However, the 10-9 victory over Arizona is what elevated Oregon's stock and plunged the Pac-10 into chaos. The Ducks got the winning score on a 15-yard pass from O'Neil to Josh Wilcox with 12:17 to go. On four subsequent possessions the Wildcats netted a total of three yards against the Oregon defense.
At the start of the season the conference seemed rich in quarterbacks (e.g., Stanford's Steve Stenstrom, Cal's Dave Barr, Washington's Damon Huard, UCLA's Wayne Cook, USC's Rob Johnson) but has instead proved rich in defense. Two years ago Arizona stormed into prominence by stopping the run, and now most everybody in the league is trying to do the same. "High-risk man-to-man defenses," Robinson calls it.
Oregon, which is limiting opponents to 103 yards per game on the ground, held Arizona to 56 yards on 36 carries. "People can't run the football on us," says Brooks. "And we've got the best secondary I've ever had." The result of this conference-wide emphasis on defense has been a succession of tight games dependent on a big play here, a field goal there.
November promises more of the same. USC plays at Washington State on Saturday, and Arizona is at USC the week after. Oregon plays Arizona State in Eugene on Saturday and finishes at Stanford and Oregon State. Who has the edge? None of the teams can clinch a Rose Bowl berth simply by winning the rest of their games, and it's too early to tell which tiebreaker will apply. But the team of the moment is clearly the Ducks. "They're playing hard," says Robinson. "And they've got some real chemistry going for them."
They'll need every bit of it if they meet Penn State. "That would be a problem," says Brooks. But then he dreams: "It's a problem I'd like to have."