Pac-12: Phil Knight

Pac-12 media days start Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and your entire Pac-12 gang -- we're going by either #4pac or #pac4, we haven't decided yet -- will be there soaking in the evasive and clichéd quotes while plumbing for revealing and interesting nuggets to share with you.

There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.

Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. This is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.

The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.

As a public service, we've provided you with a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below are questions for each of the conference's 12 teams that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked, and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.

(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach.)

Arizona Wildcats, coach Rich Rodriguez
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

Arizona State Sun Devils, coach Todd Graham
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils' coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

California Golden Bears, coach Sonny Dykes
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last season that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Spring and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.

Colorado Buffaloes, coach Mike MacIntyre
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency, and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here, but -- Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?

Oregon Ducks, coach Mark Helfrich
What will be asked: How will quarterback Marcus Mariota be better this season than last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitional pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.

Oregon State Beavers, coach Mike Riley
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up to Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please re-create for us the worst temper tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.

Stanford Cardinal, coach David Shaw
What will be asked: Who will step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media have again picked Oregon, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions, to eclipse you. Is that a slight to your program, and if not, how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.

UCLA Bruins, coach Jim Mora
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surround your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?

USC Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?

Utah Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and transfer Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense.
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.

Washington Huskies, coach Chris Petersen
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?

Washington State Cougars, coach Mike Leach
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what are your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday and Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10-question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
7:00
PM ET
This is the 11th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year'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

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich walks out of his fourth-floor office inside the brand spanking new 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and takes his private staircase to his parking space in the garage below. As he reaches the garage, however, a door slides open behind him. He raises an eyebrow.

He turns and walks down the dimly lit corridor. He arrives at an elevator. It opens. He walks in. It descends, picking up what feels like incredible speed.

The elevator opens. His entire team stands before him. Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

"Guys," Helfrich says. "Is someone going to tell me what is going on or do I have to wait and read it on the Pac-12 blog?"

Replies quarterback Marcus Mariota, "Coach, it's time you learn the truth. Welcome to the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility, brought to you by Nike. The time of tribulation is here. Great danger rises in the Southeast."

The players part. Helfrich sees running back De'Anthony Thomas standing with his back toward him in front of a wall with a cantilevered display of 64 individual video screens, each 55 inches on the diagonal, that can be combined into one display or 64 individual displays. He turns toward Helfrich, but Thomas' typically carefree, mellow expression has been replaced by one of great vexation.

Mariota says, "Coach, you know him as De'Anthony or DAT or Black Mamba. But his true name is Kal-El. He is the son of Jor-El."

Mariota takes in Helfrich's blank expression. "Not much of a comic book guy, huh, coach?" Mariota says. "What I'm saying is De'Anthony is Superman."

Replies Helfrich, "Well that explains a lot."

Thomas walks toward Helfrich,"The signs are all here," Thomas begins. "My keeper, Snoop Dogg, has changed his name to Snoop Lion, announcing his warrior spirit's arrival. The Evil Aliens known as SEC will be going for their eighth national title this fall. That's the sacred number. If they succeed, we're all doomed."

"Evil Aliens... you mean the SEC is a bunch of aliens?" Helfrich asks. "That explains a lot. And what's with the sacred number?"

"Have you seen the movie Aliens?" Thomas replies. "The SEC is entirely populated by aliens who are just like that, only uglier. And think about the number eight. You turn it on its side, it becomes the symbol for infinity. If the aliens, er, SEC wins the national title this year, college football as we know it will end. The aliens, er, SEC will dominate.... for infinity!"

Orchestral music booms from above: Daaaaaaa Taaaaaa Dummmmmm! Ducks center Hroniss Grasu elbows Helfrich and whispers, "That music was my idea."

Oregon blows out Nicholls State 77-0 and travels across the country to rip Virginia 44-10. Tennessee comes to Autzen Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti notices that Helfrich seems agitated during a coaches meeting.

"Mark, you look agitated," Aliotti says. "You're worried about that bunch of Volunteer aliens being right in our back yard, right? Don't worry. DAT won't let anything happen. And Uncle Phil built us this Death Starr looking building to protect the sacred scrolls."

Replies Helfrich, "You knew about this?"

