NCF Nation: Civil War

State of Oregon takes center stage

October, 22, 2013
If you catch the state of Oregon collectively lip-syncing to the Spears song "Scream and Shout" this week -- "All eyes on us! All eyes on us!" -- it's understandable.

Oregon, our 27th most populous state, with one tenth the population of fellow Pac-12 state California, one that produced just 13 FBS football signees last February, is the center of the college football universe on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsQB Sean Mannion and Oregon State look to win their seventh straight, but it won't be easy against Stanford.
First, No. 12 UCLA visits No. 3 Oregon, with ESPN's College GameDay setting up shop. This is a nice test for the Ducks, one that should allow them, if they win, to climb past Florida State into the all-important second spot in the BCS standings. And, obviously, the Bruins could make a national statement in Year 2 under Jim Mora with a victory.

Then, the nightcap just 45 miles down the road in Corvallis: No. 6 Stanford, the top one-loss team in the BCS standings, visits No. 25 Oregon State. With a win, the Cardinal could set up a marquee North Division match up with Oregon on Nov. 7. Or the Beavers could announce themselves as North contenders, and perhaps hint at another high-stakes Civil War matchup to end the season, not unlike 2009.

If we use the BCS standings as our rankings (the Beavers are No. 28 in the AP poll), it's the first time ranked Oregon and Oregon State teams have played host to ranked visitors on the same Saturday in state history.

Of course, there are other marquee games. No. 10 Texas Tech, unbeaten but untested, visits No. 15 Oklahoma, where it is 100 percent certain Bob Stoops is grumpy. And No. 21 South Carolina, one of the SEC's reeling powers, faces No. 5 Missouri, the unbeaten upstart from the Big 12 that was hopelessly overmatched by the SEC grind (or so almost everyone thought).

Give those games a nice pat on the head. And revert your admiring gaze back to the Beaver state (apologies Ducks, but, well, that's where you live).

A few decades ago, the very notion of the state being even worth a glance from the college football nation would have been difficult to imagine. In 1971, the Beavers began a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. From 1965 to 1988, the Ducks never won more than six games.

When Oregon won the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season, it was the first victory in the Granddaddy by either since 1942. The Beavers last Rose Bowl appearance came in 1965.

But since 2000, both programs have been regular inhabitants in the national rankings. The Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame after the 2000 season and finished ranked fourth, the first of five Top 25 rankings in the final AP poll, including No. 20 in 2012.

And, obviously, Oregon has been on a bit of a roll of late, finishing ranked for the past six seasons in a row, including top-four rankings in the past three.

The Ducks and Beavers, however, presently have different bars over which they are trying to jump.

Oregon is smack in the middle of the national-title hunt, where there is no margin for error. So far, the Ducks have dominated every foe. Their closest game was a 21-point win at Washington.

Oregon State started the season nationally ranked by faceplanting with an opening loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. In that game, the defense was abysmal. Yet since then, the Beavers have clawed their way to six consecutive victories and are a win away from jumping back into the national polls. Beating Stanford, in fact, could immediately propel them into the teens, not the 20s.

And that defense that got torched by EWU has held the past three Pac-12 foes to an average of 19.3 points per game.

There's obviously a lot at stake for all four teams, but an interesting subplot is the QBs from the Oregon schools. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is No. 1 in ESPN's total quarterback rating (QBR) and tops among Heisman Trophy candidates. Beavers QB Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdowns. He could legitimize his Heisman candidacy with a big game against a rugged Stanford defense.

So there's a good reason all eyes will be on the state of Oregon this weekend. Both games will have significant national and Pac-12 ramifications.

And if the home teams win, it would become reasonable to speculate upon the possibility of another epic Civil War on Nov. 29 in Eugene, one that again would captivate the college football nation.

Final: Oregon 48, Oregon State 24

November, 24, 2012

The 116th Civil War was close. And then it wasn't. Yes, we've seen that before with Oregon.

Oregon scored 28 consecutive second-half points and blew away Oregon State 48-24.

The Beavers opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive that narrowed the deficit to 20-17. But they made things easy for the Ducks by then giving away five of their six turnovers in the second half.

A week after getting shut down by Stanford in their first loss of the season, the Ducks (11-1, 8-1) rolled up 570 yards while winning their fifth Civil War in a row. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3) gained 393. The Ducks outrushed the Beavers 430 yards to 82.

After the Beavers scored on their first possession of the third quarter, Oregon made its move. It drove 66 yards for a touchdown, and then the Beavers fumbled the ensuing kickoff. A 29-yard De'Anthony Thomas run later -- on fourth-and-5 no less -- and it was 34-17.

Kenjon Barner rushed for 198 yards on 28 carries with two TDs, but he was banged up much of the second half, when Thomas took over. Thomas rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries and three scores.

Beavers QB Sean Mannion, who lost his job to Cody Vaz after throwing four interceptions at Washington on Oct. 27, again threw four interceptions.

Oregon, which has won 15 consecutive road games, now awaits a couple other results. First, it needs Stanford to lose to UCLA this afternoon, which would make the Ducks the Pac-12 North Division champions. They then would play UCLA, already the South champion, on Friday in the Pac-12 title game.

Further, Oregon is still in the national title hunt. It needs, first and foremost, for No. 1 Notre Dame to lose tonight at USC. It also probably needs Florida to lose to Florida State, a game that is in the fourth quarter as this sentence is typed.

Even if Oregon doesn't reach the Pac-12 title game, where it would play for a Rose Bowl berth or more, it is almost certain to be an at-large selection for a BCS bowl game, mostly likely the Fiesta Bowl.

