Nov. 10, 2000
EUGENE, Ore. - California is getting better as the season goes on. The same can't be said for No. 6 Oregon.
No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-10) is in control of the Pac-10 race and a berth in the Rose Bowl, but their last three victories have come by a combined eight points. They needed a total of three overtimes to dispatch their last two opponents, lightly regarded Arizona State and Washington State.
"I never thought it would be this stressful sitting atop the Pac-10," Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington said with a laugh. "I always dreamed about it being fun, but it takes its toll on your stomach."
Oregon has won 19 straight at Autzen Stadium and 11 straight overall in the Pac-10, but Cal is no pushover. The Bears (3-6, 2-4) defeated UCLA and USC and came close to upending Washington and Oregon State, the two second-place teams in the Pac-10.
"We can't afford to make any mistakes," Harrington said. "We have to play perfect and flawless the rest of the season against two very tough teams. Cal is going to be gunning for us and trying to knock us off."
The Bears are averaging 32.5 points in their last four games after scoring a total of 69 in the first five games.
"I think our team knows that it's an improving team," Cal coach Tom Holmoe said, "a team that seems to be having more fun playing each week. You look at the Pac-10 standings, and you see (Oregon) at the very top, and our team is excited about the opportunity to play a Top 10 team that has a very exceptional record at home."
Sophomore Kyle Boller is emblematic of the Cal resurgence, passing for 349 yards in last week's 38-32 home loss to Oregon State.
"He's matured so much," said receiver Chad Heydorff, who caught a touchdown pass last week. "If you look at his passes right now, he's right on the money."
Cal hasn't beaten a Top 10 team since Oct. 29, 1977, when it defeated No. 10 Southern California.
If the Ducks win and Oregon State loses at Arizona, the Ducks are in the Rose Bowl. Oregon actually could lose Saturday and still win the conference title if the Ducks beat Oregon State in Corvallis next week.
Both Oregon State and Washington have one loss, and a three-way tie would favor the Huskies since they have a better non-conference record against Division I-A competition.
Each of Oregon's last three victories went down to the last play:
"Give these kids credit, because they never quit, and they have an innate sense of confidence," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "If it's close at the end, they're going to find a way to win."
Since the overtime rule went into effect in 1996, Oregon has played eight OT games, the most of any Division I-A school.
"I would think we're an expert at this by now," Tucker said.
Oregon is one of just three teams to win 14 of its last 15 games, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Nebraska are the others. Football has never felt this important in the state, and Cal knows it has a great opportunity to possibly ruin a storybook season.
"The whole attitude of our defense is to go out and spoil people's dreams," linebacker Chris Ball said.
By LANDON HALL
AP Sports Writer