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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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August 29, 2008 3:28 PM

The pick --- Ducks

Posted by Bob Condotta

Okay, so I'm going with the Ducks.

But before you start aiming your slings and arrows my way, I'll point out that I have this one as a closer game than a lot of other people out there.

I think the Huskies will be able to move the ball, especially running between the tackles behind their veteran and stout O-line.

And I think that the defense, having had so much time to prepare for the game, and having the surprise factor with a new coordinator, some new players and what figure to be some new schemes --- and going against what was Oregon's backup quarterback about 10 days ago --- should be able to slow the Ducks down better than a year ago.

But before getting into my conclusion, first let's look at how I broke the game down by position:

QB -- Washington. The Huskies could have a substantial edge here assuming Jake Locker is as back-to-health as we have been told. If not, this could be a lot closer matchup as there are some in Eugene who thought Justin Roper was actually the better choice than Nate Costa, and in case you've forgotten, Roper did throw four TDs in the Sun Bowl last year. And even if Locker is basically 100 percent, it doesn't sound as if he's had a whole lot of live activity this year, so he may not exactly be in mid-season form. But again, assuming he's basically healthy, the Huskies get the edge at the game's most important position. This will be the first test of whether Locker really has improved on his passing accuracy, which as others have noted, will be a real key in this game as UW's receivers could have trouble getting open and the Huskies will have to take advantage of every opportunity.

RB -- Oregon. There's a lot of excitement out there about Chris Polk, and understandably so. Still, true freshman generally take a little while to completey find their game. And after Polk is Brandon Johnson, still not likely 100 percent, and other freshmen. Tim Lappano said he doesn't envision any of the backs getting more than 12-15 carries, so this will be a by-committee approach. Oregon, with senior Jeremiah Johnson leading the way, is deeper and more experienced here.

WR -- Oregon. This looms as a fairly substantial edge for the Ducks, especially if you factor in 6-5 TE Ed Dickson. Combine him with 6-5 WR Jaison Williams and the Ducks have two big targets. The Huskies, as has been well-documented, have no real experience at this spot and will be without starting TE Michael Gottlieb. That injury will open up more time for Kavario Middleton, and it will be intriguing to see what he can do, But again, the concern here is youth as the Huskies won't have anybody at TE who has ever seen substantial time in a game, and only D'Andre Goodwin of WRs who has ever seen any playing time for the Huskies.

OL -- Washington One of the better position battles. Oregon might have gotten the edge here 10 days ago. But with Juan Garcia making it back and apparently ready to resume his starting spot at center, the Huskies now get the arrow with an interior line that is the best UW has had since 2000. These loom as two of the best three or four OLs in the conference, and the game may well be decided by which one has the best day.

DL -- Oregon. A fairly big edge for the Ducks here as despite this being a spot of some concern (primarily the tackles) the Ducks will throw out four starters who have combined for 111 games played in their careers. UW's projected four starters have played in a combined 47. Each team has a premier DE --- Daniel Te'o-Nesheim for UW and Nick Reed for Oregon. But the Ducks have a lot more experience at a spot where that's usually pretty critical.

LB --- Washington. Another tight call, but giving a slight edge to the Huskies on the assumption that Donald Butler and Mason Foster will make significant improvement from a year ago, that Josh Gage can make a quick transition to starter, and that we see Trenton Tuiasosopo and Chris Stevens in a lot of varied roles that they can handle. Oregon's MLB John Bacon is a good one but the other two LBs aren't quite to the same caliber.

DB --- Oregon. A pretty big edge for the Ducks here as Oregon possesses what many are calling one of the top five secondaries in the country. UW fans have expressed skepticism about that, remembering how the Huskies hit several big plays for touchdowns last year. The Oregon side counters that those were mostly the result of busted assigments and that the more telling number was Locker's 12-31 passing, indicating that the Ducks were usually getting the better of the battle. Ed Donatell's speciality at the NFL level was the secondary and he's spent a lot of time in this area and made a lot of changes --- moving Mesphin Forrester and Quinton Richardson from safety to corner --- so this will be a real interesting position to watch tomorrow.

Special teams --- Oregon. A fairly close battle here, but again, Oregon has a lot more experience overall (namely, the returner positions) and the Ducks tend to play a lot better in this area when at home.

So that's 5-3 in position edges for the Ducks, and granting that a few of the arrows pointing Oregon's way are stronger than most of those pointing toward UW, you can see where the oddsmakers came up with that two-touchdown line.

But I think this one will be a little closer than that due in part to Roper's inexperience and what could be an Oregon offense still finding its way a little bit, and as noted before, a UW offense that should have one dependable thing to bank on --- running behind the center of that big and veteran line.

The Huskies have to keep this one close early, however --- they can't fall down 14-0 in the first quarter like last year. And a real hard-to-read factor is how all that inexperience will manifest itself. As Jim Lambright said on KJR today, a real worry with young skill players is turnovers. If the Huskies start dropping the ball all over the place, it could get ugly quickly.

But the Huskies have invested a lot in this game --- they likely won't ever as big an edge in pulling some surprises on a team, both in terms of unseen personnel and schemes --- and that could allow them to get some easy yards and points.

Ultimately, however, I think the difference will be UW's defensive front wearing down and allowing the Ducks to take enough control late to hold on, 38-31.

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