Lots of intrigue for 116th Civil War

November, 20, 2012
Kelly/RileyUS PresswireOregon coach Chip Kelly and Oregon State coach Mike Riley face off Saturday in the 116th Civil War.
The 2012 Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State doesn't match the 2000 game, when both teams were ranked in the top 10 for the first time in the rivalry's history, or the 2009 game, when the winner-take-all stakes were a Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth. But it's pretty darn big.

The 116th Civil War, the seventh-oldest rivalry game in college football, in Reser Stadium on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network) approaches the 2000 game in terms of both teams' rankings, the first time in the series that both were ranked in the top 10. Oregon was fifth and Oregon State eighth in that game, won 23-13 by the Beavers. This go-around, Oregon is again fifth and the Beavers 15th in the latest BCS standings.

There is no Rose Bowl on the line for Oregon State, as there was in 2008 and 2009, but the Beavers can play a spoiler role while boosting themselves in the Pac-12 pecking order.

Oregon still harbors hopes of slipping into the national title game, and the Ducks will win the North Division if they beat the Beavers and Stanford loses at UCLA on Saturday. Then Oregon would play host to UCLA on Nov. 30, with -- at least -- a Rose Bowl berth at stake.

And even if Stanford beats UCLA to win the North, an Oregon victory over the Beavers likely would earn it an at-large berth to a BCS bowl game, probably the Fiesta Bowl, where they could end up playing the Big 12 champ, likely Kansas State.

Oregon State? While its postseason destination is most likely the Holiday Bowl, ending a four-game losing streak in the rivalry series would be significant. It would certainly stem the momentum that has been decidedly in the Ducks' favor since an obscure coach from New Hampshire by the name of Chip Kelly arrived as the team's offensive coordinator in 2007.

While the 2008 and 2009 Civil Wars were big games with big implications, the 2010 and 2011 games were all about the Ducks. They were coronation events, as Oregon earned berths in the national title game and the Rose Bowl. The Beavers, meanwhile, were sucking on lemons, suffering through back-to-back losing seasons.

That had some Beavers fans grousing about coach Mike Riley and his staff. It wasn't only about a program backtrack. It was about what was happening 45 minutes to the south in Eugene. It's no fun losing games, but when you are losing, it's much worse when your rival is thriving.

Beavers fans saw Kelly -- smug, smirking, standoffish, annoyingly brilliant -- and felt they were getting left behind.

But we all know things can change quickly in college football. The Beavers are on a clear uptick. While both teams have a lot of talent coming back in 2013, it's Oregon that now has some question marks.

Will Kelly be lured away by an NFL offer? More than a few NFL sorts believe he will have his pick of jobs this offseason.

And what about the NCAA investigation into L'Affair de Willie Lyles? At some point penalties will be handed out. While those penalties are not expected to be crippling -- despite the uninformed blather coming from some people -- they certainly won't help the Ducks maintain their perch atop the Pac-12.

Just imagine how the next couple of months could go for Oregon State fans: 1. A Civil War victory over Oregon, ending a four-year losing streak in the series and the Ducks' three-year run of conference titles; 2. Kelly leaves Eugene for the NFL; 3. NCAA sanctions for the Ducks.

Let's just say more than a few Beavers fans would be high-fiving each other. And there would probably be more than a few Washington Huskies fans trying to get in on that action.

Or ... or ...

Oregon beats the Beavers for a fifth consecutive time, finagles its way into the national title game and then beats, say, Alabama for the school's first national title. Then Kelly announces he's staying in Eugene "for life" and the NCAA gently slaps the Ducks' wing.

So, yeah, there's a lot going on here.

Still, amid all these possibilities and speculations, good and bad for both programs, there is only one thing that either can control: Saturday's game.

Yes, it's pretty darn big.

Halftime: Oregon 28, Oregon State 7

November, 26, 2011
Oregon got off to a fast start, stalled, then hit the accelerator in the first half of the Civil War against Oregon State.

The Ducks jumped ahead 7-0 after Beavers QB Sean Mannion threw an interception on the game's first possession. Then they were stopped three times on fourth downs in Oregon State territory. But when the Beavers tied the game on a 58-yard TD from Mannion to Jovan Stevenson, Oregon awoke.

The Ducks scored TDs on drives of 79, 80 and 75 yards. Each ended with a TD pass from Darron Thomas.

Oregon outgained Oregon State 394-125 in the first half. The Ducks defense so dominated -- other than the long TD play -- that Oregon is actually ahead in time of possession: 17:23 to 12:37. That almost never happens.

The Ducks have 20 first downs, Oregon State just four. LaMichael James has 109 yards rushing on 18 carries. He scored the Ducks first TD.

It appears, despite the sputtering period, that Oregon is well on its way to winning its fourth consecutive Civil War for the first time since 1994-97.

Oregon shocked by home loss to USC

November, 20, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- This is most strange. The ball didn't go where it was supposed to go. The kick went to the left of the yellow pole, the clock ran out and the Autzen Stadium scoreboard said, "USC 38, Oregon 35."

We now know what disbelief sounds like.

This wasn't the storybook ending summoned by 59,933 with their collective knowledge that Oregon and Chip Kelly don't waste amazing comebacks. It had been 38-14 in the third quarter, and all was lost. Then it felt certain Oregon was going to win after an unanswered 21-point barrage that was vintage Ducks.

Ah, but this weekend certainly taught us -- again -- that there are no sure things in college football.

"The game comes, the game goes," Kelly said. "It's about making plays."

