Pac-12: Jeron Johnson
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
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.
"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.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Last time America saw Jeremiah Masoli, the Oregon quarterback was pancaking the Oklahoma State defense in the Ducks Holiday Bowl romp.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Oregon Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was a surprise standout in the Pac-10 last season.|
Yet Masoli isn't the sort to gloat about the hits, even when egged on by a reporter.
"After I watched it on film, I definitely felt bad for them," he said.
"Serene" isn't a word typically used to praise a young college football player, but it encapsulates Masoli perfectly. That serenity is probably the reason he accomplished so much last year under difficult circumstances, and why many expect him to become a full-fledged star in 2009.
Dude is just unflappable.
And, honestly, not a soul saw him coming.
Masoli, an unquarterback-like 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, led City College of San Francisco to a junior college national title in 2007, but when he arrived at Oregon as a surprising late signee last summer, he was mostly a curious footnote, not much different than a typical, wide-eyed freshman whose recruiting bio lacked star power.
He'd mostly been a passer at CCSF -- he threw for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns -- and didn't run much option. He started fall camp at No. 5 on the Ducks depth chart and was expected to redshirt as he tried to learn the nuances of the Ducks spread-option offense.
A bizarre epidemic of injuries at quarterback, however, forced him onto the field, and he made his first start in game four against Boise State -- at least until a cheap shot knocked him out in the first quarter.
He ended up starting 10 games, but he hardly became an overnight sensation. On Nov. 8, during a woeful performance against Stanford, fans at Autzen Stadium booed him.
And then, with those boos still ringing in his ears and the Ducks trailing 28-27 with just over two minutes remaining, he engineered a 74-yard, game-winning touchdown drive, the critical play being his 25-yard scramble on third-and-8 from the Stanford 33.
"It [the booing] didn't bother me at all," he said. "It's just fans, how they are feeling and reacting to stuff. They come to the game to see their team perform and when it doesn't perform to the best of its ability, they get a little restless."
Curiously, the booing stopped when, over the final three games of the season, he completed 50 of 75 (67 percent) passes for 830 yards and six touchdowns against one interception, and rushed 38 times for 248 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and seven scores.
When spring practice starts March 30, Masoli probably joins Washington's Jake Locker as the Pac-10's most entrenched quarterbacks.
"Things just started to click," he said. "Things started to slow down, just like they did for me at the JC level. I started to get comfortable. First couple of games I didn't feel comfortable."
It's not surprising the mellow Masoli is taking in stride the Ducks coaching uncertainty, with offensive coordinator Chip Kelly announced as the head-coach-in-waiting for when Mike Bellotti steps aside to become athletic director.
The "when" being the source of uncertainty. It doesn't appear anyone knows.
"I think we're handling it real well," Masoli said "All the guys are just focusing on themselves right now, which is as it should be in the offseason. We're not worried about who has this title or who has that title."
And if he were a betting man, who does he think will coach the Ducks in 2009?
"I'm not a betting man," he said. "Oh, man. I'm not sure. But right now I'd say Coach B."
There is, however, one fissure in Masoli's serenity.
Boise State. That's where Oregon opens its 2009 season.
The Ducks not only want revenge for the home loss last year, they also remember that the Broncos defense seemed to be head-hunting with multiple cheap shots in the game.
"We definitely want revenge against Boise over there," said Masoli, bringing up the subject on his own. "They really did come into our house and kind of gave it to us."
After that, Purdue, Utah and California visit Oregon on consecutive weekends.
If Masoli manages to hang up big numbers amid a four-game winning streak to start the season, his serenity might be challenged by something else.
Heisman Trophy hype.