"Heck, yeah!" Aliotti says. "Know that florescent sign in our new dining hall -- 'Eat your enemies and the other food groups.' That was mine. My thinking was the aliens in the SEC want to eat us. What if we eat them first? Ha!"

Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

Oregon buries Tennessee 45-10. Afterwards, Thomas leads Helfrich back into the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility.

Says Thomas at the entryway, "Ifo Ekrpe-Olomu... Boseko Lokombo." The doors open. Explains Thomas, "Passwords. And just fun to say."

Thomas hits a button to rewind surveillance tape. Video cameras pick up a man in a black trenchcoat with receding gray hair slipping into the Ducks football building. When a locked door prevents his advance, he leaps into the air, turns upside down and adheres to the ceiling. He then scampers like a cockroach toward an air vent.

Thomas smiles. "Hello, Mike Slive," he says. "Watch this." The ceiling begins to glow red. Slive lets out a cry and falls to the ground.

"Wow, heated ceiling, that's cool," Helfrich says. "So is the SEC commissioner like Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires of aliens!"

"Er, no," Thomas says. "That's so August of 2012. Someone else leads the aliens. The Saban."

Oregon whips California and Colorado, with Mariota's five touchdown passes giving him 14 for the season. Up next: A trip to Washington.

"All the Pac-12 teams are united with us against the aliens... except Washington," Mariota tells Helfrich. "You know what 'Washington Huskies' means in the alien language? Of course you don't. It means, 'Evil, horrible, no-good, ugly, purple team.'"

"That explains a lot," Helfrich says.

The Ducks batter Washington 38-17, winning their 10th consecutive game in the series by at least 17 points. Oregon rolls over Washington State and slips UCLA 28-21 to improve to 8-0.

Kevin Gemmell: No. 2 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford, both unbeaten, the winner puts itself in position to play for the national title. Clearly the biggest Thursday night game on ESPN in history.

Ted Miller: Hab SoSlI'Quch! NuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'.

Gemmell: That's Klingon, not alien.

It's a dynamic, physical contest of contrasting styles that is 20-20 at the end of regulation. The teams match touchdowns in the first overtime, with Thomas going 17 yards on a third and five for the Ducks TD. A diving interception from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ends Stanford's possession in the second overtime, but Trent Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.

Announcer: Ducks backup kicker Alejandro Maldonado doesn't have a good history when it comes to clutch kicks, but injury to the starter has him facing a huge one here. He missed big ones against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012.

Helfrich grabs Maldonado: "I got two things for you," he says. "First, keep your celebration reasonable. Don't do anything loopy and get hurt. And, second, whatever you do, do not think about Daffy Duck."

Maldonado walks out of the huddle and lines up his kick. "What did he mean by Daffy Duck?" he thinks. "Daffy Duck... funny voice. I wonder if I can do that voice. Daffy Duck, Daffy Duck."

The kick is good. Oregon wins, though the postgame handshake with the Cardinal players seems unusually warm and solemn. The same can be said of the final three games and Pac-12 title game, with the Ducks rolling through Utah, Arizona and Oregon State, then beating Arizona State for the Pac-12 title.

That sets up the national title game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oregon. Both 13-0.

Thomas sits alone in the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. He watches a blinking light. It says "telephone intercept." The computer screen reads, "Call from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa." Thomas presses the button. He listens. A voice hisses, "Bring back national title. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded."

Then, after a pause, the voice starts again, "I can't lie to you about your chances, De'Anthony -- or should I say, Jor-El -- but ... you have my sympathies." The line cuts off.

Gemmell: Oregon has the size, speed and talent to beat Alabama. Helfrich has proven himself as a leader. I think the Ducks are plenty confident. They certainly won't be intimidated.

SEC pundit: You still don't understand what you're dealing with when you play an SEC champion, do you? Perfect organisms. Their structural perfection is matched only by their hostility.

Alabama ties the game 19-19 with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. Oregon takes over with 2:33 remaining. On first and 10 from the Ducks 40, Thomas is tackled after a 6-yard gain.

Announcer: Thomas gets back up ... he gets back up ... was he not on the ground? The Crimson Tide is saying wait a minute, he was down.

Thomas' 37-yard gain gives Oregon a first and 10 on the Alabama 23. Four plays later, Oregon and Maldonado line up for a 19-yard field goal.

Maldonado: Daffy Duck, Daffy Daffy Duck, Daffy Freaking Duck.