Both USC and Oregon made a lot of them -- good and bad -- but the Trojans ended up celebrating when the Ducks' final 16-play, 66-yard drive ended with a missed 37-yard field goal from Alejandro Maldonado.

For the first time in 21 games, the Ducks lost in their home stadium. For the first time in 19 conference games, the Ducks lost, period. And for the first time in two years, the Ducks are out of the national title race.

Oregon can't spend too much time shaking its collective fist at the heavens. It now needs to beat Oregon State at home on Saturday to sew up the Pac-12 North championship. While missing out on a second consecutive national title game is a bummer, as consolation prizes go, the Rose Bowl is pretty darn good.

As for USC, it doesn't get a postseason, but it gets a red-letter victory for coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley, who tossed four touchdown passes as the Trojans jumped all over the Ducks for two and a half quarters. They improved to 9-2 and 6-2 in conference play. If they beat rival UCLA next weekend, they would end up atop the South Division, even if NCAA sanctions ban them from enjoying the fruits of that. Further, they could knock UCLA out of the title game while finishing with 10 victories.

"To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they have come," Kiffin said.

USC went three-and-out twice and fumbled on its first three possessions, but a 59-yard bomb from Barkley to freshman Marqise Lee ignited the offense. Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards. With Robert Woods hurting -- ankle and shoulder injuries -- Lee became the go-to guy, hauling in eight passes for 187 yards.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly and Oregon lost at home for the first time in 21 games, to a Pac-12 foe for the first time in 19.
USC stormed ahead 38-14 with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Only then did the Ducks wake up. Or, more accurately, freshman De'Anthony Thomas woke up the Ducks and Autzen Stadium with a 96-yard return of the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.

The Ducks got a defensive stop and drove 75 yards for a touchdown in 2:16. With its lead cut to 11, USC seemed to tighten up. Barkley threw his only interception to John Boyett, and Oregon drove 60 yards for another TD. After a two-point conversion, the Trojans' lead was just three.

"It wasn't fun seeing the score go in the wrong direction," Kiffin said.

The Trojans drove to the Oregon 11-yard line as the clock dipped inside of three minutes. But Barkley and running back Marc Tyler fumbled a handoff exchange, and that set up Oregon's final -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- drive.

"You're going to lose," Kelly said. "None of us have delusions we're not going to lose in Autzen Stadium."

The Ducks earned a first down on the Trojans' 32-yard line with 38 seconds left with three timeouts. In fact, the Trojans called timeout to regroup. After 9- and 5-yard runs from Kenjon Barner, who led the Ducks with 123 yards on 15 carries, the Ducks had a first down on the 18 with 20 seconds left. That, typically, is an eternity to Oregon. But not this time. The well-oiled machine seemed to get some sand in its gears. An incompletion and a pass that lost 2 yards eliminated a game-winning touchdown as an option.

"What you don't want to do in that situation is force it," Kelly said.

Or miss the tying field goal that would keep your national title hopes alive.

"I don't know how to explain how we feel right now -- this hurts," Oregon receiver Josh Huff said. "We just thought we were going to come in and run over them, but they came out hard and we lost."

It was USC's first victory in the state of Oregon since 2005. It was the first time Kelly lost to a team that had just one week to prepare.

All of it felt a bit weird, but that's college football. Its capacity to astound is part of its appeal.

Unless, of course, your team just saw the ball go wide left.

Does SEC vs. Pac-10 matter?

January, 10, 2011
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just after Oregon won the Civil War over state rival Oregon State on Dec. 4, the Ducks were asked about playing for the national title against massive, football-playing robots who came into existence after monstrous demon blacksmiths hammered them together in the darkest regions of Hades.

Or, you know, an SEC team.

Even five weeks ago, the question -- SEC vs. Pac-10 -- didn't really light much of a fire under the Ducks.

"We're going to play whoever," running back Kenjon Barner said at the time. "Who can say a conference is better than another conference or anything like that? We're just going to go out and play how we have to play."

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly says the Ducks are not playing for the Pac-10 in the BCS title game.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked about the SEC's success in the championship games -- it's been whispered about by a few SEC moles that the conference has won four consecutive BCS national titles -- and whether that was meaningful to him.

For those of us who regularly chat with Kelly, we knew what was coming.

"We never get caught up in that," Kelly said. "We are not playing for the Pac-10. In my opinion, they are not playing for the SEC. It is Auburn versus Oregon. I don't think you can look at past successes and say, 'Hey, this conference did this, this conference did this.' You have no idea. Two years ago we went 5-0 in bowl games in the Pac-10 and everybody talked about us, and last year we didn't do a real good job. So I think it's a cyclical thing and each team is their own entity. We are not playing for the Pac-10, I can tell you that. We're playing for Oregon. It is Oregon versus Auburn ... I will never stand up in front of my team and say we are carrying the flag for nine other teams or whatever."

Is that just coachspeak, or another Chippism about playing a "faceless" opponent and not listening to "outside influences"? Maybe. But it seemed fairly clear that Kelly's Ducks were buying in. If a player was into the whole "SEC vs. the Pac-10" angle, the Pac-10 blog didn't hear it this week.

"We're not really worried about that," quarterback Darron Thomas said. "We're just going out playing against whoever we've got to play against."

Running back LaMichael James refused to bite when asked if the SEC was overhyped by the media: "I don't think they are making too much of it. [The SEC has] won, so I really can't say anything negative." But he then added, "It's not the Pac-10 versus the SEC. It is us versus Oregon. I mean, Auburn."

Oh, but this is a big angle for fans. There will be a lot of football fans across the country rooting for Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game just so the SEC doesn't win its fifth consecutive national title.

