2006 Las Vegas Bowl - Oregon vs. BYU

Posted Dec 8, 2006

The post-season really kicks off with the Las Vegas Bowl with Oregon vs. BYU to start the run of bowls. While the Ducks need a win to salvage a bad second half of the year, BYU is looking for national exposure. If you didn't get a chance to see Cougar QB John Beck, here's your chance.

Oregon (7-5) vs. BYU (10-2)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ESPN

Get Tickets for the Las Vegas Bowl | Get more picks for this game

Las Vegas Bowl Player Profile: BYU QB John Beck, team bowl history and more

Things never work out the way you'd like them to, but this solid matchup between a slightly disappointing, middle-of-the-pack Pac 10 team and the Mountain West champion should be among the best and more competitive of the pre-2007 bowls.

Can Oregon bounce back after falling off the map over the final three weeks of the season? Can BYU not just win, but show how good it really is by blowing away a name team in front of a national audience? If bowl games are often about discovery and used as a proving grown to see just how far teams have come, this is as big as it gets for the rediscovery of two strong programs.

In his second year at the helm, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has reached his goal of returning the glory to the one-time powerhouse that no languishes in Mountain West obscurity. The Cougars were just this close to an undefeated season losing on a miraculous kick from Arizona's Nick Folk to open the season and dropping a classic double-overtime heartbreaker to Boston College two weeks later. Things quickly came together as the veteran team went on a fantastic, dominant run winning straight and taking the Mountain West title with stunning ease.

National Rankings
Oregon BYU
Total Offense
8th  436.42 ypg 5th  458.58 ypg
Total Defense
30th  303.25 ypg 51st  324.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
17th  31.25 ppg 6th  36.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
84th  25.58 ppg 16th  15.25 ppg
Run Offense
11th  189.17 ypg 54th  139.33 ypg
Run Defense
74th  146.58 ypg 35th  115.75 ypg
Pass Offense
21st  247.25 ypg 4th  319.25 ypg
Pass Defense
10th  156.67 ypg 73rd  208.33  ypg
Turnover Margin
107th  -0.83 4th  1.17
Stanford W 48-10
at Fresno St W 31-24
Oklahoma W 34-33
at Ariz St W 48-13
at California L 45-24
W 30-20
at Wash St L 34-23
Portland St W 55-12
Washington W 34-14
at USC L 35-10
Arizona L 37-10
at Oregon St L 30-28
at Arizona L 16-13
Tulsa W 49-24
at BC L 30-23 2OT
Utah State W 38-0
at TCU W 31-17
DSU W 47-17
UNLV W 52-7
at A Force W 33-14
at Col St W 24-3
Wyoming W 55-7
N Mexico W 42-17
at Utah W 33-31
Position Ratings
relative to each other
O 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 5
4.5 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
4 O Line 4
4 D Line 3
3.5 Linebackers 3.5
4 Secondary 3
3.5 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 4

Oregon had two seasons. The first saw a 5-1 start with a controversial win over Oklahoma that appears to have set back Big 12-Pac 10 relations to an Iran-U.S. level, and a 45-24 loss to California that showed just how far the young team needed to go before it could challenge for the Pac 10 title. Even so, the inexperienced but talented team occasionally showed flashes of brilliance and skill with the Pac-10's most productive offense and a solid, but inconsistent, pass defense. Coming off a disappointing end to a great 2005 season with a loss to Oklahoma the Holiday Bowl, the Ducks are hoping for the reverse effect this season with a win over the Cougars being used as a launching pad to what has the potential to be a great 2007.

Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Jaison Williams, and two promising, yet inconsistent, quarterbacking options in Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf form the foundation for what should be one of the nation's best offenses over the next few seasons. As is, the Duck attack finished eight in the nation averaging 436 yards per game, but it hit a wall late in the year and struggled thanks to turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers giving it away ten times over the final three games.

