I've always thought that the 2013 Oregon Ducks could be exceptional, and still lose some games, based on the improvement of some Pac-12 teams — including Washington — and what I would consider an unknown about coach Mark Helfrich, who seems like a very good system head coach, but does he possess the "It" factor like his predecessor, Chip Kelly?

Therefore, Saturday's Oregon-Washington game (1 p.m., Husky Stadium, Fox Sports 1), could answer many questions, the main one being: How good is Oregon? (I know, seems like a silly question after five blowouts, except it's not when you consider the Ducks have played the two worst Pac-12 teams, a really bad Football Championship Subdivision team and mediocre ACC and SEC teams).

It's a bellwether game for Oregon.

If the Ducks should blow out the Huskies, extending their win streak to 10 games in the rivalry, it would tell me the Marcus Mariota-led team could go unbeaten — yes, even beating Stanford. Win a close one? Same thing, 'cept I'd still pick the Cardinal to win the big showdown Nov. 7.

Lose to the Huskies, and it tells me the Pac-12 has caught up with the four-time BCS team. And, I'd say UCLA and Stanford could take down the Ducks as well.

Washington has its best opportunity to beat Oregon since 2003. The Huskies have a good team, a solid senior quarterback (Keith Price), a standout running back (Bishop Sankey), a good group of receivers and tight ends and a Justin Wilcox-coached defense that appears more formidable. The offensive and defensive lines look better.

The key will be whether the Huskies can contain Mariota and UO's offense. The Huskies have to keep the score within reach, or lead; if the Ducks start scoring early, clinically, they'll hit 50 points again.

I'll be interested to see how the Huskies play, offensively. Price and his mates would be wise to try to control the game with 40 minutes of possession time, a running attack and, of course, no turnovers. And, again, the UW defense has to keep the game close with some stops.

I've got to stick with my original thought, that the Huskies would beat the Ducks in their remodeled stadium on what promises to be an exciting day of football. Mind you, I'm in the minority when it comes to Tribune Duck followers — Sports Editor Steve Brandon picks Oregon, 31-28 (with Thomas playing), and my beat cohort, Stephen Alexander, picks Ducks, 41-34; Stephen doesn't believe the Huskies are for real, even though they close to beating Stanford, and he isn't convinced Price can lead the Huskies to victory.

I'll just say Washington squeezes by Oregon, by virtue of its better defense, uptempo offense, senior quarterback and running game, the UW home crowd and one intangible: The losing streak to Oregon has to end at some point.

THE PICK: Washington 41, Oregon 38

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