Lieberman: Pac-12 Championship Game won't disappoint moving forward

The Pac-12 Championship Game was designed as a showcase for the best college football the West Coast has to offer.  This season, the contest feels more like tainted Thanksgiving leftovers.

At the end of November, there are usually a few questionable items around the kitchen that need to be thrown out: clumpy mashed potatoes, dry turkey, overdue eggnog. In 2011, we’ll have to add Rick [email protected]@ and UCLA to that list.

The Bruins aren’t just underdogs — they’re a sitting duck for Oregon. That being said, don’t curse the Pac-12 South. Both this year and in the future, a potential extra conference matchup will provide more benefit than most fans believe.

UCLA is fighting for bowl eligibility. They also have a starting quarterback who has thrown more interceptions (20)@@mckenna says so@@ than touchdown passes (19)@@see says so again@@ in his career. But facing the Bruins will provide a young Oregon team with one more week of solid competition and preparation before their virtually inevitable trip to the Rose Bowl.

Oregon’s two potential opponents in Pasadena are Wisconsin and Michigan State. Each team features a formidable running game with a bruising tailback. While UCLA doesn’t boast a physically overpowering offensive line, they surely have a rushing attack that will serve as a barometer of sorts for an Oregon defense that’s been, at best, inconsistent against the run.

The Bruins’ running back, Johnathan Franklin,@@ is more of a sprinter than a battering ram. But he’ll be a serviceable warm up for the Ducks nonetheless. Franklin has 912 [email protected]@ on the season despite playing behind a front line that has been subpar so far in 2011. Franklin is averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 149 attempts this season;@@see previous@@ the rest of the team is averaging less than [email protected]@changed from 4.3: on 330 carries.

Considering the annoyingly long layoff between the regular season and bowl games, I’ll take the extra reps. Even if some of those snaps are for Oregon’s second-team defense. At the rate the Ducks rotate players on that side of the ball, more experience can never hurt.

Other reasons exist for Oregon to accept the Pac-12 Championship Game with open arms. Remember that team we used to battle every year for in-state bragging rights? Well, that version of Oregon State hasn’t been seen for a few seasons. Based on the result of this year’s Civil War, I wouldn’t count on the Beavers returning to prominence anywhere in the near future.

In my mind, ending the season with a whooping of the Beavers is satisfying in its own unique way. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get old. In the next 10 years, I’m confident that I’ll prefer for Oregon to end its season with a conference championship against a worthy opponent. It’s either that or another back-alley beatdown in their own backyard.

I know, I know — Oregon isn’t guaranteed to win the Pac-12 North every season. But with the program at an all-time high and still rising, it’s hard to look around at the competition (Washington, Wazzou, OSU, Cal and Stanford) and feel intimidated. Once Andrew Luck takes off, do the Ducks really have reason to feel alarmed moving forward?

Then there are those pretty boys down in Troy. Let’s admit it: Oregon fans love to hate USC. And there’s nothing wrong with that. With both programs in prime position going forward, the prospect of the Ducks taking on the Trojans with serious marbles on the lines is intriguing. I think it would be hard for any legitimate fan of college football in the country to pass up on that kind of matchup. A budding rivalry could really grow wings with the possibility of a high-stakes game at the end of every season.

So if Friday’s contest is a blowout, don’t roll your eyes. This year’s championship looks to be an anomaly. A few unlikely factors (NCAA sanctions, mediocre competition, dumb luck) contributed to a throwdown between Oregon and UCLA. Decades from now, you’ll likely be proud to tell your grandchildren you were in Eugene the first time the Ducks played for the Pac-12 crown.

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