Good.

Oregon wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.

As punishment for allying with evil aliens, it is decreed that all Washington fans must say, "The Oregon Ducks rule!" before they speak for five years.

Worst case

Oregon has little trouble with Nicholls State and a road trip to Virginia as the Ducks coast to a 2-0 start.

Gemmell: It looks like business as usual for Oregon under Mark Helfrich.

Ted Miller: Maybe. But losing at home to an SEC bottom-feeder would be really embarrassing for the Ducks and for the Pac-12.

Tennessee rushes for 225 yards against the Ducks, and the Volunteers big, fast SEC defense thwarts QB Marcus Mariota and company in a 20-17 upset victory.

SEC fans: We're not surprised. That was big-boy football. The SEC is just too big and too fast and too good and too tough and too too too awesome for the lil' old Pac-12.

Pac-12 fans: [Irritated silence... with chirping crickets].

The Ducks bounce back with blowout wins over California and Colorado. They are crawling back up the rankings as they head to unbeaten Washington to play their first game in newly remodeled Husky Stadium.

Washington wins 41-7. Heisman Trophy candidate Bishop Sankey rushes for 225 yards, while Heisman Trophy candidate Keith Price passes for four touchdowns. Lombardi Award candidate Shaq Thompson has three sacks.

"Well, they'd beaten us nine times in a row by at least 17 points," coach Steve Sarkisian says after the game. "But by winning by 34, do we get two of those back?"

The Ducks bounce back with wins over Washington State and UCLA. They are a respectable 6-2, but they aren't the finely tuned -- and optimally confident -- team they were under Chip Kelly. That's made clear when they surrender a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Stanford and lose 27-24.

Oregon bounces Utah, but, perhaps looking ahead to No. 5 Oregon State, they lose five turnovers in a 33-30 loss at Arizona.

"It hasn't been the season we expected," Helfrich says. "But a lot of those growing pains will feel better if we can beat Oregon State in the Civil War. That's clearly the biggest game on our schedule every year, our season's Super Bowl. Hypothetically, a win there should satisfy fans. OK, now let me give you guys the injury report."

Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion throws four touchdown passes in a 35-20 win, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

The Ducks lose to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl to finish 7-6. Mariota leads a list of eight players who opt to enter the NFL draft early, including De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrence Mitchell.

Oregon State beats Texas in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1 and ranked third.

Arrion Springs and Royce Freeman switch their commitments to Washington.

Washington, after going 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy vote, beats Alabama to win the national championship, with Heisman winner Keith Price throwing for three scores and running for another in a 35-10 win.

The universe is saved.

It is decreed that all Oregon fans must say, "Washington is back on top!" before they speak for five years.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Oregon State

Washington

UCLA

Arizona State

Best case-worst case: Oregon State

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
7:00
PM ET
This is the seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year'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 State

Best case

Fade from black. A desperate man with a dark mustache and a bald head sits in a shadowy, wood paneled office.

He says, "I believe in the Pac-12 ... I rooted for my team in the Pac-12 fashion."

He tells a tale of woe, his team losing and his family being teased by other Pac-12 fans.

"I said to my wife," he concludes. "For justice, we must go to Don Mike Riley."

"Well, heck," Riley says. "Why didn't you come to me first? We've known each other many years, but this is the first time you came to me for counsel, for help. But, gosh, that's OK. Some day, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this stuffed Beaver as a gift on the first day of preseason camp. Now, I want to tell you about my team. I really like these guys!"

Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion then walk into Riley's office.

"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. This is business not personal. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12. I want you guys to handle this the right way. A hundred other guys will be watching what happens next."

Oregon State stomps Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Mannion throws five TD passes and sits out of the fourth quarter of each game. The Beavers are challenged during road trips to Utah and San Diego State, but they prevail with dominant fourth quarters on both sides of the ball.

They then blow out Colorado, win on a last-second field goal at Washington State and take down California 27-17. At 7-0, Oregon State is ranked 11th, but the toughest part of the schedule lies ahead as each of the final five foes are ranked, including No. 3 Stanford, which heads to Corvallis next.

Reporter: Mike, you're the don, er, dean of Pac-12 coaches, having led Oregon State for 12 years, 10 consecutively since you dabbled in the NFL. What's the secret to your longevity, considering just two other Pac-12 coaches have been at their schools for four or more seasons?

