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Michael C. Lewis: Oregon-LSU gives Pac-12 a marquee opener

Published October 7, 2011 12:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It wasn't the exposure. It wasn't the recruiting.

Coach Chip Kelly said it was simply "the challenge of going against one of the best teams in the country" that provided the greatest attraction for his Oregon Ducks to play the LSU Tigers on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, in by far the biggest matchup of college football's opening weekend.

"If you want to be the best, you have to measure yourself against the best," Kelly said, "and we love playing in games like this."

And we love watching them.

On a weekend normally overloaded with boring mismatches, the meeting between two serious national championship contenders — the Ducks are ranked No. 3 in the major preseason polls, with the Tigers No. 4 — could wind up one of the highlights of the season.

Of course, some of the shine has come off the matchup, with three top players out and the Ducks still roasting under the harsh glare of a scandalous recruiting investigation.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson and receiver Russell Shepherd of LSU have been suspended, along with cornerback Cliff Harris of Oregon. Jefferson has been accused of brutally assaulting a man outside a Baton Rouge bar, while Shepherd allegedly violated rules about discussing an ongoing NCAA investigation and Harris was clocked driving 118 mph on a suspended license.

But this still figures to be a heck of a lot better than, say … UC Davis at Arizona State.

Especially for the winning team.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that says it's better to lose games early in the season rather than late, USA Today noted this week that in the 13-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, only two teams had lost before Oct. 1 and still reached the title game.

However, nine teams have lost after that point and still reached the final game.

In all likelihood, that's evidence that teams that lose in September simply aren't good enough to be legitimate championship contenders, and that truly elite teams are established as such by the middle of the season, and in turn, more easily forgiven a stumble later on.

Either way, it also means that both the Ducks and Tigers will be desperate to win, something that's not always the case so early in the season.

While senior quarterback Jarrett Lee will start for LSU, it will be particularly interesting to see how the Ducks handle themselves against another SEC team — they lost to Auburn in the BCS title game last season — with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James returning to spearhead the famously fast-paced "blur" offense in an effort to make amends for the way last season ended.

That could portend a lot about how the inaugural season of the Pac-12 is going to unfold, as well, and on opening weekend, you can't ask for much more than that. —

No. 3 Oregon at No. 4 LSU

P Saturday, 6 p.m., Ch. 4