Further, a Ducks victory would undermine the theory of SEC superiority, at least in 2010-11.

If Auburn loses, the SEC will go 4-6 in bowl games and the Pac-10 3-1. Thus far, the SEC only has two bowl victories over ranked teams (Alabama over No. 9 Michigan State and LSU over No. 17 Texas A&M) -- the same number as the Pac-10 (Washington over No. 18 Nebraska and Stanford over No. 13 Virginia Tech).

Finally, if Oregon wins, the Pac-10 will improve to 13-9 versus the SEC this millennium. That's a fairly robust number in support of a, "Scoreboard, baby!"

While none of this qualifies as a thorough and objective measure of relative conference strength, it will give something for fans to crow about out west.

And if Auburn wins? Well, there isn't much you can say about five consecutive national titles and a fifth different SEC team winning a crystal football. That's impressive by any measure.

As for the Oregon players, they did show some signs of annoyance with certain questions this week, only they didn't really have a regional element to them. The oft-repeated theory that Auburn was too big for Oregon seemed to inspire more than a few smirks from the Ducks.

"They are a big team," Thomas said. "Tennessee was a big team. Like I said, there are teams in the Pac-10 just as physical, just as fast. Nothing we haven't ever seen before. So it is going to be a similar thing."

A similar thing? To the 48-13 win at Tennessee? Or the Ducks' 31-point average margin of victory? Hmm.

Just know this: When the smoke clears Monday night, one of the main headlines will be about which conference came out on top.

Stakes again big for Civil War

December, 4, 2010
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon coach Chip Kelly has said -- over and over and over this season -- that every game is a "Super Bowl" for the Ducks. Well, with the Civil War, he's got a point.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerCoach Chip Kelly and Oregon can reach the BCS National Championship Game by beating rival Oregon State.
Perhaps the battle with rival Oregon State is closer to the NFC championship. If the Ducks win, they advance to college football's Super Bowl: The BCS National Championship Game in Glendale on Jan. 10.

The Ducks have never finished a season unbeaten in the modern era, nor has the program won a national title. This, therefore, is uncharted territory. But for the laser-focused Kelly and his Ducks, it's just the next game. At least, that's the official word.

"Nothing has changed," Kelly said. "We feel we've got a formula that works for this group. It's worked 11 times and hopefully it will work a 12th."

The stakes are also clear for Oregon State. If it wins, it not only delivers an axe wound to its rival's season, it also reaches 6-6 on the year, which means bowl eligibility. The Beavers this week leaned on that as a primary motivation, not crushing the Ducks dreams (though the consolation prize for Oregon is the Rose Bowl, which typically ain't too shabby).

"There's no hatred," Beavers running back Jacquizz Rodgers said when asked if he were jealous of the Ducks' success. "When you win games, you get that attention."

So, for a third consecutive year, the Civil War is a high-stakes affair. The previous two seasons, it had major Rose Bowl implications. In 2008, the Ducks blew out the Beavers in Reser Stadium, which knocked Oregon State out of the Rose Bowl. Last year, the stakes were the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks won again in Eugene.

The Beavers, however, have won five of the past six in Corvallis, so home field has mattered of late in a series where the teams have split their past 12 meetings, though the Ducks actually have a better all-time winning percentage in Corvallis (.573) than in Eugene (.519).

Most prognosticators believe Oregon should roll. Even if Oregon State keeps things close, it's hard to believe a team that lost to UCLA and Washington State can keep up with the point-a-minute Ducks.

The Beavers will need to play a near-perfect game and hope that the Ducks are out of sorts. Perhaps the largeness of the moment finally gets to Oregon?

And you know what they say: You throw out the records in rivalry games.

Beavers want to ruin the big show

December, 2, 2010
On the one hand, it's pretty cool for Oregon State that ESPN's "College GameDay" is going to be in Corvallis for the first time on Saturday. On the other, Chris, Kirk, Lee and Desmond figure to be hanging out with the Duck, not the Beaver, during the show.

That's because, however you want to spin it, the Ducks are the show, the only reason "GameDay" will set up outside Reser Stadium. They are No. 2 in the BCS standings. They are a Civil War victory away from playing for the national title. They are undefeated and fancy-pants cool with the point-a-minute offense and funky uniforms.

Oregon State? It's supposed to play the Washington Generals to Meadowlark Kelly and the Eugene Globetrotters.

[+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
Harry How/Getty ImagesOregon State will need a big game from Jacquizz Rodgers if it hopes to spring an upset on Saturday.
The Beavers get it. So what if Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris called them "little brother" this week? When one team is 11-0 and the other is 5-6, that's sort of the way things go.

"It's easy to talk when you're the No. 1 team in the country," cornerback James Dockery said.

Surely, though, it must be difficult for the Beavers and their fans to hear all the crowing coming out of Eugene. Isn't there just a bit of jealousy?

"It doesn't make me jealous," running back Jacquizz Rodgers said. "They are doing what is right. Any time a team is undefeated and No. 1 in the nation, you've got to give them their respect. They earned it. Playing this game is hard. To have a perfect season like that -- week in and week out -- they did their job. There's no hatred for me."

Oh, but fans are a different story. Beavers fans are not terribly happy about things in general, both with their team's fortunes in 2010 and Oregon's rise under Chip Kelly.

The Ducks won the past two Civil Wars, each time knocking the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. In 2008, the Ducks delivered a shocking 65-38 beatdown in Corvallis that turned celebratory roses into trash scattered all over the stadium and the parking lot. Last year, the Beavers nearly notched the upset in the "Civil War for the Roses," but the typically uptempo Ducks were able to burn the final six minutes off the clock in a 37-33 win.

