The Oregon Ducks face one of their toughest challenges of the last six years when they host No. 8 Michigan State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
It's a game that No. 3 Oregon certainly could win. But history suggests that it's also one the Ducks very well could lose.
In fact, based on recent history UO has about a 50/50 chance of winning on Saturday.
Since UO's current run of great success began in 2009, the Ducks are 7-7 against teams that finish the season with double-digit victories. Two of those wins came against non-BCS programs.
How does this pertain to Saturday? Well, the 2014 Spartans certainly have the look of a potential 10-win team. They went 13-1 last year and are a preseason top-10 team for a reason. They also possess many of the same attributes of teams Oregon struggles with: hard-nosed running game and a rugged defense.
Oregon has destroyed lesser teams. From 2009 through last season, Oregon went 57-9 while claiming three conference titles and making four BCS bowl game appearances. During that stretch the Ducks virtually always took care of business against non-elite teams, going 50-2 versus those that finish the season with single-digit victories.
Logic dictates that a great team will be less successful against other great teams. So Oregon being 7-7 against such competition is nothing to frown upon, necessarily. What's interesting, however, is how the Ducks lost those seven games. In most cases the opponents neutralized Oregon's offense, the calling card of the program's recent dominance.
The Ducks averaged 44.9 points per game from 2009 through 2013 while allowing 21.7. In the 52 games played against teams with single-digit victories, Oregon averaged 54.3 points while allowing 21.2.
But in the seven defeats to 10-win teams the Ducks averaged just 20 points per game on offense while surrendering 26.9. Furthermore, a team that routinely racks up 500 yards of total offense, including 300 rushing, was reduced to 330.3 total yards per game and 121.3 rushing in those seven losses.
It would make much more sense for Oregon to lose such games because the defense, forced to be on the field for most of the game because of the team's fast-paced offense, got worn down and gave up a lot of points to good teams. But that hasn't routinely been the case. Instead, it's been Oregon's offense that has wilted under the pressure of facing elite competition.
The Spartans ranked third in the nation last season in both total defense (252) and points allowed (13.2). They return several stars on defense, including safety Kurtis Drummond and defensive end Shilique Calhoun, both on numerous awards watch lists.
MSU also has a strong running game, which could work to keep Oregon's offense off the field for long stretches, the way Stanford's has done to Oregon the past two seasons. By the way, MSU defeated Stanford 24-20 in last season's Rose Bowl.
All of this makes Saturday's game a very intriguing contest for Oregon. Can it buck the trend? Or will it be the same 'ol story?
Oregon's national tile hopes could be decided by the outcome.
"It’s going to be a good test for us," Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said.
To say the least.
Here's a year-by-year look at Oregon's record against 10-plus-win teams:
2013 (1-1, 11-2 overall)
(W) 42-14 vs. No. 12 UCLA (10-3)
(L) 26-20 at No. 6 Stanford (11-3)
Note: Second loss of season came 42-16 at Arizona (8-5)
2012 (2-1, 12-1 overall)
(W) 57-34 vs. Arkansas State (10-3, non-BCS program)
(L) 17-14 OT vs. No. 14 Stanford (12-2)
(W) 35-17 vs. No. 12 Kansas State (11-2) in Fiesta Bowl
2011 (2-2, 12-2 overall)
(L) 40-27 in Dallas, Texas vs. No. 4 LSU (13-1)
(W) 53-30 at No. 3 Stanford (11-2)
(L) 38-35 vs. USC (10-2)
(W) 45-38 over No. 10 Wisconsin (11-3) in the Rose Bowl.
2010 (1-1, 12-1 overall)
(W) 52-31 over No. 9 Stanford (12-1).
(L) 22-19 t0 No. 1 Auburn (14-0) in BCS National Championship Game.
2009 (1-2, 10-3 overall)
(L) 19-8 at No. 14 Boise State (14-0).
(W) 31-24 over No. 18 Utah (10-3, played in non-BCS Mountain West Conference).
(L) 26-17 in the Rose Bowl to No. 5 Ohio State (11-2).
Note: Also lost 51-42 to Stanford (8-5).