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Jason says: WSU will be competitive with Ducks, but only in stretches

Sometimes we reporters have to see things to believe them. Rather than jump on the Oregon bandwagon, like giddy fans and Duck-friendly media, I needed to see some things from the 2013 team to anoint them national championship contenders. Who wouldn't wait to make such judgment?

I really liked how the Ducks battled Washington. Took punches, and gave punches. Made great plays, but gave up some. Unlike what you might read elsewhere, the Huskies challenged the Ducks, as it was 31-24 late in the third period, and UW had momentum. That was a fact.

But, the UO offense, led by QB Marcus Mariota, and defense put the game away, resoundingly, winning 45-24. It was impressive, maybe more impressive than another blowout.

So, yeah, Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) reigns as one of the country's top teams, in a sport generally operated on the opinion of people. The best? Who knows? How do we quantify that?

Individual games are all about match-ups and schemes and momentum and players making plays. They're also about turnovers and injuries — take Mariota out of the equation, and ya think things change? — and we don't know how the games against UCLA and Stanford, and even Utah, Arizona and Oregon State will really go.

God forbid an injury happens to Mariota, a genuinely humble and likable young man. An injury to the Heisman Trophy frontrunner would change the dynamic, drastically. As long as Mariota stays healthy, it'll be tough to beat the Ducks. But, it's also conceivable the Bruins or Cardinal could scheme to beat the Ducks; after all, who believes Mariota will go the whole season without turnovers (he's at 25 total TDs and zero turnovers and counting)?

What we do know is the Ducks shouldn't lose against Washington State (4-3, 2-2), 7 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium (Fox Sports 1).

The Cougars defensive line might create some havoc with UO's improving running game and Mariota, but the QB and Co. shouldn't be bothered my much else.

The UO defense blanketed Huskies receivers and harassed UW quarterback Keith Price with pressure; yes, the Ducks gave up big yards to Bishop Sankey (167 yards, two long scores). But, Saturday's opponent only presents half the offense to prepare for, as the Cougars run seemingly because it's a necessary evil only, averaging 66.4 rushing yards per game (lowest in the Pac-12) and 3.5 yards per rush.

Quarterback Connor Halliday has put up some big numbers, including the Pac-12's most attempts (339) and completions (215), but also a league-leading 13 interceptions. He has thrown 14 TD passes and averages 320.1 yards per game, good for fourth in the Pac-12, but he stands as the 10th best in efficiency.

The Cougars have played tough against the Ducks in stretches in recent years, despite losing six consecutive games in the series. I expect the same Saturday, a competitive game in stretches. In the course of four quarters and 60 minutes, however, I expect the Ducks to score about 30 or more points.

THE PICK: Oregon 55, Washington State 21