On the flip side, BYU lost the ball only 11 times all season long and spent a season capitalizing on everyone else's mistakes. This is a rock-solid Cougar team from top to bottom led by QB John Beck, who would've been in the Heisman race had anyone ever seen him play on a consistent basis. The offense finished fifth in the nation, the defense and special teams were good enough to not be a liability. But while the team is shooting for an 11-win season and hoping to use this as a springboard to more national attention. You'll have to forgive Cougar fans if they're still slightly skeptical; they've been burned before.

Former head coach Gary Crowton took the Cougars to a 12-0 record in 2001 before the team went into the tank over the final two games and into a mediocre abyss over the following three seasons. Now Crowton is on the other side as the Oregon offensive coordinator. He brought in many of the current Cougars and knows how good they are. Will it matter? Probably not, but it'll certainly be an interesting storyline in one of the early bowl games worth paying very close attention to.

Players to watch: It's too late for everyone to get on board the bandwagon considering John Beck's great career has one more game left in it, but he's still worth the price of admission. Always a bomber with 10,646 career yards and 77 touchdowns, he became more efficient and more effective in his senior season throwing for 3,510 yards and 30 scores with just six picks. Unflappable and in total command of the offense, he completed 70% of his throws and made all the right decisions over the second half of the season.

While Beck is a strength for BYU, the Oregon quarterback situation is far from settled with Brady Leaf and Dennis Dixon each in the mix to try to get back the offensive consistency. The overall production and yards are there, but one of them has to grow into the role, and most importantly, stop making mistakes.

Dixon appeared to be on the verge of growing into Pac 10 stardom over after a strong first four games, and then he threw three picks in the loss to California and the coaching staff limited his attempts with Leaf getting more into the fold. An ugly three interception day in the loss to Arizona meant Dixon was out and Leaf was in against Oregon State in the regular season finale, but that doesn't mean he'll go the entire way against BYU. This game should go a long way to see who'll be the main man in charge in 2007.

Whoever's throwing the ball has one of the Pac 10's best kept secrets to throw to in sophomore WR Jaison Williams. Overshadowed by USC's tandem of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, as well as Cal's DeSean Jackson, Williams led the Pac 10 in receptions and finished second in receiving yards per game despite being out against Arizona with a broken back. Why the lack of love? He didn't score enough catching only one touchdown pass over the final seven games of Oregon's season. He'll have to play a big role if the Ducks are going to keep pace in the shootout.

Oregon will win if... as alluded to before, it wins the turnover battle. BYU turned it over three times in the loss to Boston College, twice in the loss to Arizona, and six times in the other ten games combined. Oregon has been fine when it hangs on to the ball, so as long as the offensive marches aren't stopped by giving the ball up, scoring won't be an issue. Defensively, the Ducks have to get consistent pressure on Beck. He's mobile enough to buy himself time, but he can't be allowed to take his time to find the second and third receivers. The Oregon secondary is more than strong enough to hang one-on-one with the Cougar receivers, and the linebackers are quick enough to stay with top option, tight end Jonny Harline.

BYU will win if... it gets the ground game going. Lost from Beck's great season has been the 1-2 punch of Curtis Brown and Fui Vakapuna, who've combined to provide good balance all season long. The more the linebackers have to worry about the Cougar ground game, the less they'll focus on Beck and his midrange passer. It's no coincidence that BYU's five worst rushing games this year turned into two losses and the three relatively close calls, while the blowouts came when the offense cranked out big yards on the ground. Oregon's run defense can be pushed around a little bit.

What will happen: BYU will have the fans, the momentum, the experience and the excitement, but Oregon will be rested, healthy, and with something to prove. The Ducks have the offense to hang with the Cougars in what should be a whoever-has-the-ball-last shootout. Beck will get his 300+ yards, but Jonathan Stewart's 150-yard rushing day will turn out to be more effective.

Line: BYU -5 ... CFN Prediction:
Oregon 40 ... BYU 38

Las Vegas Bowl Player Profile: BYU QB John Beck, team bowl history and more