So, yeah, delivering a little bit of heartbreak to the Ducks would be great fun for the Beavers.

"It would be nice to knock them out of that [national championship] game," Dockery said. "Of course."

The Beavers know their chief concern -- an upset win would earn them bowl eligibility -- isn't front and center nationally. But that's their primary motivation. They are perfectly aware that few give them a chance. And more than a few confess to being baffled why they've been, to use coach Mike Riley's phrase, "horribly inconsistent" this season. They've won at Arizona and stomped California. Impressive. Yet they got shocked by UCLA and lost at home to Washington State. Embarrassing. They showed pride while blowing out USC. Impressive. And a lack of it while getting blanked 38-0 at Stanford a week ago. Embarrassing.

"It's been quite a roller coaster for the Beavers," Riley said. "We've had some really good wins and we've had some clunkers."

The Beavers, who will be playing their fifth top-10 opponent this season on Saturday, have struggled on both lines, and the offense lost All-American receiver James Rodgers on Oct. 9 to a season-ending knee injury. The running game has never been consistent. The defense ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.

"At times, we're really good. At times, we're really bad," Jacquizz Rodgers said. "It seems like on every play, somebody makes a mistake."

If the Beavers are to have any chance, their two biggest stars must produce special performances. That's Rodgers and defensive tackle Stephen Paea. And, of course, when major upsets happen, there's usually somebody you don't see coming -- perhaps quarterback Ryan Katz will duplicate his 393-yard and two touchdowns performance at Arizona?

Oregon is the big show. It's why "GameDay" is on hand. But the Beavers will lead "SportsCenter" if they pull the upset. And "little brother" is clearly aware of that.

"Obviously, we know about the extravagant nature of Oregon and their university and everything they have to offer," Dockery said. "Until someone can beat them and make them stop talking, they can keep on talking."
Nothing is different this week for Oregon. The Civil War versus its in-state rival? Neh. One win away from the program's first national championship game? Haven't thought about it.

The Ducks only say, "Win the day." It's only about them, the present moment and their preparation. All the other stuff is extraneous, including the opponent.

"We talk every week about playing a faceless opponent," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "It's about our preparation, not who we are playing against."

[+] EnlargeCliff Harris
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesDucks CB Cliff Harris, who has six INTs this season, is excited for the "big brother-little brother backyard brawl."
Only Ducks cornerback Cliff Harris did give Oregon State a name this week: "Little brother."

"This is basically like the big brother-little brother backyard brawl," Harris said. "I’m excited and I’m ready for it."

While some have gift-wrapped that as trash talk -- yeah, we sorta did, too -- it's not a ridiculous take. While the rivals have split the last 10 Civil Wars, the Ducks have won the last two, which were both huge. In 2008, their blowout, 65-38 win in Corvallis knocked the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. Last year, the stakes for both teams were the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks prevailed 37-33 in a thriller.

This time, Oregon is playing for a spot in the national title game, while the Beavers need to win just to become bowl eligible. The programs are, at present, in different places. So the Beavers mostly shrugged off Harris' assessment.

"It's not to knock them out," Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers said. "We need to win to make a bowl game. That should be our motivation -- for us to continue our season, not stopping them from getting to the national championship game."

As for the Ducks, Kelly dismissed all the usual media angles: Looking ahead to the national title game or underestimating the Beavers or getting overconfident, etc. He said he won't address those potential pratfalls because he's viewed them as non-issues the entire season and he's not about to change an approach that has -- you might have noticed -- worked fairly well.

"I think my players would think I was out of my mind if I changed it," Kelly said. "It's worked for us 11 times. We'll see if it's good enough for a 12th time here."

[+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesJacquizz Rodgers thinks becoming bowl eligible is all the motivation the Beavers need.
Even the rivalry angle doesn't much provoke the Ducks. Offensive tackle Bo Thran is the only Ducks starter from the state of Oregon -- Gresham, to be specific. So he should know the rivalry. Yet if he holds any special animosity for the Beavers, it doesn't show.

"I don't think we need that," he said of extra motivation. "We're 11-0. We've followed this attitude of 'Win the day' the whole way there. We just need to stick to that attitude and keep putting in the work we need to put in and we'll see where we are on Saturday."

Thran, by the way, is a serial party-pooper when it comes to rivalry games, having previously yawned at the Pac-10 blog's questions before a showdown with the hated Washington Huskies.

"All I'm worried about is having a good day of practice," he explained.

Really? He hasn't even thought about playing, say, Auburn, for the national title? Or maybe leaned forward on the sofa when an Auburn game was on TV?

"I haven't even seen an Auburn game this year," he said. "I've seen Cam Newton highlights. That's about it. Whatever has been on 'SportsCenter.'"

Eureka! That's a tiny crack. So Auburn is not nameless and faceless to the Ducks.

But neither is Oregon State, particularly for a Ducks offensive lineman. Thran may be flipping through a magazine or filing his fingernails while listening to boring questions about rivalry games and special motivation, but he seems to awaken when asked about what he sees on the Beavers' defense. Tackle Stephen Paea, you see, is hard to miss.

"Big No. 54," Thran said. "We've got to be able to handle him up front. They have great backers, too, but the big thing we need to handle is Paea. He's a great player. He's strong. He has moves. He has great footwork. He'll be the best defensive lineman we've played all year."

Paea is the sort of player who can penetrate and disrupt the Ducks' spread-option game. But if the Ducks neutralize him, it could be a big day for the offense.

