Quarterback Dennis Dixon, who was to be brought along carefully this season as Kellen Clemens' backup in preparation for taking over as starter next year, has been pressed into service early for the No. 15 Ducks.
Clemens fractured his ankle two weeks ago against Arizona and his senior year ended with three regular-season games to go. The first is Saturday when the Ducks (7-1, 4-1 Pac-10) host No. 23 California (6-2, 3-2) at Autzen Stadium.
"I can't be too excited or be overexcited, but for the most part, it's hard not to be," Dixon said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes."
Dixon has completed 15 of 20 passes for 130 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in limited situations this season.
He takes over for Clemens, who had passed for 2,406 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Known for his scrambling ability, Clemens was still ranked fifth nationally this week with an average of 329.3 yards per game of total offense.
Some felt Clemens should have earned some Heisman notice this season, but he was overshadowed in a conference already crowded to the south with hopefuls like Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Maurice Drew and Drew Olson. And now it doesn't matter.
Clemens fractured his left ankle in Oregon's 28-21 win at Arizona on Oct. 22 and underwent surgery. He finishes with 61 touchdown passes for his career, one short of Danny O'Neil's school record (1991-94).
Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he sees Dixon as very similar to Clemens, with the only difference being experience.
"Any time there is a new guy in there, there is going to be a transition period. It may not be as much for him because he has played in games," Tedford said.
The Golden Bears, who have not won in Eugene since 1987, have junior-college transfer Joe Ayoob at quarterback after starter Nate Longshore broke his ankle in Cal's opener.
Ayoob has thrown for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns but has been inconsistent. He was heckled by fans after the Bears lost 23-20 at home to Oregon State, but the next week he completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins with 1:50 left for 42-38 victory over Washington State.
Ayoob went 19-of-35 for 274 yards and four touchdowns in the Oct. 22 victory, Cal's last game before last weekend's bye.
Cal's strength is at running back with Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, sophomores who are both averaging 108-plus yards rushing a game. The Bears rank seventh nationally in rushing offense with an average of 247 yards.
"They know what they want to do and they do it well," Oregon linebacker Anthony Trucks said about Cal's rushing attack.
"Marshawn Lynch has to be one of the most explosive running backs in the nation," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "Little did we know that they would have two running backs like that."
The Ducks are ranked third in the conference behind USC and Oregon State in rush defense, allowing an average of 121.4 yards a game.
Both Oregon and Cal are coming off byes, giving Dixon extra time to adjust to his new role - and giving Cal a better chance to prepare.
"It's been real different the last couple weeks, getting all these reps, building that relationship with my team. Everyone is on my side and now we really need to come together to get this eighth win," Dixon said.
The Bears have lost six in a row at Autzen. They had a seven-game losing streak overall until a 28-27 home win over the Ducks last season.