Pac-12: Kenny Wheaton
With Petersen now fronting the Huskies, that's an item of interest that a journalist can wrap a lead around. He or she doesn't have to immediately recycle the droning, "Is this the year Washington breaks through?" One can observe that Petersen not only was once a Ducks assistant -- from 1995-2000 under Mike Bellotti -- when he started a longstanding friendship with second-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, but he also was 2-0 against Oregon while heading Boise State, where he was 92-12 and was universally esteemed for his Huge Football Brain.
With Huskies fans duly distracted by their invocations, we'll note to the tittering Oregon fans that the Ducks will be celebrating the 20-year anniversary of an obscure moment in their team's history on Saturday. While video of Kenny Wheaton's pick-six interception against Washington in 1994 is as difficult to find as a white peacock, it does exist, and there's a quiet minority of Ducks fans who believe it was a meaningful moment in the transformation of the program.
Those Oregon fans obsessed with such esoterica will be glad to know the Duck will don throwback uniforms to honor the occasion, of which at least one Oregon administrative Twitter feed observed this week: "Prior to 'The Pick' Oregon all-time had a .495 Win% (359-366-34). Since that game, Oregon is .731 (177-65)."
So, yes, call us a wee bit sarcastic when we poke fun by minimizing the impact of "The Pick," unquestionably the Ur-moment in Oregon football history, a highlight that plays immediately before every Ducks home game.
And the reason it is the definitive before-after line for the program's rise to West Coast and national prominence is not only that it was the key play in a run to the program's first Rose Bowl since 1958, it was that it happened so dramatically against the Huskies, the established Northwest power that Ducks fans most hated.
Which brings us back the rivalry and the two head coaches. Both know the rivalry well. That means they will at least acknowledge its biliousness, unlike Kelly, who seemed to enjoy telling reporters how much he liked former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, knowing it would inspire forehead slaps among the Ducks faithful.
"Do I understand the rivalry as a native Oregonian? Absolutely," Helfrich said. "I know the history of that very well and what it means to our fans."
And yet, it's all about an established winning process with the Ducks, and that centers on preparing the same every week for a "nameless faceless opponent."
Echoed Petersen, "I know about the Oregon-Washington stuff, but that’s not my focus, getting them fired up. To me, this needs to be about us."
That carries over to Helfrich's and Petersen's friendship. Both insisted in the preseason it would overcome them being at professional loggerheads in the Pac-12's North Division, though they admitted this week they hadn't talked thus far this season. Both also insisted this week that it has no impact on their emotions or preparation for the game. Which, you know, is as it should be.
Petersen, while at Boise State, handed the Ducks their last nonconference loss at home in 2008, and then spoiled Kelly's head coaching debut in 2009. While that's an interesting factoid, it's also far less relevant than how well the Ducks offensive line, which recovered nicely in a win at UCLA with offensive tackle Jake Fisher back in the lineup, will play against the Huskies stout front-7, led by nose guard Danny Shelton, defensive endHau'oli Kikaha and linebacker Shaq Thompson.
What Oregon showed last week while redeeming itself after flubbing around in a home loss to Arizona is that when the offensive line is playing well, the offense hums along like in days of old. Petersen knows his team can't allow QB Marcus Mariota to feel comfortable.
"He might be the best player in college football, so that’s a problem right there," he said.
Another interesting factoid: Neither QB has thrown an interception this year. Because Cyler Miles isn't the playmaker that Mariota is, it's probably more critical for him to maintain his clean sheet Saturday.
So here we are, back at the redundancy: Is this the Huskies year? Maybe. Stranger things have happened this season. A lot stranger. But all the history and emotions don't hold a lot of weight with either coach. Whether the Huskies break through or the Ducks make like Spinal Tap's amplifiers and go up to 11, the coaches just view the game as X's and O's either doing what they want them to do or not.
Noted Petersen dryly, "So it doesn’t necessarily have to do with anything in the past. It comes down to playing good football."
But over the weekend he got bested by a Husky and Beaver in the 100 meters in the Oregon Twilight track & field meet at Hayward Field.
And that Beaver, Oregon State's leading receiver Markus Wheaton, showed that the Ducks aren't the only Pac-12 football team with world class speed.
Wheaton finished second at 10.58 and Thomas was third at 10.65. Washington's Ryan Hamilton won at 10.51 (there was a 5.4 meter-per-second tailwind, according to Ken Goe). Beavers running back Malcolm Marable was fifth in section one at 11.12.
Oregon fans might not know this but Markus Wheaton is Kenny Wheaton's cousin. Rumor has it Kenny Wheaton once made a big play for the Ducks, but that moment has become obscure because you never get to see it replayed at Autzen Stadium.
Noted Goe on Thomas' effort: "He started well and led after 60 meters. But then Hamilton and Wheaton both passed him."
And there's this from Oregon State track coach Kelly Sullivan: “Markus did a great job in the 100-meter dash because he got second overall. There is a bit of a rivalry going on between the OSU football guys and the Oregon guys, which was good and it was a personal record for him.”
