The early lines have installed Oregon as a 3 point favorite, and perhaps the only surprise there is that the margin is not greater considering the two teams' records. Oregon (10-1) lost only to USC, who is playing for the National Championship, and all four of Oklahoma's losses came to Top 25 teams. That signifies both teams are very good squads, just outside the realm of elite this season.
One important factor to consider is Oregon's loss of Senior Quarterback Kellen Clemens to injury. He had thrown for 19 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions before going down for the season. In his absence, Oregon will start Sophomore Dennis Dixon, a highly recruited QB who threw for 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions after replacing Clemens.
Something else to factor in to the equation might be Oregon's psyche coming into the game. Snubbed from a BCS bowl, there are two possibilies. They could come out emotionally charged, looking to prove something, or they could play flat out of a sense what might have been. A similar situation occurred in last year's Holiday Bowl when a favored Cal team was left out of a BCS bowl and then upset by Texas Tech.
Otherwise, this is a game that figures to be a good one. Oklahoma's offense has steadily improved over the course of the season, and their defense is one of the better in the nation against the run. Oregon's offense has lit up a number of scoreboards, and they figure to pass early and often against the Sooners. That's because OU's main deficiency this year on defense has been against the pass.
And while that points to a big advantage for Oregon, the ground game could be a big one for the Sooners. Oregon has struggled at times this year defending the run, and Adrian Peterson appears to be back at full strength for Oklahoma after busting out with 237 yards in the final regular season game.
One of the keys to the game could be ball control. OU will probably try to establish their run and control the tempo of the game while Oregon tends to feature an explosive offense with quick strikes.
The Sooners will try to put pressure on Dixon with some zone blitzes and hope to neutralize his running ability, forcing him into mistakes. The Ducks may put some extra guys around the line of scrimmage and dare the young Rhett Bomar to throw on them.
Both teams have plenty of time to prepare for the game so expect a few wrinkles you didn't see during the regular season. Nevertheless, they'll try to play to their strengths. You can probably count on a relatively close contest where mistakes by the young quarterbacks could make the difference.
: And now for my prediction. Although OU's offense has been the subject of much scrutiny this year, the defense has been solid but unspectacular. When they've struggled, it has been against quarterbacks who can move around as well as pass. While I'm not completely convinced Dixon can beat the Sooners through the air, I think he can do damage with his legs.
On the other side of the equation, I don't think the Ducks can adequately prepare for what Adrian Peterson can do. Oregon has given up rushing yards to backs not nearly as talented as AD. Bomar has steadily improved this season as well (the Texas game excluded). For that reason, I expect to see a fairly high-scoring game in the Holiday Bowl tradition.
When it's all said and done, I'm going with the upset. I think these two teams are comparable in talent, despite the differences in record, and this one should come down to the wire. The Sooners, who have been in more close games this season, will find a way to pull it out.
Oklahoma 38, Oregon 35