I envy those who are so certain they can predict the winner of this year's Civil War. My past record in these things is pretty good, but this time I'm almost stumped.
If you forced me to bet on a game this week, it wouldn't be this one.
I watched Oregon State fall all over itself at Fresno State. I watched Oregon beat Michigan. Now you tell me, how characteristic were those games? Who are the real Beavers? Who are the real Ducks?
The great thing about Saturday's game is that it will go a long way toward answering those questions.
Most people are picking Oregon State, and the Beavers are favored by a point or two. That's meaningful, because as much as we try to portray this rivalry game as 'anyone can win' Ñ the favorite usually wins.
OSU has improved by leaps and bounds since that loss to Fresno State, but the Beavers have not consistently played well on the road. And this is no romp in Strawberry Canyon. Autzen Stadium is as hostile as a road game gets. I cannot be certain you're going to see Oregon State at its best.
I've got no idea what to expect from the Ducks, either. Their defense has improved a lot, but their offense has sputtered since early in the season. The California game aside, the Ducks haven't showed they can score a lot of points in the second half.
The entire Pacific-10 Conference has been impossible to figure out. Wonder why USC is not getting respect in the BCS? It's because of this inconsistent and underwhelming league Ñ where Washington can beat the Oregon schools and get blown out by just about everyone else, where Cal can beat the Trojans but lose to the Oregon schools.
And, in a league that used to specialize in high-flying offense and a lot of memorable comebacks and wild finishes, many games this year have been boring blowouts.
If it sounds as if I'm hedging, well, I am.
Let's look at it this way:
Over the last few years, when the Ducks have wanted to stop an opponent from running the ball, they have had pretty good success. They've been able to throttle some pretty good running games. That does not come without a price, however. It makes them vulnerable to the pass.
If Steven Jackson can't move the chains, will Derek Anderson be able to find open receivers and deliver the ball? If he does, it would be a huge step forward in his development as a quarterback.
I'm thinking that neither team will move the ball consistently Ñ which turns the game into a special teams war, which favors Oregon. The Beavers, on what may be a bitterly cold day, may have problems with center snaps and kick coverage. How often have the Ducks been an underdog at home? I'm guessing they're relishing that role.
Let's make it Oregon, 20-13. -I guess.