Here's what I want: Thomas, Wheaton and USC WR George Farmer -- in full pads -- racing 100 yards from goal line to goal line on the Rose Bowl field.
Maybe this can be an event for Pac-12 media day in July? Make it happen, Larry Scott!
PASADENA, Calif. -- It takes a lot for a football program to tear up 95 years of frustration and cast it into the trash. It takes spectacular plays, smart plays, clutch plays, unexpected plays and opportunistic plays. It takes stars, supporting players and players you don't see coming.
It's easy to roll one's eyes when players and coaches talk about a "total team effort," but Oregon's 45-38 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin inspired no such eye-rolling, in large part because averted eyes might have missed a big moment.
Take Lavasier Tuinei. The Ducks senior receiver didn't have a 100-yard receiving game all season. Eight times, he caught three or fewer passes. But his season-high eight receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns earned him Offensive MVP honors.
Who had Tuinei in their Offensive MVP pool?
"For a senior, sometimes you get those moments, and he had a signature moment," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.
Said Tuinei: "For the last week I've been here, I've been having dreams of making plays for this team and helping us win. What do you know: It came true."
Then take linebacker Kiko Alonso. Repeated instances of off-field trouble nearly cost him his career. He was suspended for the opener against LSU. But he earned Defensive MVP honors with 1.5 sacks, five tackles and a critical interception late in the third quarter.
Who had Alonso it their Defensive MVP pool?
"It is special how far Kiko has come," Kelly said.
Oh, the usual suspects showed up, too. Running back LaMichael James rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown, which propelled him to No. 2 all-time on the Pac-12's career rushing list -- 13th in NCAA history -- with 5,082 yards. QB Darron Thomas threw three TD passes to give him 33 for the season, an Oregon record. Super-fast guy freshman De'Anthony Thomas had just two carries, but they became touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards, thereby averaging a 77.5 per tote.
And let's not forget an offensive line that carved up the Wisconsin defensive front for 345 yards rushing -- 8.6 yards per carry.
But wait: We have more. Safety John Boyett tied a Rose Bowl record with 17 tackles, including 12 solo. Punter Jackson Rice averaged 46 yards on three punts. Freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell forced a critical fumble with four minutes left that was recovered by linebacker Michael Clay, who had 13 tackles, including two for a loss.
Getting the idea?
"When they had to make a play, they made it," Kelly said. "So many guys contributed to it, and it's truly a total-team win. We're just proud we can say we are Rose Bowl champions."
Rose Bowl champions: Oregon fans know that is not merely a statement of the glorious moment either. It's a statement that ripples through a program whose history isn't terribly impressive until Kenny Wheaton went the other way against Washington during an unlikely Rose Bowl run in 1994.
Yet, as the Ducks started to pile up winning seasons over the past two decades or so, built their program into respectability and, eventually, eclipsed the hated Huskies, there was always that potent tweak: "Yeah, yeah. How many Rose Bowls have you won?" The most effective bit of trash talk that could diminish the Oregon program -- and Kelly's superb tenure -- died in this thriller of a game. A third consecutive conference title didn't advance the program in a meaningful way without this as a confetti-covered capper.
Oregon can't win the big one? Oregon can't beat a top-10 nonconference foe? Oregon's offense gets solved by a highly-rated defense if it gets extra time to prepare?
"It feels good to not have to answer that question any more," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, whose offense gained 621 yards against a defense that was yielding just 293 per game.
All those tweaks and all the sometimes not-unreasonable criticism is wiped away because so many players showed up and did their jobs well.
"I think this kind of validates what we stand for," Kelly said. "This team is fearless. They're resilient. And they've got faith... They really stick together and believe in the guy to the right of them and to the left of them because they see what they do every day in practice."
And the run isn't over. The Ducks, even if James enters the NFL draft, as expected, will welcome back 32 of the 44 players on their two-deep depth chart, including both Thomases, Alonso, Clay, Mitchell and Boyett. They very likely will begin the 2012 season ranked in -- or at least very near -- the nation's top 5.
So, yeah, this team might be in Miami next January instead of returning to the Rose Bowl, though USC might have something to say about that.
But the present moment, the one that ripples backwards through 95 years in which scattered glory and success fell just short of ultimate satisfaction, is what Oregon is about right now. It should be savored. It should last until next preseason.
And Ducks fans surely should gloat that the rest of the Pac-12 just lost its best bit of trash talking.
Yes, it is fair to say that Oregon fans have eagerly, zealously and vociferously embraced the recent success of their team. The seed that was planted when Kenny Wheaton went the other way against Washington in 1994 is now a full-grown oak, and Oregon fans enjoy pointing out that their oak is more stately and beautiful than yours.
With the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 against Wisconsin, the Ducks are playing in their third consecutive BCS bowl game. No other team in the country has played in three consecutive BCS bowl games. But this rise to the nation's elite started before this run of conference success. Oregon's first taste of national title contention was in 2000 and 2001. After a middling, post-Joey Harrington, pre-Chip Kelly interim, it was ranked No. 2 and a national title contender in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee. Oregon finished the 2008 season ranked 10th. It finished 11th in 2009 after losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. It finished third in 2010 after losing to Auburn in the national title game.
