No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon
Saturday, 10:30 pm ESPN
Line: Oregon -24
Don't laugh, but this might be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game. OK, you can laugh a little. Are you done? OK, let's move on.
The high-scoring Oregon Ducks will host an upstart Arizona Wildcats team that is off to a good start and hoping to come up with a big win to prove they are for real in year one of the Rich Rodriguez Era in Tucson. This is a game we are particularly interested in with Rodriguez off to a good start in his fresh start with Arizona and Oregon, well, being Oregon.
With a late night kickoff on the east coast, this one could make for a long night with some good offenses going head-to-head. Can the Wildcats keep up the pace with Oregon playing on their home turf? Whatever the case, it figures to be worth staying up late for on Saturday night.
For Oregon to Win: Attack, attack, go, go! It is easy to predict the formula to Oregon's success. The offense will put the lead foot to work right from kickoff and try to spread Arizona's defense around by moving the ball all over the field on the ground and through the air. Oregon likes to wear down their opponents on defense with an up-tempo style in hope of piling on points early and often. Nothing here will change this week for the Ducks at home.
For Arizona to Win: You can't stop Oregon, you can only hope to contain them. This has to be the defensive mindset for Arizona this weekend, as the Ducks have a well-documented explosive offense, especially at home. But just because Oregon is going to make some big plays does not mean Arizona should feel defeated when they happen.
No team who has plans on beating Oregon will be able to stop all of the big plays, but if Arizona does not get rattled when they do, they may have the ability to hang in this game and keep it competitive. And that's all they need to do because some of Oregon's big players are young and still maturing. How do they handle a game in crunch time? On offense, that should be a question Oregon may have to answer at some point, maybe even this weekend.
Key Player, Oregon: While the dazzling running combo of De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner is certainly more than worthy of noting, this is probably a good opportunity to take a look at freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. through three games Mariota has passed for eight touchdowns and 674 yards while completing about 75 percent of his passes. Despite piling up some good numbers against the level of defenses they have faced so far, those are still very solid numbers for Oregon's freshman. But now he faces his first real test with a Top 25 opponent holding their opponents under 19 points per game. How well will Mariota handle this new challenge? Don't be surprised if he gets rattled at times, but with this entire offensive package Oregon has on the field, the Ducks should be able to manage the task.
Key Player, Arizona: Introducing you to sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey. The sophomore is tied with many for second in the nation with five rushing touchdowns and is averaging 114.7 yards per game. He has shown the ability to break a big play, with a 73-yard run against Toledo in his first college start for the Wildcats back in week one and Arizona's offense has already found a way to make sure he is a featured player by involving him in the receiving game in addition to having him lead the ground attack.
Key Stat: In road games last season Arizona allowed opponents to convert 50.59 percent of their third down conversions. If Oregon has that kind of success it will surely be a long night for the Wildcats, right? The Ducks have converted exactly half of their 48 third downs in the early going this season, but even when they are not successful they are still a threat to stay on the field. Oregon has already converted seven of their nine fourth down conversion attempts.
On the flip side, Oregon's defense is also really good on third down, holding opponents to seven of 45 third down conversions so far, a success rate of 15.56 percent.
Will the Rich Rodriguez have some answers here? At Michigan Rodriguez's Wolverines went from converting 27.3 percent of their third downs in 2008 to 44.8 percent in 2010. Through three games at Arizona, the Wildcats have converted 47.83 percent of their third down conversion attempts. That is what some might call an upward trend.
Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast and managing editor of Nittany Lions Den. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.