Riley: There are many things my father taught me growing up in Corvallis. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your good friends closer.

Riley gathers his team before they take the field opposite the unbeaten Cardinal.

"I was watching ESPN GameDay this morning and those guys were saying no one really knows what to make of the Beavers, no one knows who we are," Riley says. "Well, I think I know who we are. And I think you know who we are. Tonight we've got a great opportunity to show everyone else who we are. This sounds like a great opportunity to me. Let's show Stanford and everyone else who the Beavers are."

With 17 seconds left, the score is tied 20-20. Stanford has a first and 10 on the Beavers 40.

Announcer: Stanford probably needs about 10 yards to get into field goal range or we go to overtime.

Color analyst: This might be a good time for Kevin Hogan to look for his big tight end Luke Kaumatule.

Kaumatule lines up in the slot opposite linebacker Michael Doctor, who steps up in press coverage.

Kaumatule: What are you up to, Michael?

Doctor: Don't ask me about my business, K.

On the snap, Doctor cuts inside on a blitz. Kaumatule takes three steps, and Hogan turns with Doctor in his face. He throws toward his big tight end.

Announcer: Ryan Murphy! Murphy, the Beavers safety, cuts in front of Kaumatule and he's going back the other way for the touchdown! It looks like the unbeaten Beavers have announced themselves to the nation as Pac-12 and national title contenders!

But the Beavers go down to USC on a Friday night in Corvallis and, after an off week, lose in overtime at Arizona State.

The post game locker room in Tempe is silent. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker huddles with Riley.

"It's like, with good fortune and national attention, they didn't know what to do," he says.

Riley erupts, "They could act like men! What's the matter with you guys? Is this what you've become, wide-eyed when you get ranked in the top-10? What ... you think it gets easier? If you want to win a championship, you have to embrace the fact that every step forward is infinitely more difficult that the one that preceded it. You must think like that and you must prepare like that."

The Beavers clobber No. 15 Washington 40-17. That sets up a Civil War showdown with 10-1 Oregon, which lost only to Stanford. The winner goes to the Pac-12 title game because the Cardinal followed up their win over the Ducks with a defeat at USC.

The Beavers walk into their locker room before Tuesday's practice and there's a large stuffed Duck wearing an Oregon jersey laying on the floor. It's got a Copper River salmon sticking out of its mouth.

Storm Woods: Wait... I know this one.

Brandin Cooks: It's a Sicilian message. It means Oregon sleeps with the fishes.

Woods: Or will.

Center Isaac Seumalo pulls the fish out.

Seumalo: That's all great but Copper River king salmon is like $40 a pound, and this baby is pretty large. Let's grill this bad boy up!

Autzen Stadium is throbbing as the Beavers gather around Riley. After a long pause, he begins.

"Their time is done," he says. "It's over. This is our time. So go out there and take it."

Oregon takes a 28-24 lead on a 30-yard touchdown run from De'Anthony Thomas. The Beavers take over on their 20-yard line with 1:35 remaining. They drive to the Ducks 14-yard line, but face a fourth-and-3 with 14 seconds left.

After a timeout, Mannion eyeballs Cooks in the huddle.

"You'll be one-one-one with Ifo [Ekpre-Olomu] on the outside," Mannion says. "Go hard inside and sell a fake, then break to the flag. I'll be coming over your left shoulder. This is all or nothing. So sell that inside move hard!"

Says Cooks, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."

Ekpre-Olomu bites on the fake; Mannion lobs to the flag; Cooks leaps. Touchdown. Autzen Stadium goes quiet, other than a pie slice of fans in orange and black, who go bonkers.

Oregon State beats USC 30-24 in the Pac-12 title game and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1964 season.

The Beavers whip No. 7 Michigan in Pasadena and finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

Headline in the Portland Oregonian: "Oregon football facility found to cause hallucinations." The story then recounts that when you combine ostentation, Brazilian Ipe wood and extreme hubris, it forms a rare, airborne, psychotropic gas.

"Yes, it all must be torn down," says a smiling man with dark mustache and a bald head. "And a new building can't be constructed on the site for five years. But Ducks like to be outside in the rain, yes?"

Worst case

Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion then walk into Riley's office.

"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12."

