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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Best case, worst case: Oregon

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Up next: Oregon

Best case

Just because Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is a chill dude doesn't mean he can't hold a grudge.

That became abundantly clear when he took a spread option keeper and smashed his shoulder into the chin of Boise State safety Jeron Johnson. It appeared that Masoli, who was knocked out of last year's upset loss to the Broncos on what some described as a cheap shot, had no interest in juking Johnson, who left the game with a broken jaw.

Call it revenge on the blue turf, but Boise State is no match for the enraged Ducks, who roll up 574 yards of offense in a 56-28 win.

"Guess our offensive line is going to be OK," Ducks coach Chip Kelly quips afterwards.

The Ducks don't let up, breaking the 50-point barrier in wins over Purdue and Utah. Masoli's newfound proficiency of as a passer starts to generate Heisman Trophy buzz.

"I always knew he could be a proficient passer," Kelly said. "It's not newfound."

[A Pac-10 blogger notes to himself that it's eerie that Kelly seems to be participating in a fantasy post about the Ducks].

"Why is it eerie?" Kelly asks.

[Voices ... in ... my... head. Quiet!].

Oregon ascends to No. 5 in the national rankings, and a visit from No. 8 California brings ESPN's College GameDay to Eugene.

Lee Corso dons the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit taps the Bears.

"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler says about Masoli and Cal's Jahvid Best.

Cal's defense is a different animal. It bottles up Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount. The Bears lead 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.

With 3:05 left, the Bears lead 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley does a play-action fake to Best and launches a bomb.

But Ducks safety T.J. Ward doesn't bite on the fake, and he outleaps Marvin Jones for the interception.

Masoli takes over at the Oregon 5-yard line. He connects with Jamere Holland for 15 yards. He finds Ed Dickson for 26. He scrambles for 18. A screen to Blount goes for 12 to the Cal 34.

But Jeff Maehl can't haul in a tough ball over the middle, Blount drops a short pass in the flat and a scramble nets only two yards.

It's fourth and 8 with 0:55 left. Masoli sets up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan is on him. Masoli stiff arms Jordan, and starts to backpedal. Jordan is joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reverses field and starts directing receivers downfield.

There's room to run. Masoli tucks and makes a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stops and lobs the ball into the corner of the endzone.

Dickson leaps, but the ball is tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.

And into the hands of Rory Cavaille. Touchdown.

Autzen erupts.

"Oregon might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit says after the game.

The Ducks roll through Washington State, UCLA and Washington.

No. 2 USC heads to town to take on the No. 3 Ducks. It's billed as the biggest game in Autzen Stadium history. GameDay comes back to Eugene. It's impossible to get a seat at Beppe & Gianni's Trattoria.

But this is not the Ducks day. The Trojans have the offense to match and their defense is fast enough to keep up with the Ducks. USC wins 38-28.

"We should have won this game," Kelly said. "Why didn't we win this game?"

[Must ignore him... how does he do that? We knew he was a control freak but this is a little much.]

Predictions of a hangover prove overstated. The Ducks roll through their final four games, including a 40-28 win over Oregon State.

With USC playing Florida for the national title, it appears Oregon will head to the Rose Bowl to face Ohio State. But by some complicated BCS machinations that everyone agrees would make your head explode if they were explained, the Ducks head south to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Masoli finishes third in the Heisman Trophy race.

"Neh," he says. "No big deal. I ate at Le Bernardin and hung out with Thomas Pynchon and the the Kings of Leon. That was cool."

Oregon, which has thrived on balance much of the year, throws only four passes but rushes for 388 yards against the Bulldogs in a 48-21 victory.

After USC beats Florida in the BCS title game, Oregon finishes No. 2 in both polls.

Worst case

Boise State doesn't lose on the blue turf, and the Broncos season-opening 38-35 victory over Oregon becomes the foundation of an unbeaten season and another BCS bowl berth.

The Ducks rebuilt offensive line plays fairly well, but it surrenders three sacks. The defense, however, is clearly a work in progress, with Boise quarterback Kellen Moore throwing three touchdown passes and the Broncos rushing for 190 yards.

Oregon whips Purdue and outlasts Utah, but quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffers a concussion in the fourth quarter.

Nate Costa is the surprised starter the following week against California, but he goes down in the second quarter. With a thumb injury.

Darron Thomas comes off the bench and plays well, but the Bears roll 40-24 on 173 yards and two touchdowns from Jahvid Best.

The Ducks whip Washington State and UCLA, Masoli returning to action against the Bruins.

Then they head to Husky Stadium. The Ducks have owned rival Washington of late, winning five in a row in the series.

Huskies quarterback Jake Locker passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 98 yards another score, but the key play comes when it seems like Oregon is driving late for the victory.

From the Huskies 8-yard line, Masoli throws the ball to his left into the flat toward the endzone pylon, but Washington cornerback Quinton Richardson snags the ball and sprints down the sideline.

"Quinton Richardson's gonna score!" screams Huskies play-by-play man Bob Rondeau.

Huskies win 31-20.

Richardson's 97-yard interception return for a game-clinching touchdown becomes known as "The Pick," and it will be played repeatedly in Husky Stadium whenever Oregon visits in the future.

The Ducks seem lethargic while losing 35-17 to USC, but they bounce back with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and, in double-overtime, at Arizona.

The stakes in the Civil War are mostly pride. Oregon State appears headed to the Holiday Bowl in any event, while Oregon could end up in the Sun Bowl with a victory.

Yet the Beavers clearly have revenge on their minds for the disaster of 2008. They pound the Ducks defense with Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 159 yards and three scores, and Masoli and company never find their rhythm in a 35-20 defeat.

Oregon then beats Boston College in the Emerald Bowl and finishes 8-5.

Three days later, Nike files for bankruptcy.