While opposing fans can still pull out the "They haven't won a BCS bowl game under Kelly" card, that tweak comes from beneath the Ducks in the Pac-12 pecking order, so as ripostes go, it's rather pyrrhic.
And the Ducks, even if they lose to Wisconsin, will be a preseason top-10 team in 2012, probably top-five if they win the Granddaddy. There certainly is a lot to like about the depth chart.
Not including junior running back LaMichael James, who is likely off to the NFL, the Ducks should welcome back six starters on offense, six on defense and both specialists in 2012. But that doesn't tell the entire story.
For one, the Ducks will have a two-year starter returning at quarterback in Darron Thomas. While Thomas has had runs of inconsistent accuracy, there are two bottom lines: He's 22-3 as a starter and has thrown 63 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions.
But what's notable about the Ducks' depth chart is not just returning starters.
Oregon only lists a two-deep. That means 44 players on offense and defense. Of the 22 names on offense, just four are departing seniors, not including James. Of the 22 names on defense, just six are seniors.
And most of the players who are leaving -- or are expected to leave, as in James' case -- are presently backed up by intriguing young talents who already have significant game experience. James leaving? Well, you all know who Kenjon Barner is. Tight end David Paulson? Freshman Colt Lyerla caught five touchdown passes this season. Lose two offensive linemen? Junior Ryan Clanton and freshman Jake Fisher have seen plenty of action. Lose two linebackers? Kiko Alonso has started five games and Boseko Lokombo has played a lot. Cornerback Anthony Gildon out the door? Redshirt freshman Troy Hill has started five games while Gildon has been hurt (and is doubtful for the Rose Bowl).
Further, the Ducks have some redshirt freshmen on both sides of the ball -- particularly at linebacker and receiver -- who figure to make an impact next year. Receivers Devon Blackmon, Tacoi Sumler and B.J. Kelley were highly touted 2011 signees, who could bolster the Ducks passing game.
If you were connecting the dots, you'd actually project the Ducks to be better in 2012 than their 2011, 11-2, Pac-12 champion selves.
And, even with the loss of Thomas after next season, the Ducks appear to set up nicely for 2013. And beyond.
I know. I know. Fans of those 11 other Pac-12 teams are jumping up and down and waving their arms, bellowing, "What about Willie Lyles and the NCAA?"
True, major NCAA sanctions would seem the mostly likely way the Ducks get knocked from their ascent to the nation's elite. And it could happen. You never know with the NCAA.
But the more I talk to people who make educated guesses on NCAA investigations, not to mention a few who have specific knowledge of the NCAA's inquiry into the Ducks, the more I'm leaning toward the position that the NCAA will not pound Oregon. I suspect sanctions will fall short of what Ohio State recently received.
Of course, I thought USC would receive less severe penalties than Alabama received in 2002, so I've also learned to not expect the NCAA to be logical and fair.
The point is this: If you are wondering what Oregon is likely to be doing in, say, 2014, my projection is they still will be annoying 11 other teams.
The Ducks aren't going to go away.
I've been pondering this for years. While Huskies and Ducks fans insist that I favor the other, I really only root for the game to be relevant and meaningful. What I want is two ranked teams hating each other. It makes my job -- standing in the middle, fanning the flames -- much more fun.
I, a transplanted Southerner, first learned about the rivalry's intensity in 1999 by being ignorant of it, as I recounted here. Note to future Huskies beat writers: Don't write a laudatory piece about the Oregon coach your first year in Seattle.
I once spent an evening in Eugene wearing a purple mock turtleneck with a big gold "W" on the front and giant foam Husky hat just to see what would happen.
I was there when things seemed most bitter. And I've pondered a potential renaissance with the Huskies hiring of Steve Sarkisian, a guy who clearly can coach.
But the media can only do so much. The problem with the rivalry has been simple: Oregon has been putting a footprint -- webbed -- on the Huskies foreheads for the past seven years.
Huskies, don't get mad. It's a fact: The Ducks have won seven in a row, their longest streak in the series, by at least 20 points. The average margin of victory during the run is 26.4 points.
What can you possibly say to that?
Well, Washington fans do have some arrows in their quiver. Chief among them: When did Oregon last win the Rose Bowl?
Then Ducks fans observe Huskies fans are living in the past, and Huskies fans -- fully knowing they have been doing exactly that, at least since 2000 -- use a variety of rhetorical tricks in order to yield no ground, as every college football fan should.
I miss the glory days, which can be loosely defined as 1994-2003, starting with Kenny Wheaton's game-clinching interception return for a touchdown -- "The Pick," as Ducks fans lovingly call it -- and the Huskies last win in the series, when Oregon safety Keith Lewis trashed talked before the game and got in a fight late in the 42-10 loss.
"Raw animosity," said former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel of the feelings among the fan bases.
That's why our friends at Addicted to Quack warmed my heart Monday with this: "Happy I Hate Washington Week." Ahhh... they still care enough to talk about their hate.