The Beavers whip Eastern Washington and Hawaii, but a late Mannion interception keys an upset loss at Utah.

"We're going to go with Cody Vaz against San Diego State," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.

The Beavers beat the Aztecs and Colorado and then slip Washington State in overtime. However, they are flat at California, perhaps looking ahead to Stanford, and lose 20-17.

Kevin Gemmell: As we noted in the preseason, the Beavers schedule ramps up from here. Their next five foes are all ranked.

Ted Miller: Is that what you said when they asked you to do SportsCenter!

Gemmell: Yes.

Ted Miller: I'm your older blogger, Kevin, and I was stepped over!

Stanford whips the Beavers 30-10 as Vaz throws two picks and is sacked five times.

"We're going to go with Sean Mannion against USC," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.

USC rolls over Oregon State 40-10.

Opponents are exploiting the weakness of the Beavers interior defensive line -- see 175 yards rushing surrendered per game -- and both quarterbacks are inconsistent. Defenses are blanketing receiver Brandin Cooks with bracket coverages, and no No. 2 option is stepping forward. The offensive line, thought a strength in the preseason, has been underwhelming.

The Beavers go down at Arizona State with Vaz and lose at home to Washington with Mannion. They head to Autzen Stadium to take on No. 2 and unbeaten Oregon at 5-6, needing a win to earn bowl eligibility, not to mention to prevent the Ducks from playing Alabama for the national title.

Both QBs play. Oregon rolls 45-17.

Ducks first-year coach Mark Helfrich is carried off the field by his team, but he tells consigliere, er, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti to relay a message to Riley: "Tell Mike it was only business. I've always liked him."

The Ducks win the national title with a blowout win over the Crimson Tide. As a reward, Nike founder Phil Knight gives each Oregon player a brass bottle.

With a genie in it. And no limit on wishes. The NCAA deems the gift, "Really cool and fine with us."

Riley retires to his vacation him in Gruene, Texas along the Guadalupe River.

The Beavers hire Charlie Weis away from Kansas.

"Folks around here sometimes complained the Mike was too nice," athletic director Bob De Carolis says. "So we went another direction."

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Mailbag: Love from Pittsburgh

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

Greetings to all our new Pitt fans. Maybe you can start a blog club with Kansas State and Mississippi State fans?

To the notes!

Alex from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Ted,Your article about Rushel Shell's transfer reveals a lack of research on your part. Pitt's transfer policy has been consistent for the past 15 years. The University of Pittsburgh has never allowed transfers to schools with multiple former Pitt staffers. While the merits of this can be argued, this is an issue that needs to taken up with the NCAA as a whole, not just Pitt. If I remember correctly, in a previous article about Todd Graham leaving Pitt for ASU you told Pitt fans to get over it while not bringing to light the issue in college sports where college Presidents can freely lure coaches away from signed contracts. In other words, when Graham came to ASU there was no mention of the underlying NCAA issue at hand but when Shell transfers to ASU you are calling Pitt fans to take action against this problem that is an NCAA problem. It appears that you might be the one who needs to "get over" the fact that Shell won't be joining ASU or AZ unless he wants to pay his own way.

Ted Miller: This was one of the less addled responses to my column on Pitt blocking running back Rushel Shell from transferring to either Arizona or Arizona State, reportedly because former Pitt coaches are on the Wildcats and Sun Devils coaching staffs.

That, of course, includes Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who isn't very popular at Pitt.

There were a variety of counterpoints from Pitt fans -- see below -- none that I found terribly compelling. There's a reason for that. As noted in the article, there really isn't anyone in the world who doesn't believe Pitt coach Paul Chryst and athletic administrators are wrong for limiting a young man's transfer options for no credible reason other than being petty.

Of course, some liked the idea of being petty. At least they were honest.

I did read one writer who said allowing Shell to transfer where he wanted would set a "bad precedent." That sort of thinking emerges from the perspective of "program above all else, right or wrong." Within that thinking is the justification that is that if Shell gets to join Graham at Arizona State, others might follow.

The gee whiz solution to that false problem is to make your program appealing so players don't want to leave. And if they do, good riddance.

Further, part of establishing a strong locker room culture as well as credibility with recruits and their parents is not doing things that are counter to the interests of student-athletes. Yes, schools that recruit against Pittsburgh will add the treatment of Shell to their clip file.

