12 in 2011 and the worst program in the conference’s entire history.
Arizona vs. #16 Washington (4 pm, FOX) — Sarkisian’s doogs, fresh off walloping Idaho State, play their first opponent with a pulse.
Stanford vs. Washington State (7 pm, ESPN) — After dominating Arizona State in their way, the Cardinal faces Mike Leach’s overachieving Cougs in what looks to be a defensive struggle.
USC vs. Arizona State (7:30 pm, ESPN2) — Former powerhouse and “sleeping giant” battle their way out of the conference cellar.