The fact is the Pac-12 will get more respect nationally and become a better conference in a real, measurable way if Washington-Oregon becomes an annual measuring stick in the Pac-12 North. In other words: A game that conference TV partners salivate over and broadcast in a primetime slot.
Many college football fans -- Pac-12 and otherwise -- hate USC. They hate USC because it's won so much. In the 1980s and '90s, Pac-10 fans started to really, really hate Washington. Why? Washington won a bunch of Rose Bowls and a national title. Over the past few years, Oregon hate has reached a high-water mark. Why? Because the Ducks are looking for a third consecutive conference title and have been stomping foes while wearing loud uniforms.
And there is a rumor that, well, Oregon fans are a bit obnoxious. Not saying that's what I believe. No way. Would never even suggest it. But someone else might. Not me, though. Someone else.
Easy there, Washington fans. There are plenty of whispers about you, too.
This is not to say California or Oregon State rising in the national polls wouldn't be good for the conference. It's just that unadulterated hate moves the needle, and Huskies-Ducks is the Pac-12's only nuclear-powered rivalry.
If Ducks-Huskies on Saturday matched top-10 teams, with say Chip Kelly's ludicrous speed offense against a Huskies defense similar to the Don James years, let's just say that LSU-Alabama would share top billing.
I know the rest of the Pac-12 is going, "No way... screw them." But you're not really thinking that. You know where I'm coming from. You've seen it.
It makes me think of the Col. Nathan R. Jessep's speech in "A Few Good Men."
And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.
Jessep was the villain of the movie. But that speech was absolutely right.
The thought of Oregon and Washington lording over the Pac-12 North might sound grotesque to you, but the truth is deep down in places you don't talk about at tailgates, you want their mutual hate to matter, you need their mutual hate to matter.
Or at least I do.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last season's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: Oregon
The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"
"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."
Four hours before, a pre-game brawl between the Ducks and Tigers was barely averted as the teams stood face-mask-to-face-mask at midfield. Later, the exact cause -- and instigators -- would become a subject of intense speculation and rumor. But both teams went back to their locker rooms before kickoff unhappy with the other.
Pregame: Ducks coach Chip Kelly, splatters of blood spider-webbing down his white shirt, stands amid his players.
"We have practiced better than any team in the nation," he begins. "We have come together for this moment. I'm all about judging ourselves only by the perfection of our effort every day, not by anything outside our program. That's win the day. That's what we are about. But if anger motivates you, then feel free to be angry. It's clear that team doesn't respect you. I will guarantee you this, though. That is going to change."
Oregon outgains LSU 476-220 in a 42-10 victory. Running back LaMichael James rushes for 185 yards and two scores, doing most of his damage between the tackles. The Ducks sack LSU QB Jarrett Lee five times.
"Wow, that's a good football team," Miles says. "They are fast and physical. They will get my vote for No. 1 this week."
The Ducks are voted No. 1 in both polls.
After pounding Nevada and Missouri State, the Ducks visit Arizona. The game is tied 17-17 at halftime. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the score is 44-17.
"No team explodes like the Ducks," ESPN's Chris Fowler. "They are sort of like my favorite superhero, another green beast, the Incredible Hulk."
"Oh, good one," replies Kirk Herbstreit. "I can just see Chip Kelly, 'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.'"
The Ducks roll over California, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State. James is neck-and-neck with Stanford QB Andrew Luck in most Heisman Trophy polls.
"I don't care about individual awards," James says. "I care about my teammates and winning -- in that order."
The Ducks head to overflowing Husky Stadium to take on 10th-ranked Washington, which has only lost at Stanford.
An enterprising Huskies fans sells 50,000 purple T-shirts with a cartoon of Kelly passing money to alleged street agent Willie Lyles, and College GameDay runs a story on the bad feelings over the shirts.
"Did Chip Kelly run up the score?" a reporter asks Washington coach Steve Sarkisian after the Ducks whip the Huskies 60-14, their eighth victory in a row in the rivalry, each by at least 20 points.
Sarkisian pauses, "Well, it's our job to stop them. And I guess he thought getting LaMichael James rushing for 300 yards would help his Heisman Trophy chances."
That sets up the biggest conference game in decades: No. 1 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford.
"One of the biggest regular-season games we've had in a while," Herbstreit says. "Not only will the winner earn poll position in the race for the national title game, you'd have to think either Luck or James wins the Heisman tonight."
Not unlike the 2010 game, Luck and Stanford start quickly and lead at halftime. And not unlike the 2010 game, the Ducks roll in the second half, winning 48-31.
Oregon improves to 11-0 with a 45-17 win over USC. Next up: The Civil War, against 17th-ranked Oregon State.
"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Fowler says from the GameDay set in front of Autzen Stadium. "What do you think?"
"Maybe," Kelly replies.
"What are your feelings on the NCAA clearing you and the program of all wrong-doing in the Willie Lyles investigation?" Fowler asks.
"Who?" Kelly replies. "Oh, you mean, Will. My feelings are ... good."