Alex from Ann Arbor seems like a pretty bright sort, but I'm not sure his initial point is very effective: "Your article about Rushel Shell's transfer reveals a lack of research on your part. Pitt's transfer policy has been consistent for the past 15 years. The University of Pittsburgh has never allowed transfers to schools with multiple former Pitt staffers."

You are correct. I didn't research whether this was institutional policy. For one, CB Lloyd Carrington already followed Graham from Pittsburgh to Arizona State (apparently Pitt didn't know his destination, other than to be closer to his Texas home, when he was granted his release). And, second, I don't think it bolsters Pitt's position to point out that a petty decision by Pitt is actually a petty institutional policy.

As for "college Presidents can freely lure coaches away from signed contracts," well, college presidents can freely fire their head coach, too. Within those signed contracts are buyout clauses that explain what happens if a coach is fired before his contract is over or if he decides to go elsewhere before his contract is over. These are business relationships. Not marriages.

Neither Pitt denying Shell the freedom to transfer where he wants to go, nor Graham leaving Pitt are NCAA issues. The NCAA does have transfer rules -- Shell will lose a year while he sits out the season -- but Pitt has the power to decide the nature of its release.

Beyond Alex's note, most of what landed in the mailbag -- and on Twitter -- made the following weak assertions:
  • "Arizona State is tampering!" Really? That's an NCAA violation. Report it.
  • "Everybody else does this!" Er, no. But, still, this is what happened TODAY. Ergo, my column.
  • There were lots of attacks on Shell's character, which is called "changing the subject." And being petty and churlish in a new way.
  • There were lots of "You defended Graham." Yep. I don't believe a guy should be forced to not take a job he really wants or to stay in a place he doesn't want to be.
  • There were lots of "You live in Scottsdale!" Yeah ... since 2008. Lived in Seattle from 1999-2008. Mobile, Ala., before that. Went to the University of Richmond. And was born and raised in Atlanta. So what?
  • There were accusations of a "hatchet job." This column wouldn't exist without Pitt's actions. No hatchet. Just doing my job.
  • There were lots of "Get your facts straight" with zero examples of facts not being straight.
  • And there were plenty of the classic, "Your an idiot."

Kevin also dropped me a note, thanking me for ruining his spring vacation to Pittsburgh.

Steve from Highland, Mich., writes: Can you please tell me why the Oregon Ducks have not been hit with sanctions yet? Is it because of the big bucks of Phil Knight with Nike? I find it rather odd some of the other schools are getting hammered with the exception of Oregon.

Ted Miller: Nothing to do with Phil Knight and Nike.

The NCAA simply moves at a glacial pace, which is unfair to the investigated school because part of the ultimate punishment becomes the prolonged presence of a dark cloud over the program.

I wrote this in December, and it still holds true today.

And you might have noticed the NCAA has its own issues these days.

Jay from Cambridge, Mass., writes: In a world where a lot of people around the country still characterize the Pac-12 as an offense-only conference, to what degree does having someone like DE Dion Jordan going as a second-overall draft pick remind people otherwise?

Ted Miller: It's even more than that: Both ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay project the first three Pac-12 players picked in the first round will all play defense: Jordan, Utah DT Star Lotulelei and Washington CB Desmond Trufant.

It probably will surprise some folks, but the Pac-12 has long had plenty of good defenses and plenty of good defensive players. The more pass-happy and, more recently, uptempo styles of offense out West have skewed defensive numbers, often making them look worse than they are.

Just about every Pac-12 team that has beoame a national contender played good defense, most notably Washington under Don James, USC under John McKay and Pete Carroll. Oregon under Chip Kelly and coordinator Nick Aliotti consistently played underrated defense. And Stanford's legitimacy as a national title contender is more about defense than offense.

Mailbag: Why Dykes over MacIntyre at Cal?

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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The bowl season starts tomorrow. Sweet!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Please.

J.McAndrew, San Jose, Calif., writes: From your perspective Mr. Miller, why would MacIntyre take the job at Colorado and not California. Or to put reversely, why would Cal AD Barbour hire Sonny Dykes and not MacIntyre. Cal was in better position to win immediatley and Colorado is going to be a major building job. Colorado must have had questions about loyalty after firing an Alum with only two seasons to work with. From my standpoint, of reading Jon Wilner and the SJ Mercury news, Cal had a major issue with academics which made SJSU's Coach more suitable for righting the ship. So what gives? Does it all fall back on Sandy Barbour or was there some other incentive/issue why the coaches went where they went?

