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Oregon at Arizona State
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Thursday Night Pac-12 games have provided entertaining football this season and this week is the game many have been waiting for as Oregon heads to Arizona State. Oregon has been a national power in recent years but they have had close games with Arizona State the last two seasons. The Sun Devils look better than anyone expected so far this year and this will be the first big test for one of the top ranked teams in the nation. Take a look at this week’s Thursday match-up and the history between these teams.

Matchup: Oregon Ducks at Arizona State Sun Devils
Venue: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
Date: Thursday, October, 18 2012
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Oregon -8½, Over/Under 68½
Last Meeting: 2011, Oregon (-14) 41-27, at Oregon

Oregon sits in the #3 spot in the initial BCS standings, looking to return to the title game for the second time in three years. The Ducks have been dominant in their 6-0 start, outscoring foes 314-120 but the early schedule has been weak. This will be the first true road game of the season for the Ducks as they have played five home games and a neutral site game in Seattle. The toughest games on the schedule are still ahead as Oregon will head to USC in a few weeks as well as having to play Stanford and Oregon State in the final two games of the season.

Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was a question mark early in the year for the Ducks but he has performed admirably so far, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and throwing for 15 touchdowns against five interceptions. His completion percentage has dropped below 62 percent in Pac-12 play however and this should be the toughest defense he has faced yet this season.

The Ducks have great weapons in the backfield led by senior running back Kenjon Barner, who already has over 700 yards rushing on the season. Sophomore De’Athony Thomas has received just 41 carries but he is posting 9.2 yards per rush and has also been the leading receiver on the team with 20 catches. Oregon has scored at least 42 points in every game this season and the 52.3 points per game average is even higher than the last two years.

Oregon is considered a more serious threat to run the table this season not because of the offense, but because of the defense. Oregon has allowed 20 points per game this season but over 30 percent of the scoring has come in the 4th quarter, after the Ducks have built big leads and reserves have entered the games. Oregon is allowing almost 360 yards per game but it has not been easy to run against the Ducks and the statistics are a bit misleading as no game has been very close.

The expectations for Arizona State this season were quite grounded. Dennis Erickson was released after four straight mediocre seasons following his 10-3 debut season in 2007. Expectations were high for Arizona State last year as many thought they could win the South division of the Pac-12 with USC on probation but after a 5-1 start the Sun Devils won just once the rest of the year. After a one-year stint in Pittsburgh Todd Graham abruptly left to take this position and the move was met with lukewarm national reactions. Only eight starters returned for the Sun Devils and a rebuilding year seemed in order but the early results have changed those goals.

Arizona throttled Illinois in the first FBS game of the season and then played very competitively at Missouri for the only loss of the year. In Pac-12 play the Sun Devils are perfect with a 3-0 start but the schedule features a brutal gauntlet the next four weeks. This season could easily spiral the other direction just like last year, making this the biggest game of the season.

The Sun Devils have received great play from sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly so far this season as he has passed for 1,600 yards on over 68 percent completions so far this season. Kelly also is a threat on the ground and most impressively he has thrown just two interceptions in 164 pass attempts and he is yet to throw a pick at home this season. Early in the year freshman Michael Eubank also saw some snaps but Kelly has played well enough to firmly hold the starting job.

The Sun Devils would like to see more from the running game as a clear hierarchy in the backfield has not been established with three players getting significant carries in the backfield but the reason for the strong start this year has been defense. Arizona State has allowed just 14 points per game on the season and even lower numbers in conference games. Arizona State is holding foes to just 273 yards per game with great numbers against the pass. No one has illusions about holding Oregon to those types of numbers but the Sun Devils could disrupt the Ducks enough to have a chance to win this game and Oregon is a team that has not had to play in many tense situations of difficult environments this season.

Both teams were ranked when these teams met in Eugene last season and this should be a game where a lot is discovered about these squads and the potential for each team this season should become clearer. After a less enticing game last week on Thursday night with Arizona State eventually winning easily against Colorado the Pac-12 has a great showcase game this week to kick off the college football weekend.

Line Movement: Oregon opened as high as a 10-point favorite but this line has steadily dropped the last two days. The total briefly ticked up to 69½ but has settled back to 68½, where it opened.

Last Meeting: Arizona State was ranked #18 in the nation and Oregon was #9 when these teams met at a similar point in the season last year. LaMichael James did not play for Oregon in this game last year and it was evident early that this would be a back-and-forth high scoring affair even though Oregon had a fumble and a punt on its first two possessions. Arizona State scored first and carried a 14-7 lead into the 2nd quarter but by halftime Oregon had taken the lead 21-17. The Sun Devils showed some fight with a touchdown drive on the first possession of the 2nd half but things went downhill from there and Oregon had a 14-point lead by the first minute of the 4th quarter. Arizona State managed just a field goal on its final six possessions of the game as Oregon’s defense stepped up to take control of the game.

Series History: Oregon has won the last seven meetings in this series but they have a push and a loss ATS the last two years following five consecutive covers from 2005 to 2009. Going back to 1989 Oregon is 16-7 S/U and 13-10 ATS in this match-up but Arizona State won and covered in the seven years prior to that in the ‘80s. Oregon is just 1-3 ATS in the last four meetings when favored in Tempe but Oregon has posted big numbers in each of the last four trips there, averaging nearly 44 points per game.

Oregon Historical Trends: Oregon is 21-10 S/U with a winning ATS record in road games since 2006 and the Ducks won and covered in every true road game last season. Oregon is 9-6-1 ATS as a road favorite since 2008 and 20-13-1 ATS since 2001 in that role. Oregon is just 6-6-1 ATS in the last 13 games as a road favorite of more than a touchdown however. Oregon has not lost S/U in a conference road game since 2009, falling 51-42 at Stanford.

Arizona State Historical Trends: Arizona State is on a 15-7 ATS run in home games since 2009 and the Sun Devils have won and covered in all five instances as a home underdog in that span. Going further back Arizona State is on a 15-7-1 ATS run as a home underdog since 1995, though the Sun Devils are just 7-16 S/U in those games. Arizona State has not had a S/U home underdog win since 2003, beating Oregon 59-14 as a 2-point underdog.

There is an additional game Thursday night this week:

Houston at SMU (FSN-Regional, 8:00 p.m. ET)
Houston -5½, Over/Under 60

After an ugly 0-3 start Houston has evened its record with three straight wins. The competition has been pretty light but the offense is gaining confidence and has posted at least 35 points in five straight games. SMU is 2-4 after inexplicably losing against Tulane last week. The Mustangs had a big yardage edge but could not overcome a big early deficit. SMU lost by 30 in this match-up last season with Houston nearly doubling the yardage for the Mustangs. Houston has put up some big numbers but the defense is highly suspect, allowing nearly 470 yards per game through a very weak schedule. SMU has had to play some stiff competition so a bounce back is possible hosting this primetime match-up. Last season Houston won 37-7 at home in this series as a 20-point favorite and has won six in a row in this series. Houston has struggled as a road favorite however going just 14-26-1 ATS since 1991.

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