It's hard to believe, though, that the Ducks are so completely living in the present. Don't they entertain dreams that now appear so close to reality they can almost touch it? What about when they go to bed at night, in the moments just before sleep: Don't they envision themselves taking the field to play for the championship?

"I'm probably thinking about screwing something up in practice that day and not wanting to screw it up tomorrow," Thran said.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

November, 29, 2010
A look back on the week that was.

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezChris Polk's touchdown on the final play of the game against California improved Washington's record to 5-6. The Huskies can go to a bowl game if they can beat in-state rival Washington State on Saturday
Team of the week: Washington looked dead in the drizzle after it dropped three in a row by an average of 36 points, but the Huskies got off the canvas and now have won consecutive games for the first time all season, including a 16-13 win at California over the weekend. If they win at Washington State on Saturday in the annual Apple Cup, the Huskies will go to a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

Best game: It doesn't get much more thrilling than recording a game-winning touchdown run on a fourth down from the 1-yard line on the final play of a game, as the Huskies did in Berkeley. Coach Steve Sarkisian could have kicked a field goal for the tie, but he boldly went for the win and was rewarded.

Biggest play: Top-ranked Oregon trailed Arizona 19-14 early in the third quarter when freshman receiver Josh Huff took a pitch 85 yards for a touchdown, giving the Ducks their first lead of the game. Thereafter, the Wildcats had no chance, as Oregon ended up winning 48-29.

Offensive standout: Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler came off the bench for injured starter Steven Threet and completed 27 of 36 passes for 380 yards with four touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 55-34 win over UCLA. Osweiler also ran six times for 35 yards and a score. He will start Thursday at Arizona.

Defensive standout: Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas had nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in the Cardinal's 38-0 win over Oregon State.

Special teams standout: Just after UCLA scored a touchdown to narrow Arizona State's lead to 31-27, the Sun Devils Jamal Miles returned the ensuing kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown. The Bruins never threatened again.

Smiley face: Letdown shockers late in the season that cost teams BCS bowl berths are an annual occurrence in college football. So Oregon and Stanford impressively taking care of business at home against credible foes deserves a tip of the cap.

Frowny face: We don't even know you any more, Oregon State. Lose to UCLA and Washington State? Beat USC? Then get stomped 38-0 at Stanford? Make up your mind. Please. Might be a good idea to bring the team that beat USC to Reser Stadium on Saturday or the Civil War could get uncivil.

Thought of the week: When Stanford reached No. 4 in the BCS standings, which guarantees the Cardinal a berth in a BCS bowl game, athletic directors across the Pac-10 -- even at California -- jumped into the air and clicked their heels together. Why? They know they will get a check for at least $450,000 this winter, which is the conference's per team distribution of the bonus payout for getting a second BCS bowl team. There are plenty of cash-strapped departments than can use the extra money.

Questions for the week: Will the Apple Cup be Washington State coach Paul Wulff's final game? He appears to be the only coach in the Pac-10 whose fate for 2011 is still a question. While the Cougars are much improved, and they broke through with a win over Oregon State, athletic director Bill Moos' silence on Wulff's status suggests there are some behind-the-scenes machinations going on. It's hard to believe the decision could come down to one game, but beating the Huskies and ending their bowl hopes would certainly make Coug fans happier heading into the offseason.

Pac-10 Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 29, 2010
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

1. Oregon: The Ducks are two wins from finishing No. 1 in the power rankings that count the most. But first they must take care of the Beavers in the Civil War.

2. Stanford: Second best team in the Pac-10. Maybe the second best team in the nation. Stanford has gone from being good to being dominant.

3. Arizona: Arizona is No. 3 by default. And it did beat Washington by 30 points a month ago before the schedule got tough.

4. Arizona State: The Sun Devils can't go bowling, but if they beat Arizona they will have considerable momentum going into the offseason with a team that will be a top-level contender in 2011.

5. Washington: Huskies are rising. Kudos to Steve Sarkisian for keeping his team motivated after a horrible three-game losing streak.

6. Oregon State: It's been a disappointing season in Corvallis, but ending Oregon's national title run would be a nice consolation prize. And TCU fans love the Beavers this week.

7. USC: If the Trojans lose at UCLA on Saturday, it will be a long offseason for coach Lane Kiffin.

8. California: The Bears aren't going bowling for the first time since 2002, Jeff Tedford's first season. Tedford needs to take a long, hard look at his program -- and coaching staff -- this offseason.

9. UCLA: It would be really, really good for Rick Neuheisel to beat USC, which would put a positive end on a tough season.

10. Washington State: Cougars, off since Nov. 13, have had plenty of time to plot against Washington, which now must win the Apple Cup to become bowl eligible.

Stanford states its case

November, 27, 2010
There is no question that Stanford rates among the super-elite this year. Best 1-loss team? More than a few folks -- other than fans of other 1-loss teams -- believe what their eyes have repeatedly shown: Yes.

The Cardinal finished the regular season with a dominant 38-o win over Oregon State -- its third shutout of the year -- and finished 11-1, one of the best seasons in program history. There's a good chance it will move up two spots to No. 4 in the BCS standings after losses this weekend by Boise State and LSU, which would guarantee the Cardinal a berth in a BCS bowl game.

Quarterback Andrew Luck also made a statement for his Heisman Trophy hopes, particularly for voters who care about character. He completed 21-of-30 for 317 yards and four touchdowns in what could be his final college game before he becomes the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Oregon State didn't come into the game having much of a chance, but it didn't help its case with five turnovers. Quarterback Ryan Katz threw three interceptions and fumbled. Jacquizz Rodgers only rushed for 76 yards.

