Joel Gunderson of Addicted To Quack stopped by to talk about one of the biggest games of the early College Football season -- the Ducks-Spartans rematch. We swapped questions about the two teams and my responses can be found here. Enjoy!
1. The Pac-12 (still feel weird typing that) is arguably the best conference in the country. Within the division, Cal, Stanford and Washington all look to all be improved while on the other side USC, UCLA and both Arizona teams look like contenders. Which team poses the biggest threat to the Ducks' conference supremacy?
The easy -- and most popular -- answer is USC. However, for my money, no team has the momentum, talent, and attitude like Arizona State. We've always known Todd Graham could coach; now, he's actually established a program, and the results are beginning to show. Within conferences, so much depends on schedule, and this ASU team gets USC and Oregon (on a Thursday night) at home, and misses Stanford. If they can survive UCLA on the road, they'll be in the PAC-12 title game. *This was answered before ASU forgot they were playing in a game last Saturday. However, if they wake up, I still like them best.
2. I think I speak for every Spartan fan when I say that I'm glad Marcus Mariota is not playing in this game. But, by all accounts, graduate transfer QB Vernon Adams appears to be the real deal, as well. What would you say are reasonable expectations for his first (and only) season in Eugene?
It might sound ridiculous to say, but if he can avoid turning the ball over, it's not unrealistic that this team goes 11-1 or 12-0. Look, even the coaches have acknowledged the fact that last year Mariota bailed the team out of 3-4 losses with his play; and for all Adams is, Mariota he is not. However, from top-to-bottom, this is the best Oregon roster ever. Depth at receiver, D-line, O-line and running back are at levels we've never seen. So, Adams has two things to do -- get the ball out quick to his skill players, and avoid mistakes. For all of the athleticism he brings, the reason he won the job, in my opinion, is that he has played a lot of college football. Nevermind that it was at a lower-division -- he has loads of real game experience, and that's huge.
3. This game is being played at Spartan Stadium, but for those of us who have never been, can you describe what it's like to see a game at Autzen? The place always appears to be a madhouse on TV and has a reputation as insanely loud. Just how big of an advantage is playing there?
Well, that's a loaded question: there's no denying that, from a pure noise perspective, Autzen is top-5 in the country, especially on a per-person basis. However, after they added in seats in 2002, many people (myself included) felt that it lost a bit of its edge, but it's still a huge advantage for Oregon, if for no other reason than when the other team has the ball, it's flat-out deafening. It's a funny place, because it doesn't look intimidating...the interesting part is, the stadium was built in the ground, so the noise stays trapped. Oregon fans are relatively new to the game -- the majority of the program's success has been in the past 20 years -- so it still feels new and exciting, which adds to the experience. (full disclosure: my bother attended MSU, and he flew me back for the Michigan - Michigan State game in 2003 at Spartan Stadium; I was blown-away by the sheer-size of the tailgating scene!)
4. In the past few years Michigan State has achieved some major success, but (to the chagrin of all MSU fans) still seems to fall behind OSU and UM on the national notoriety scale. As someone who lives across the country I'm curious: how is MSU viewed?
Well, unfortunately, they're still viewed like you would expect -- a third-wheel. However (and this is what you guys should be proud of), there's a ton of respect for the actual on-field product. Michigan gets the hype (and there's a ton of interest due to Harbaugh's days at Stanford), and people despise OSU for the reasons you would expect, but Michigan State garners a lot of respect -- and this game, in particular, is causing panic attacks. I actually view Michigan State as the perfect program -- successful, steady, with just enough edge to be feared, but never over-exposed.
5. Why did Roboduck retire? How is the Oregon fanbase handling this unspeakable tragedy?
You went there, wow. Well, let's just say that even the greatest minds make mistakes. I view it as a simple case of a school trying WAY too hard to capitalize on momentum. Remember, this was Year 1 post-Joey Harrington; following up on the best finish in program history; and they were off to a red-hot start, again. However, this is where the fine folks in charge missed the boat: Oregon fans, despite our programs flair-for-the-shiny, LOVE the Duck. Puddles (our mascot) is as much a part of the program as Phil Knight, Joey, Mariota, loud stadiums and uniforms. He's THE symbol of the program, and he is the one thing that should have been untouchable. (I still shudder thinking about Roboduck emerging from the egg; you can't even imagine how weird/awkward/quiet it was in the stadium in that moment).
6. Final score?
I think this one is very similar to last year's, in that MSU will control the line of scrimmage for the first half, maybe even three quarters. Just like last season, however, Oregon's speed becomes too much. From a skill position standpoint, there's no way teams can compete with Oregon's depth -- and, combined with the pace of play, it's too hard to handle for an entire 60-minute game. Oregon pulls it out late, 42-38.
Big Thanks to Joel Gunderson for answering our questions!