Oregon whips the Beavers 55-10.
After stomping Arizona State 43-16 in the Pac-12 title game, the Ducks earn a berth in their second-consecutive BCS national championship game. The opponent? Unbeaten and second-ranked Alabama.
James wins the Heisman Trophy.
"The lead story for the national championship game, obviously, is the Ducks top-ranked offense against the Crimson Tide's top-ranked defense," Fowler says. "But SEC fans might be a little surprised that this Pac-12 team can play some D -- see 15.2 points per game. Oh, and by the way, this SEC team can play some offense -- see 41 points per game."
"And, of course, everybody is asking what would it mean for college football if the SEC wins a sixth consecutive national title and adds Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and North Carolina," Herbstreit replies. "Fair to say much of the college football nation is rooting for the Ducks to bring the SEC back down to earth."
"Other than Washington fans," Fowler quips.
"True that," says Herbstreit.
The Ducks gather inside the Louisiana Superdome.
"Great moments, are born from great opportunity," Kelly says."Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. That is your opportunity: To complete a perfect season and have your name written down on a list of champions where it will never be stricken. Look around this room. Look around! My heart is full of love for you guys. Our bond from this season will never be broken. And that is why we have to live in this moment together. We love this game. Play it with absolute joy tonight. Don't let any play, any moment of this game pass without your absolute focus, your absolute intensity. That is what we owe each other. Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. Lay it on the line. Four quarters for forever."
Oregon trails 24-19 with 12 seconds left. It faces a fourth-and-goal on the Crimson Tide 1-yard line.
"Darron," Kelly says to QB Darron Thomas. "We're going right at them. Tell LaMichael to jump. High."
James is immediately met short of the goal line by Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He lands, twists. Ducks tackle Mark Asper rams Upshaw. Three more Crimson Tide players surge into Upshaw, James and Asper, and three Ducks join the fracas. What develops is a scrum of 22 bodies moving sideways along the line of scrimmage. With no whistle.
Then everything collapses. It takes two minutes to clear the bodies.
It starts slowly. A hum, an inhale of recognition, then an explosion of joy followed by complete, prolonged pandemonium.
Touchdown, Oregon. The Ducks are national champions.
"It was a great football game," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "No shame in losing to a great team."
Kelly signs a lifetime contract. He could leave for another job, but he's agreed that he can only do so if he cuts off all of his limbs and leaves them behind. Most think that condition will keep him in Eugene.
Oregon announces it's expanding Autzen Stadium to 100,000 seats and that Nike has figured out a way to get the work done in advance of the 2012 season.
The Ducks sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
The renovation of Husky Stadium uncovers a massive lake of quicksand, into which the entire stadium sinks in just minutes.
The Pac-12 blog's postseason list of the conference's top-25 players is entirely made up of Ducks. Oregon fans complain that the list should number 30.
The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"
"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."
He continues, "Did we beat their butts or what?"
The Ducks offense is again stymied by a big, fast defense with extra time to prepare as the Tigers prevail 28-12.
But the Ducks bounce back with seven consecutive impressive victories, rising again to No. 5 in the polls.
"They are still in the national title hunt," notes ESPN's Chris Fowler.
The Ducks head to Husky Stadium to take on unbeaten, fourth-ranked Washington, which handed Stanford its only loss two weeks before.
Oregon leads 28-24 with nine minutes left. A Jackson Rice punt rolls out of bounds on the Huskies 1-yard line.
On first down, Huskies running back Chris Polk rushes for 3 yards. On second down, Polk rushes for 8 yards. On first down, Polk rushes for 4 yards. After 16 plays, Washington has a first down on Oregon's 8-yard line with 40 seconds left.
Polk rushes for 3 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk scores the winning touchdown as time expires.
"Wow, Chris Polk just ripped the hearts out of Oregon fans everywhere!" says Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen. "You can see why he's neck-and-neck with Andrew Luck in the Heisman Trophy race. The Huskies clearly are in the national title hunt."
Up next: No. 8 Stanford.
"This looked like the Pac-12 game of the year in the preseason, but right now everyone is chasing the Huskies," observes Fowler.
Luck throws four touchdown passes in a 42-28 win.
The Ducks bounce back with a win over USC.
"If we win the Civil War, we can still go to a quality bowl game," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says."I was reading the paper the other day, and it said we can still get to the Alamo Bowl."
Beavers receiver James Rodgers hauls in a game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime. The Beavers rush the Autzen Stadium field, and chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"
The Ducks lose to Clemson in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-5.
Washington beats Oklahoma for the national title.
Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach. The Ducks hire Jim Lambright to replace him. "Now I can be happy about watching Kenny Wheaton return that interception!" Lambright says at his introductory press conference.
On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.
Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.
Take 97 yards. Does that number ring a bell for any Oregon fans?
ESPN.com is looking at some of the most famous touchdowns in college football history for each and every yard marker, and Kenny Wheaton's interception return against Washington -- "The Pick" -- is the choice at 97 yards.
You can check out "Yards to Glory" here.
And here's what I wrote about Wheaton's dash to glory.
