Top 10 Battle in Eugene

Expectations were not high for Oregon and Arizona State given their absence from the AP preseason poll. Now, a Pac-10 title and spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game could be in the offering for both teams.

The fourth-ranked Ducks and No. 6 Sun Devils meet in a pivotal matchup at Autzen Stadium on Saturday as each program looks to move closer to a conference title and potential BCS berth.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Oregon -7 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on Oregon -7 (View College Football bet percentages).

Before this season began, Arizona State (8-0, 5-0) was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-10, two spots ahead of Oregon (7-1, 4-1).

But the Sun Devils have exceeded those predictions by jumping into first place in the league and climbing to fourth in the latest BCS standings. They have not won the Pac-10 title since 1996, when they won their first 11 games before losing to Ohio State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl.

"We're just a bunch of guys who nobody thought was very good," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's kind of scary, starting to read our name in the paper every week now."

The Ducks, meanwhile, were ranked fifth in the latest BCS standings, and are coming off an impressive 24-17 home win over national powerhouse and preseason No. 1 USC on Saturday. The victory moved them up one place in the AP poll.

"Now we put a big target on our back. Everyone wants a piece. As a team, we gotta enjoy this team and then get ready to go for Arizona State because they're a great team as well,'' said Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, who has been receiving Heisman Trophy hype.

Dixon directs an offense that is fourth in the nation in yards (524.4 per game) and is fifth in scoring (43.8 points per game). He ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency (160.3), and has thrown 16 touchdowns to only three interceptions.

The senior, who accounted for 231 total yards and a touchdown versus the Trojans, threw for 215 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in a 48-13 rout at Arizona State in 2006.

Along with Dixon in the backfield, Oregon also features one of the top running backs in the nation with Jonathan Stewart averaging 130.4 yards.

Stewart ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns against USC, and has amassed 354 rushing yards and four TDs in his last two games. He gained 142 yards on just 12 carries in last year's win over the Sun Devils.

Oregon, which suffered its only loss of the season at home to then-No. 6 California on Sept. 29, has not won a Pac-10 title since 2001.

"Rose Bowl, national championship. You can't look ahead, though,'' right tackle Geoff Schwartz said. "We gotta take it game by game, which is what we've been doing. We got ASU this week. Our goal is always to win the Pac-10, and we're on the road for that.''

The Ducks were limited to a season-low 339 yards last Saturday, and face another tough challenge against the Sun Devils, who are holding opponents to an average of 91.1 rushing yards, 11th best in the country.

Arizona State is also limiting opponents to 15.6 points per game - best in the Pac-10 and seventh in the nation - and has a conference-high 14 interceptions.

The Sun Devils' offense has also been stellar, trailing only Oregon in scoring in the Pac-10 at 36.9 points per game. But quarterback Rudy Carpenter may be limited with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand.

He suffered the injury in last Saturday's 31-20 comeback win over then-No. 18 California, and was unable to throw in practice Tuesday. Erickson, though, said Carpenter is almost certain to play in this game, and reacted with disbelief when asked if there was any chance he would sit out.

"He'll play,'' Erickson said. "I would be shocked if he didn't come out throwing by Thursday, but I'm not a doctor.''

Carpenter was 17-of-29 for 219 yards and a touchdown against the Golden Bears, and is third in the Pac-10 in passing yards (1,949) and touchdowns (17).

The Sun Devils' win over Cal was their first over a ranked opponent, and moved them up one spot in the AP Top 25.

Arizona State came up with another second-half rally after falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter, the third time they have overcome an early double-digit deficit. The Sun Devils spotted Colorado a 14-0 first-quarter lead before storming back for a 33-14 victory on Sept. 8, and two weeks later, trailed Oregon State 19-0 after one quarter before rallying for a 44-32 victory.

"We know how to deal with adversity,'' said Carpenter, whose team is outscoring opponents 153-29 after halftime.

"It's big because people keep doubting us. We never doubted ourselves. Our confidence keeps growing and our swagger keeps getting bigger.''

The Sun Devils have lost the last two games between the two teams, but have won their last two at Oregon.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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