Ted Miller: I think California athletic director Sandy Barbour had her choice between San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre and Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes, and she simply preferred Dykes.

You can review her comments here.

Then Colorado jumped in and grabbed MacIntyre, a guy who seems like a perfect fit in Boulder after rebuilding a woebegone Spartans program.

If things don't work out with Dykes at Cal, and MacIntyre leads a football renaissance at Colorado, well, that won't go over well with the Old Blues. Or the young ones. Some view Dykes as a risky hire, and you are not the first with a MacIntyre query.

From our present perspective, my ever optimistic self sees both as good hires, though neither is the sort of blockbuster announcement that causes new-found enthusiasm to immediately boil over, as, say, Ohio State inspired when it hired Urban Meyer. But neither program is Ohio State, either.

As for why Barbour preferred Dykes specifically over MacIntyre, you'd be hard-pressed to get a detailed answer from Barbour that digs at MacIntyre.

It could have been a connection of personalities. It certainly seems Dykes made a strong impression during a three-hour interview that separated himself from the five other candidates who sat down with Barbour.

It could have been a preference for an offensive-minded guy over a defensive-minded guy, as MacIntyre is. It could have been Dykes' Pac-12 knowledge, having served three years as the offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09.

Maybe there's some minor, obscure and unreported red flag that gave Barbour pause of MacIntyre. Or just Barbour's own hunch/instincts on the decision.

If you've ever hired someone, you know that after reviewing a number of strong resumes and conducting interviews, your ultimate decision is often based on a personal quirk. For example, I would never hire someone who smacks when he eats. Drives me freaking crazy. It should be legal to punch someone who smacks when he eats ... anyone with me on that?

Or someone who eats steak well-done. I heard a guy the other day order a ribeye well-done and I wanted to cry.

As for Dykes and Barbour: What we can say for certain is there is now more pressure on Barbour for Dykes to be successful than there is on Dykes himself.




Chris from Penticton, B.C., writes: Mike Riley to Wisconsin? Say it ain't so, Mike!

Ted Miller: It ain't so.




Lou from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Ted, In response to your response post criticizing Mike Leach's effort this year - I agree with you that Leach should have done better with what he had, this seasons was dismal. However I find your comparison of him to Graham, Mora, and Rich-Rod to be way off-base. There are so many internal things that go on with each specific program that no fan, or the media are aware of. To say that Leach failed because new coaches in the conference did better than him is ridiculous. Each football team is dynamically different. With that said, I think your article blasting Leach may have come from personal disappointment due to your desire to see Leach's high-octane offense excel immediately, not that you really think he is that big of a failure.

Ted Miller: I don't agree. Comparing the conduct and results of Leach and the other three new coaches is certainly valid. It's not about asking why Leach didn't win nine games, as Jim Mora did, it's about asking why his team did worst than it should have while Mora, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez produced teams that overachieved in year one.

I think Mike Leach is a good football coach. I effused when he was hired. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of months actually trying to talk some of my Coug fan friends back from the ledge of despair. I still think he's going to win in Pullman.

But I think he did a bad job this season. I'm certainly not alone in thinking that. And I think a lot of Washington State fans agree with me. In fact, that column was basically a condensed version of what I've heard -- over and over and over -- from Washington State fans this fall.

The most common observation: Leach's repeated and harsh calling out of his players achieved nothing positive. Nothing.

The obvious negative of colorfully ripping your players, of course, is that a game with no national interest, such as the 49-6 loss to Utah, suddenly becomes negative national news for your program and a multi-day story. Probably doesn't help recruiting, either.

Leach is going to be himself. He's not much for filtering his thoughts as they flow from his brain to his mouth.

Perhaps he should reconsider that, at least in some part. Perhaps his New Year's resolution should be that, going forward, when things go wrong with his football team, he will first blame the guy who makes $2.25 million a year for them not to go wrong before he lays into unpaid college students.




Craig from Seattle writes: This past season . . . which was the better division . . . . SEC West or Pac-12 North?

Ted Miller: SEC West.