97. The Pick
Kenny Wheaton's interception return seals win for Oregon
Oct. 22, 1994: Washington and Oregon have long disliked each other, but the rivalry was wildly lopsided in the Huskies' favor -- at least until Kenny Wheaton went 97 yards for a TD on an interception return, which capped a 31-20 Ducks win over the No. 9 Huskies. The play happened just as the Huskies looked to be driving for a go-ahead score. But with Washington on Oregon's 9-yard line, Wheaton picked off Damon Huard and dashed into Ducks history. Oregon had lost five in a row and 17 of 21 to the Huskies, but "The Pick" was the key moment in Oregon's run to its first Rose Bowl in 37 years
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.
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 66-0 (1974). 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.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly is not a rivalry guy. The hated Washington Huskies visiting Kelly's Ducks on Saturday? Pffft.
"We have 12 rivalries," Kelly said.
Fact is, the Huskies-Ducks rivalry, long one of the nastiest and most underrated in the nation, has dramatically shifted. Washington was once the power that barely even noticed Oregon, which hated the Huskies sense of entitlement -- and winning -- in the Northwest (and a certain UW vote in 1948 on who goes to the Rose Bowl was a bit of an issue, too). But in the mid-1990s, things started to change. Oregon became competitive, and Huskies' fans didn't like that. The rivalry may have peaked when Rick Neuheisel became Washington's coach in 1999. Ducks fans already disliked Neuheisel from his days of Colorado, so it was a perfect stir to an already boiling pot.
Those were fun times because both programs were national powers. The rivalry mattered.
Now? Not so much. Oregon has won six in a row in the series, each by at least 20 points. The Huskies appear to be headed toward an eighth-consecutive non-winning season. They are coming off an embarrassing 41-zip loss to Stanford inside a stunned Husky Stadium. Moreover, struggling quarterback Jake Locker, the unquestioned face of the program, will be out Saturday due to a broken rib, and redshirt freshman Keith Price will make his first career start in boisterous Autzen Stadium.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, therefore, fielded no questions about the glorious rivalry with the Ducks during a lengthy news conference Monday.
"I think more important for our program right now is focusing on us and not necessarily on the Oregon Ducks," Sarkisian said.
Meanwhile, Oregon, after finishing ranked in the top-11 the previous two seasons, is a national title contender. It's got bigger things going on than trash-talking a team that it's favored to beat by five touchdowns.
"Every game in this league is a challenge for everybody," Kelly droned. "Our concentration is solely on next week's game and that's playing Washington."
Oh, but the Huskies-Ducks hatred is still there among the fans.
Guess what's being celebrated -- again -- at Autzen on Saturday? Yep, "The Pick," the 1994 pick-six interception by Ducks cornerback Kenny Wheaton of Huskies QB Damon Huard, which is widely considered the most important play in school history. Wheaton will be at the game, appearing at PK Park from 10:30 a.m. to noon (PDT), signing autographs, including a T-shirt commemorating the play.
By the way, guess who is the new color guy on Huskies broadcasts? Huard. And guess who's an analyst for the ABC telecast? Damon's younger brother, Brock, also a former Washington QB. And guess who's going to be Brock Huard's co-analyst? Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
How fun is that? How can you not smile about all that!
Said Kelly, "Harrumph." (We just made that up, but that's a fair translation of whatever he would say).
So do the Huskies have a chance? The short -- and practical -- answer is, no. But, folks, in college football, everyone has a chance, even when a team is missing its starting QB and brings one of the nation's worst defenses into the nation's most hostile venue to face the nation's best offense.
Said Kelly, "They've got really good athletes."
He then spit and let out an mocking laugh.
No, he didn't, but wouldn't it have been fun if he did?
- Juron Criner is coming into his own for Arizona.
- Arizona State is playing a difficult game of quarterback roulette.
- California's future looks bright at running back.
- Kenny Wheaton's life has been about more than just the biggest play in Oregon football history. Oregon assistant -- and former Duck and NFL player -- Rashad Bauman knows love and tragedy.
- Oregon State's Lyle Moevao is doing all he can to prepare Sean Canfield for Autzen Stadium. This link is all about the graphic on the left. That is funny.
- Jim Harbaugh has some play-calling regrets from the Big Game.
- UCLA DT Brian Price is thinking about his future. A lot is on the line -- in recruiting -- when USC and UCLA play.
- USC RB Joe McKnight is leaning toward returning for his senior season.
- A crack at what Steve Sarkisian might say to his Huskies as they get ready for the Apple Cup. Some Washington notes.
- The Keith Gilbertson connection is deep with the Huskies, but it now extends to the Cougars. But the Cameron Elisara crossover might be more surprising.
These are tough times. Lots of problems in the world. The economy. War. Bitter political divisions.
|Todd Warshaw/Icon SMI|
|Rick Neuheisel was Huskies coach during arguably the height of the Washington-Oregon rivalry.|
But, really, it wasn't clear how tough times were until this week.
