EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 15: The Oregon Ducks run onto the field against of the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on September 15, 2012 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Twenty-four, 24, 231/2: those are the point spreads Vegas.com has posted for Saturday's Oregon-Arizona match-up, the Pacific 12 Conference opener for both teams.
If season average holds for the Wildcats, Oregon would have to score in the neighborhood of 70 points to cover -- of course, if there's a program capable of doing so, it's Chip Kelly's.
Not that reaching the 47-point average the Wildcats have established through three games is likely against the Duck defense. Underrated and overlooked, UO's run of three consecutive conference championships would not have been possible were it not for a well-conditioned group on that side, able to spend more time on the field than any defense in college football and still limit opportunities.
UO allowed 59 points in its two wins over FBS opponents, neither of which were from BCS conferences. However, one averaged nearly 33 points a game last season and has guru of the 2010 Auburn offense Gus Malzahn as its head coach (Arkansas State) and the other just got finished hanging 69 on another Pac-12 opponent (Fresno State).
Moreover, we have yet to see just what Nick Aliotti has up his sleeve with this current bunch. His praises aren't sang quite as loud as Alabama's Kirby Smart or Virginia Tech's Bud Foster (or Florida State's Mark Stoops for those of you Arizona fans who'd like some salt in your still-fresh wounds), but Aliotti is every bit the defensive genius of those coordinators.
UO has not yet faced a situation like UA had in hosting Oklahoma State. The Ducks gave up points to States Fresno and Arkansas because neither outcome was in question, and Aliotti had the opportunity to go generic with his packages. There exists an element of the unknown to how the Ducks will attack the Wildcats, whereas the OSU game forced Jeff Casteel to reveal a bit more of the playbook.
There is no mystery, however, that no other program has had UA's number in recent years quite like UO. The Wildcats' last win was 2007, when Dennis Dixon's first half knee injury opened the flood gate for the most memorable 21/2 quarters of the Stoops era. UA has suffered four straight losses, though only last year's covered the spread Las Vegas sharps have set for Saturday.
Don't take that magic number of 24 as a show of disrespect from the collective Las Vegas. Those numbers only exist to generate the most bets to keep those lights blinking and those $13 well drinks flowing. Blame those four straight losses and the increasingly exasperating way UA has lost to the green-and-gold (and black, and sometimes silver, and occasionally chrome, and...).
In 2008, UA arrived to Autzen Stadium in the third quarter down a few dozen touchdowns before a rollicking rally fell short. Defining the 2009 match-up was the Zona Zoo's premature field rush before Jeremiah Masoli proverbially carved his name into Arizona Stadium. UA went into the locker room at halftime in 2010 ahead, with Alex Zendejas shushing the crowd. Of course, the best UO team yet proved to be merely toying with UA. And last year's rout had the makings of a Florida State-Savannah State running clock second half before the Wildcats generated some offense late.
A theme you may pick up if you have paid attention to my recent columns, dear readers, is that Rich Rodriguez's biggest challenge is redefining Arizona football's expectations. The Oklahoma State win made some inroads, but years of underachievement aren't erased in one outing. It will take more to change perception, and until then, perception is Arizona +24.