The Beavers (5-6) have to beat top-ranked rival Oregon in the Civil War to become bowl eligible.

Oregon flips switch, pounds Arizona

November, 27, 2010
EUGENE, Ore. -- A to-do list hangs in Oregon's locker room. Stuff like "Have fun" and "Eliminate distractions." Whatever. But No. 4 on the list, coach Chip Kelly said, is "Flip the switch."

Hmm. The Ducks' locker room is closed post game, so we do not know exactly where this switch is located. Nor do we know the nature of said switch. Witchcraft? Is it something cosmic? Is Kelly close with Harry Potter. Or perhaps Lord Voldemort? Should the NCAA drop all this agent, pay-for-play stuff and fly to Eugene to investigate this switch? Because it's becoming clear that switch is pretty powerful when it gets flipped.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Josh Huff
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesJosh Huff rushed 85 yards for a touchdown on Oregon's second offensive play of the third quarter. It gave Oregon its first lead of the game, and the Ducks would never trail again.
"We're pretty good at flipping the switch," Kelly said cryptically.

You won't have to convince Arizona of that. The No. 21 Wildcats led the No. 1 Ducks at halftime and then -- click -- they got steamrolled 48-29. It was over early in the fourth quarter after the Ducks scored five touchdowns, a flurry amid which the Wildcats countered with a mere field goal.

"Slowly, but surely, their spirits started to dwindle," Oregon center Jordan Holmes said.

Spirits were high in Autzen Stadium and among the Ducks players. But there sure weren't many roses around for a team that just clinched the Pac-10 championship, which comes with a Rose Bowl berth.

The Ducks haven't won a Rose Bowl since 1917, but they've got bigger prizes within their grasp. Beat rival Oregon State on Dec. 4 and they will bypass the Rose Bowl and go directly to Glendale, Ariz., where they would play for the program's first national title.

Oregon wasn't celebrating much. "I'm giddy," said Kelly, who appeared to be exaggerating his mood a tad.

But back to this switch. It seems to be most frequently used at halftime. Oregon has outscored foes 256-64 in the second half this season. It's yielded just 14 points in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats led 19-14 at the break. Then "flip."

How did it happen?

The Wildcats took the opening kickoff of the second half and went three-and-out. The Ducks took over and, on second down, true freshman receiver Josh Huff took a pitch 85 yards for a touchdown. That made it 20-19 when the 2-point conversion failed.

Another defensive stop and the Ducks took over -- on their 1-yard line. A 19-play, 99-yard drive later and it was 27-19. That drive got a big hand when the Wildcats jumped offsides on a 42-yard field goal attempt, which was missed. You can't give Oregon's offense breaks.

The Wildcats answered with a field goal! The Ducks went 75 yards for a TD in 2:10. Another Oregon stop, the Wildcats shank a punt 25 yards, another quick Ducks TD.

[+] EnlargeOregon's LaMichael James
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesLaMichael James' two rushing TDs in the fourth quarter had he and the Ducks jumping for joy.
And just like that it's 48-22 with 12:15 left in the fourth. A game that was close no longer was. And it was hard not to ask, "What just happened?" even if you watched the whole thing.


Of course, we've seen this before: Tennessee, Stanford and USC previously thought it had the Ducks figured out before the switch was flipped and they ended up confused by how they ended up losing by three or four touchdowns.

There is this: Why not flip the switch before the game? Do the Ducks take it for granted that they can eventually overwhelm foes in the second half?

"I don't believe our players take it for granted," Kelly said. "Trust me, it's not by design that we are down at halftime."

That approach might not always work, either. You might have noticed that Auburn, a potential opponent in a national title game, seemed pretty good in the second half at Alabama.

But that's getting ahead of things. That's a distraction. Oregon won't be perfect until it closes the deal in Corvallis against the rival Beavers. As Kelly has said repeatedly, often drawing titters from media folk: Every game is a Super Bowl.

"We've been that way all year long. It's just about the next game," he said. "This time, you guys will believe me."


Oregon's rise is not temporary

November, 24, 2010
Shy Huntington surely never guessed it would take this long for Oregon to become a national power. After he grabbed three interceptions in the Ducks' 14-0 Rose Bowl victory over the Pennsylvania Quakers, he probably thought things were just beginning for the Ducks.

It was 1917.

From 1918 through 1988, however, Oregon would play in just five bowl games, winning one. Its first coach to win more than 33 games was Len Casanova, who went 82-73-8 from 1951-66. Oregon's next coach to post a winning record? Mike Bellotti.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireChip Kelly has the Ducks two wins away from their first undefeated season of the modern era.
Oregon is one of only 10 programs nationally to have played in at least 17 bowl games over the past 21 years, but it's clearly a member of the nouveau riche. The Ducks haven't finished unbeaten in the modern era and they've never won a national championship.

Yet now they are two wins away from doing the former and three from accomplishing the latter, starting with a home date with No. 21 Arizona on Friday.

This is uncharted territory for Oregon, but it also feels as if the arrival isn't temporary. The momentum -- having the right coach, great facilities, passionate fan base, national recruiting, a sugar daddy billionaire booster -- suggests Oregon is starting construction on a mansion in the neighborhood with programs like Florida, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.

A character in "The Sun Also Rises" was asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” That description is apt for the Ducks, only in the opposite direction. Oregon broke through in the 1990s under Rich Brooks. Bellotti won 116 games from 1995-2008 -- the most in program history by a wide margin -- and created a Pac-10 and national contender.