Up in the Northwest, when things were difficult, you could always rely on Oregon hating Washington and Washington hating Oregon. This hate was a bedrock constant in a region that shared so much -- snow-capped mountains, fleece, rain, coffee, organic foods, great music scenes, a highly literate populace and microbreweries.
And it was great fun.
So what follows is tragic, particularly with No. 11 Oregon heading to rejuvenated Washington on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m ET).
"They're just the next team on our schedule," Oregon offensive tackle Bo Thran said.
Insert stunned silence from reporter.
Added Thran, "Did that kind of blow your story?"
Thran doesn't know this heated rivalry, even though he hails from Portland. And we don't give up so easily.
Still, what in the name of Keith Lewis, Rick Neuheisel and Kenny Wheaton is going on?
Part of the problem is this: Oregon has owned Washington of late, winning five consecutive games for the first time in the history of the rivalry, each by at least 20 points. Only one of those wins -- 2007, a 55-34 butt-kicking in the midst of a six-game UW losing streak -- was in Seattle, so none of the current Ducks really know what a frenzy Husky Stadium can be.
"I'm very aware (of the rivalry)," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "It's one that has gone on for years and gone back and forth and obviously Oregon has had a great run right now, but we are expecting it to be an exciting day at Husky Stadium.''
Part of the issue is Sarkisian and Oregon's Chip Kelly will be head coaches in the game for the first time this weekend, though Kelly was the Ducks offensive coordinator the previous two seasons.
Both coaches fielded inquiry after inquiry this week about the heated nature of the rivalry. Both said they were aware of the fan feelings but downplayed the importance of them within the locker room or on the practice field.
"I think some people would be happy if we finished 2-9 and beat Washington and Oregon State, but we would be very disappointed as a program," Kelly said. "We don't put any more stock in this game than another. By that, I don't mean to diminish it, but we put everything we have into every game. We haven't done anything different in terms of our approach. It's a league game. It's on the road. And that's enough to get our players up and excited for practice.''
The rivalry probably peaked from 1994 to 2003. That spans Wheaton's game-clinching interception return for a touchdown -- "The Pick," as Ducks fans lovingly call it, is endlessly played in Autzen Stadium -- and the Huskies last win in the series, when Lewis trashed talked before the game and got in a fight late in the 42-10 loss.
And, truly, it peaked when Rick Neuheisel was the Huskies' coach and Mike Bellotti led the Ducks. The two often traded barbs in the media, which eagerly scampered back and forth between the two camps looking for a new tweak.
"There is no love lost, that would be the way to say it," said Neuheisel, now UCLA's coach. "It's for the fans more than the respective teams. I think the teams have respect for one another and do things in the correct way and so forth. But for the fans, there is some raw animosity."
Neuheisel once referred to Oregon as the "propaganda machine." He then tried to sell it as a compliment. Bellotti scoffed.
And it was great fun.
The key element during the hate peak, though, was both programs were good and typically nationally ranked.
While Washington still leads the series by a decisive 58-38-5 margin, the Huskies haven't kept up as Oregon and Oregon State have risen in the Northwest.
Yet, while Kelly has the Ducks again ranked highly and in the middle of the Pac-10 race, Sarkisian seems to be leading a program renaissance in Seattle.
The Huskies went 0-12 last year and were rarely competitive. They are 3-4 this year against a rugged schedule, and only one loss was decided by more than eight points. Sarkisian also appears to be putting together an elite recruiting class, and competitiveness in recruiting is often where coaches develop their fire for a rivalry.
Perhaps that's why Kelly isn't as concerned about fans trading barbs as he is about the Huskies on the field, most particularly quarterback Jake Locker.
"I think he's lights out," Kelly said. "He's as good as anybody in the country at quarterback. He's the guy who scares us."
The biggest source of intrigue heading into the game is Kelly's quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, who hurt his knee on Oct. 3 against Washington State and missed the UCLA game the following weekend. He's been leading the No. 1 offense at practice this week, but how much of a run threat he will be if he starts remains a question.
What is not a question is the atmosphere Kelly and his Ducks will face. Husky Stadium has been mostly back to its old raucous self this season, and at least one rivalry veteran thinks the on-field experience might be transformative for Kelly.
"Yeah, no question," Bellotti said. "In the opponent's stadium, it's a different thing being on the field than being in the press box. I think in that regard he'll feel a lot more of it."
One of Neuheisel's favorite sayings is, "Tough times don't last; tough people do."
The Oregon-Washington rivalry has faced some tough times in recent years. But here's a guess that's about to end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Markus Wheaton seems a bit impatient. He's just been asked for the 3,657th time about his cousin Kenny Wheaton, an Oregon legend best known for his 97-yard interception return against Washington in 1994.
The funny thing to the reporter is that Markus Wheaton is a freshman receiver for -- wait for it -- Oregon State!
Markus Wheaton didn't supply the "Ha!"
"It didn't have anything to do with Kenny at all," Wheaton said. "I was going to go to Oregon but a couple of their coaches got let go, the ones who were recruiting me."
It's not that Wheaton isn't in the mood for a redundant interview topic. It's that he can hear something calling his name.
