If Washington's ambush of No. 5 USC Saturday in the Pacific Northwest is an indication, Brigham Young University's Cougars may be in for a rough time this Saturday in the Pacific Northwest when they face a revenge-minded group of Oregon Ducks in Eugene.
Not only does Oregon stand in the way of a possible unbeaten season for the No. 4-ranked Cougs, but the Ducks may also stand in the way of this: A New Year's Day bowl berth for BYU.That's because the two toughest games on BYU's road to perfection are against Oregon and Wyoming, Nov. 10 in Laramie.
And while BYU Coach LaVell Edwards says his goal is to win the Western Athletic Conference title, if the Cougars were to lose one of those two games, it would be better to lose to the Cowboys of Wyoming than the Ducks of Oregon - as far as BYU's national interest is concerned.
A loss to Oregon does away with speculation about the Sea World Holiday Bowl trying to sweeten the pot to bring in a Notre Dame or Florida State for a national championship game as the Cougars would drop out of the Top 10. If they then go on to win the WAC - the WAC champion automatically secures a berth in the Holiday Bowl - they'd probably face somebody like a 7-3-1 Michigan State team, much like last year's 7-3-1 Penn State scenario.
However, assuming the Cougars beat the Ducks and go into the Wyoming game with an 8-0 record, which would give them at least a No. 3 ranking, they'd be an attractive New Year's Day bowl team even with a loss to the Cowboys, assuming Wyoming then goes on to win the WAC.
BYU's Sept. 8 victory over then No. 1 Miami has been monumental in terms of national exposure - both in the TV and print media. The Cougs have the leading Heisman Trophy candidate and perhaps the most explosive offense in the country. All of this spells box office to the bowls.
What major bowl wouldn't want to pit say an 11-1 No. 6-ranked BYU team against a Notre Dame or Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl, an Auburn or Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, a Nebraska or Colorado in the Orange Bowl, a Texas A&M or Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl or a highly ranked and possibly unbeaten Virginia in the Citrus Bowl?
There might even be an outside shot at a national championship under the above scenario, if BYU were able to line up against the No. 1 team.
All of this, of course, is contingent on the Cougars taking care of the Ducks Saturday.
That will not be easy.
One, the Ducks lost a proverbial heartbreaker in Provo last year, 45-41, as Ty Detmer rallied the Cougars from a 19-point second-half deficit. The loss knocked the Ducks out of at least the Freedom Bowl. They had to do a major selling job to land a berth in the Independence Bowl, where they beat Tulsa, 24-17. It's not likely they've forgotten that.
Two, Oregon has to be smarting from its tough, 22-17 loss to Arizona last week. It realizes that to get back into the national spotlight it has to do something dramatic, like knock off the Cougars on national TV (ABC is doing the game as a split national telecast). BYU thus becomes the Ducks' Miami.
Three, the Arizona game notwithstanding, Oregon is an outstanding offensive team that will put a lot of pressure on BYU's defense and therefore BYU's offense, forcing BYU to avoid turnovers in order to match the Ducks on the scoreboard.
And so, the road to perfection gets steeper. As BYU offensive coordinator Roger French remarked after the Cougs' 62-34 dismantling of San Diego State, regarding this week's game, "They all are tough and they get tougher each week."