Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Finishing second in the Pac-10 is about the best that any team in the conference can hope for during the Age of Carroll at USC, so Oregon's Holiday Bowl berth is something in which the Ducks should take great satisfaction.
It's even more impressive when it's taken into account that the 9-3 finish came with a quarterback who was No. 3 on the depth chart in August having just arrived after a year in junior college. By the end of the season, though, sophomore Jeremiah Masoli was running the spread-option offense with aplomb, see 50-plus points in three of the final five games, including a 65-38 blowout at Oregon State that dashed the Beavers Rose Bowl hopes.
The Ducks ran well -- and scored points -- most of the season, but when Masoli added a passing threat, thing really started clicking for an offense that finished tops in the conference in scoring (41.6 ppg) and total yards (478 ypg), numbers that also ranked among the top-eight in the country.
The defense? Meh. It underachieved, considering its experience and athleticism in the secondary and the presence of the Pac-10's top pass rusher in end Nick Reed (13 sacks).
Of their three defeats, two came against top-10 teams who combined for one loss -- USC and Boise State -- and the third came in a continuous, driving rain storm at California. In the Boise State game on Sept. 20, the Ducks were using their No. 5 quarterback.
Offensive MVPs: This goes to Lightning and Thunder, running backs Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, who combined for more than 2,000 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns. These two were the either-or cornerstones of a rushing attack that ranked fourth in the country with 278 yards per game. Blount was the bruiser and Johnson the slasher but both produced.
Defensive MVP: While the Ducks defense was disappointing this season, end Nick Reed was not. He ranked second in the country with 13 sacks and fourth with 19.5 tackles for a loss. He also led the Pac-10 with five fumble recoveries.
Turning point: A week after losing at Cal, the Ducks found themselves trailing Stanford 28-27 at home with 2:18 left. Fans at Autzen Stadium were booing Masoli. But then Masoli, whose passing had been rotten for two consecutive weeks, led an 11-play, 74-yard drive for the winning touchdown. Thereafter, Masoli played great, the offense rolled and Ducks won their final two games, earning their Holiday Bowl berth.
What's next: The Ducks lose a lot of good players. And they get a lot of good ones back. The offense will be hit hard on the line and at receiver, while the defense says goodbye to Reed and two other starting defensive linemen as well as rover Patrick Chung. Still, with Masoli back running the offense and Blount behind him, that's a good start. On defense, end Will Tukuafu (seven sacks) will step out of Reed's shadow, and, barring NFL defections, three-fourths of the secondary will be back. The Ducks again should be competing for a spot in the top-third of the Pac-10 in 2009.