See, with Darrell Catchings out for the year with a hand injury, Wheaton's strong first days of camp have pushed him up the depth chart and made him the first option to step into the starting lineup at split end.
Only he's got to learn the Beavers offense. Quickly.
"When I'm not out here, I'm on my playbook," Wheaton said. "I'm going to go in right now, watch some film and look at the plays. Go to dinner. Look at the plays. Go home. Look at the plays. That's all I do now until I get it down."
Wheaton, who hails from Oakland, says the game is faster in college, but it's the plays that are giving him trouble.
The physical side hasn't stumped him yet. While he carries just 167 pounds on his 6-foot frame, Wheaton's speed and agility both before and after he gets the ball in his hands make him look like he belongs athletically.
"He just floats. He's a very smooth athlete. He's very gifted," coach Mike Riley said. "Now it's just a matter of putting all those gifts into our offense."
Which means Wheaton has to learn the plays.
"It's rough trying to learn plays," he said.
The plays are the thing.
When asked if he's nervous about running onto the field with the offense on Sept. 5 vs. Portland State, Wheaton shakes his head.
"I'm not thinking about that now," he said. "I'm just trying to learn the plays."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The big news in Oregon recruiting should be the commitment of elite cornerback Cliff Harris, but it was another athlete's decision that ruffled feathers in Eugene and had the Oregon State Beavers gleefully pounding their tails.
Markus Wheaton, from Chandler, Ariz., wants to be a Beaver.
Well, Wheaton is the cousin of Kenny Wheaton.
Well, for those of you not well-versed in Duck football lore, Kenny Wheaton's 1994 interception return for a touchdown against Washington -- termed "The Pick" -- is only the biggest play in Oregon football history, according to most Duck fans.
So Markus to Corvallis is big news (though Markus to Washington would be even more notable).
Ken Goe speculates that the coaching uncertainty at Oregon might be hurting recruiting, but Oregon's got bigger fish in the water, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, who is expected to choose between Oregon, Ohio State and Clemson on Tuesday.
Still, many Ducks are likely smarting just because the Wheaton name is so meaningful in Eugene. Just as many Beavers are, you know, paddling their tails and doing other things happy Beavers do.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
EUGENE, Ore. -- Despite USC's dominant performance today at Virginia -- egad, the Trojans looked good! -- the rest of the Pac-10 isn't going to call off the season.
And that's good, because there is no better place to watch a ball game than Autzen Stadium, where Washington faces a huge challenge tonight.
Nestled on the banks of the Willamette River, Autzen is a scenic stadium inside and out, but that's not what has made this venue infamous.
This place is really freaking loud.
I always tell my SEC friends that it's a smaller version -- capacity 54,000, though the average attendance in 2007 was 58,845 -- of "The Swamp" in Gainesville.
And I also tell my SEC friends that Oregon fans are known to sometimes duplicate the tone and tenor of Florida fans, not popularly known for their aristocratic bearing and hospitality (Hey, I mean that in the nicest possible way).
This place is hard on every visiting team, but it reserves a deep and frenzied hatred for the Huskies.
First sign from the the Ducks tailgate I saw: A "Husky Hater Tailgater" road sign. One side of the sign points to Seattle, the other points the opposite way, toward Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.
The rivalry would be bitter just because of the proximity of the schools. It also long was a rich big brother (Washington) vs. poor little brother (Oregon) mutual disaffection until the Ducks program, with an assist from billionaire booster and Nike founder Phil Knight, emerged as a national power with facilities as good as any program in the nation.
The festering bitterness of the rivalry, however, is traced back to 1948 when Oregon and California tied for first place in the conference and, by rule, the Rose Bowl participant was to be decided by member vote. The Huskies decided to stick it to Oregon, voting against the Ducks and actively recruiting then-member Montana to do the same. Cal went to the Rose Bowl and the Ducks stewed.
Washington dominated for years, but the shift in the balance of power began with the famous Kenny Wheaton 97-yard interception return for a TD in 1994 . Known as "The Pick" for those in green and lightning yellow -- and endlessly replayed at Autzen Stadium, particularly when the Huskies are in town -- the play ended what appeared to another Huskies comeback victory and keyed the Ducks Rose Bowl run.
There is a of myriad stories in the rivalry. Huskies officials a few years ago claimed Oregon fans threw cups of urine and dog feces at the UW players. Message boards are brimming with claims of indignities suffered by fans at the opposing stadium.
There's a lot of good ole hate here.
In other words, it's one of those games that make college football great.
As for tonight, my guess is folks are getting fairly lubricated during the lengthy tailgate that precedes night games. There's nice breeze and there figures to be a bit of a chill in the air by nightfall.
This place will be absolutely bonkers in about an hour.
Oregon, ranked 21st and favored by 13 1/2 points, is expected to roll over the Huskies, even with the loss of QB Nate Costa to a season-ending knee injury and the suspension of tackle Fenuki Tupou.
But Huskies QB Jake Locker figures to at least make things interesting.
And, you know, you can throw out the records -- dual 0-0 marks -- in rivalry games.
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State