All season there was anticipation surrounding a Pac-10 showdown with national implications in November. But the teams showing up for the showdown weren't the ones everyone anticipated.
The big game was supposed to occur next week, between USC and California. But last week, Oregon (7-1) knocked off the Trojans and Arizona State (8-0) toppled the Bears. Now, the Ducks and Sun Devils will play to determine who has the inside track at the Pac-10 crown. The game also will enhance – or end – national-championship aspirations.
Oregon might have caught a break a week ago when USC quarterback John David Booty remained sidelined because of a broken finger. The Ducks could get another one this week because of a sprained thumb.
Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter sprained his right (throwing) thumb while handing off to tailback Keegan Herring in last week's victory over Cal. Carpenter was unable to throw in practice Tuesday. Carpenter did throw later in the week, but it raises questions of how effective he'll be on Saturday.
Carpenter, who has thrown for 1,949 yards and 17 touchdowns, claimed the injury may make him even more effective. He said he felt he was throwing better against Cal after hurting his thumb.
"I don't know what it is, but it seems like this year I need something to happen, whether it's an interception or a fumble or an injury to calm down and start playing better," he said.
Carpenter, and all the Sun Devils, likely will need to be sharp from the start. Arizona State has rallied from double-digit first-half deficits three times this season, but could find it difficult to come back in that situation against Oregon.
The Ducks rank fourth nationally in total offense, and have two Heisman Trophy contenders in quarterback Dennis Dixon and tailback Jonathan Stewart - who has rushed for 1,043 yards, including 354 and four touchdowns in the past two games.