NCF Nation: Buffalo Bills


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.

Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.

Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.

Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.

He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.

Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.

"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."

Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.

Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.

The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.

Oregon players paid tribute to both.

"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."

But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.

"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."

Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.

"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."

Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."

As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.

He's not the only one.

A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.

Foles focuses on present, not NFL

April, 19, 2011
4/19/11
1:00
PM ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Before we engage our topic -- Arizona quarterback Nick Foles -- let's pause for a moment and consider the Wildcats' NFL history at Foles' position. It will only require the briefest of pauses, however, so don't worry about your eyes glazing over.

In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.

In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.

And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeArizona's Nick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said of quarterback Nick Foles following a dramatic win over Iowa. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
If Foles were in this class, he'd probably yawn. He's not much into history, even though he could have made it for the Wildcats if he'd opted to enter the draft instead of returning for his senior season. Heck, he's not much into the future either because he says -- convincingly, by the way -- that he's not thinking about the NFL.

"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."

In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).

Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.

The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.

For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.

"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."

Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.

So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.

"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."

Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.

"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."

Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."

In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.

"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."

Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.

Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.

"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."

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