Second-year coach Chip Kelly? He's on the cusp of winning a second consecutive Pac-10 title and earning a second BCS bowl berth, only this time in the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. That qualifies as a good start to a career as a head coach.

For an Oregon fan in his or her 50s or 60s, this is a fairly shocking development. You remember cold, rainy days with only a few thousand fans on hand to watch the Ducks lose. You remember going down to Washington 58-0 (1973). Or tying rival Oregon State 0-0 in the 1983 Civil War (two bad teams, pouring rain, eleven fumbles, five interceptions, and four missed field goals, the last Division I game to end in a scoreless tie).

If you are, say, a 19-year-old freshman at Oregon, you grew up with the Ducks as a Pac-10 contender and a team that regularly appeared in the national rankings. Your first memory might be of Kenny Wheaton returning an interception 97 yards for a touchdown to beat Washington in 1994, the celebrated linchpin play of the Ducks' first Rose Bowl season in 37 years. You see your team headed for its sixth season with 10 or more wins since 2000.

You read about the construction of a new, $41 million, six-story, 130,000 square foot operations building for the football program that will begin early next year, and you (maybe) think, "About time."

"There is a difference between the people who have seen this program for 40 years and the people that have seen us for four years," Kelly said. "They obviously see it through a different set of eyes. This program wasn't always one of the top programs in the country... I still talk to some of the people who can remember the days gone by, when having a winning season was a big deal and making it to a bowl game was a really big deal."

Kelly adds that he's only known the good days. He arrived in 2007 as offensive coordinator, and Oregon has won 39 games -- and counting -- since then and finished each season nationally ranked, the last two in the top 11. Contemplating the present versus the past with nostalgia for days gone by? As he will tell you -- over and over and over and over -- he's only about winning the day, which is today and nothing else. Still.

"That's hard for me to fathom, this team struggling just to be bowl eligible," he said. "That's not the Oregon I know."

There is some respectful jealousy among other Pac-10 coaches. Want to know why California coach Jeff Tedford gets perhaps more understanding from sportswriters than Bears fans? Compare and contrast Oregon's facilities and the Bears'. It's major league vs. single-A (though Cal is -- finally -- in the process of a major stadium project that should help that).

Mike Stoops has led Arizona out of the Pac-10 cellar, but his facilities don't compare with Oregon's either. He noted -- indirectly -- that the Big 12's nouveau riche power, Oklahoma State, became a contender shortly after its billionaire sugar daddy, T. Boone Pickens, started to churn hundreds of millions of dollars into the program.

"They are both great examples of investing in your program, investing in your players and bringing first-class facilities to your program, and putting a lot of value to that," Stoops said. "You can see what's happened with Oregon. They continually won seven, eight, nine [games]. Now, all of a sudden, the last few years, they are competing for championships and competing for the national championship... Certainly, we are trying to do the same thing here in rebuilding our facilities as well."

Asked about whether he felt the powers-that-be at Arizona understood the value of facility upgrades, Stoops replied, "I can't erase 125 years of not going to the Rose Bowl. As much pressure as I can put on myself, I can't take all that responsibility. It can't be just all bad playing and all coaching."

(We, obviously, could start to debate the ethics and institutional value of the arms race in big-time college football when there are budget shortfalls on the academic side of things, but that prickly topic is for another day.)

Oregon's ascension also is fortuitously timed alongside the fall of USC. While the Ducks have won three of four versus the Trojans, the departure of Pete Carroll and the arrival of NCAA sanctions figure to benefit the Ducks as they tighten their moorings among the national elite.

Of course, the deal is not yet done. Irritated Washington fans, who have seen their Northwest supremacy taken away, would quibble: "Hey, win a Rose Bowl in the facemask era, would 'ya!" The Ducks haven't done that since Huntington's heroics. Two games remain in the regular season, and then there's the matter of closing the deal in Glendale.

But it's hard not to feel that Oregon is on the cusp of arriving. Consider this: Even if the Ducks don't win the national title game, when you look at what they have coming back in 2011, they are a good bet to begin next fall as the preseason No. 1.

Pac-10 bowl projections

November, 21, 2010
No changes to our bowl projections this week.

But you can now see our thinking pretty clearly (for better or worse): Four bowl-eligible teams -- two in BCS bowls -- and an unfulfilling amount of 5-7.

We believe Auburn will lose the Iron Bowl at Alabama on Friday, thereby opening the door for an undefeated Boise State or TCU to play Oregon for the national title. That will secure Stanford a Rose Bowl invitation opposite the Big Ten champion.

Arizona will finish third and earn a berth in the Alamo Bowl. California will beat Washington on Saturday, improve to 6-6 -- becoming bowl-eligible -- and an unhappy Holiday Bowl, with no other options, will be forced to take the Bears.

Other possibilities: If Washington beats Cal, the Huskies would play the Apple Cup at Washington State on Dec. 4 with a chance to earn that Holiday Bowl berth.

Further, the winner of the UCLA's visit to Arizona State on Friday still has a chance. If the Bruins win, they play for their sixth win in their season finale against USC on Dec. 4. If the Sun Devils win, they do the same, only at Arizona on Dec.2 -- but only if they are given a waiver by the NCAA for having played two FCS teams.

We don't, however, believe the Bruins-Sun Devils winner will win their rivalry game.

Finally, if Oregon State wins at Stanford or beats Oregon in the Civil War at home on Dec. 4, it would become bowl-eligible. We don't think that's going to happen, but we feel less sure of it today than we did last week at this time.
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