The SEC West was a little bit better at the top (12-1 Alabama, 10-2 LSU and 10-2 Texas A&M vs. 11-1 Oregon, 11-2 Stanford and 9-3 Oregon State) and bottom (4-8 Arkansas and 3-9 Auburn vs. 3-9 California and 3-9 Washington State).

But it's closer than a lot of folks in the Southeast would admit.




Richard from Phoenix writes: [Picked from my chat]
Tim (ATL) Conventional wisdom is that Helfrich is the guy if CK leaves Oregon... how surprised would you be if someone else is hired? Obviously Christ Petersen always gets talked about, but do you think it is as open/shut helfrich's job as the rumors suggest?

Ted Miller (3:38 PM) If Phil Knight & Pat Kilkenny want Helfrich, then he'll be the guy... I think Petersen comes up a lot because it makes sense, and there's always been scuttlebutt that Petersen has long held Eugene in high esteem. I never think something like this is simply open and shut, but I do know that Helfrich has good backing and is highly thought of.

Ted-I don't know if you have been corrected yet, but Pat Kilkenny no longer is the AD at Oregon. It's Rob Mullens. Otherwise keep up the good work.

Ted Miller: I do know that, and Mullen is a very good athletic director, one who is going to consult the athletic department's two most influential boosters before he picks the next Oregon football coach (should he have to pick the next Oregon football coach).

You do know why they call the baseball field "PK Park," right?

I hear the second choice was "Pac-12 Blog Field."

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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This is the 11th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year'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).

You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.

Up next: Oregon

Best case

The sounds a football practice -- chatter, whistles, hitting -- echo outside the Moshofsky Indoor Practice Facility.

"Closed practices, smosed practices," the intrepid reporter says to himself. "I flew all the way up here to see Oregon practice and to figure out all the mysterious things that go on in there under Chip Kelly's cloak of silence."

Looking right and then left, the reporter, "Mission Impossible" theme music playing in his head, opens the door and slips in.

The building is empty. The football sounds are merely being piped through a speaker system. But on the far side of the field, there is a flickering black and white hologram-like image.

It repeats the same message, "This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi Wan Kelly. You are my only hope."

Says the reporter, "That looks like Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, if he were wearing a white toga and large black ear muffs."

Suddenly, the reporter sees Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich tiptoeing by. He starts to run.

"Helfrich! I see you!" the reporter shouts.

Helfrich then runs right into the wall. Or it seems as though he did. Only he's gone.

"Hmm," the reporter says to himself. "I'm either insane and hallucinating, or Oregon football is wrapped up in some sort of Star Wars/Harry Potter intrigue."

The video suddenly changes to a fiery, evil, eye-like thingy. "My seventh ring! The ring to rule them all!"

"I knew it!" the reporter says, noting that he might be talking out loud to himself a wee much. "SEC commissioner Mike Slive is really the Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires!"

Pause.

"Or ... maybe the Pac-12 Blog's 'Best Case/Worse Case' stories are jumping the shark amid entropic creative failure?"

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota says. "And, please, stop calling me Frodo."

The Ducks beat Washington 38-20, a last-second touchdown run from Kenjon Barner ensuring that the Pac-12 blog will type, "nine consecutive times by at least 17 points" in 2013.

Oregon rolls past Arizona State and Colorado. The 8-0 Ducks rise to No. 3 in the nation.

Up next: No. 1 USC.

Ted Miller: Matt, can you talk a little bit about "unfinished business" and how you came back to win a championship?

Matt Barkley: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little Duckies. Wicked, tricksy, false!

Kevin Gemmell: Ted, you don't look well.

Inside the visitor's locker room under the packed Coliseum just moments before kickoff, Mariota seeks out Kelly.

"Coach, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed," Mariota says. "I threw that interception against Washington. I just feel so angry all the time. What if after everything that I've been through, something's gone wrong inside me? What if I'm becoming a bad quarterback?"

Replies Kelly, who's been growing a beard, “It is a curious thing, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. You'll be fine. And remember, the fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side."

Mariota throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combine for 280 yards rushing as the Ducks pull away from the Trojans in the fourth quarter 42-35.

Oregon moves up to No. 2, behind No. 1 LSU, which whipped Alabama 6-0 on the same day the Ducks slipped past the Trojans.

The Ducks roll past California, escape an upset bid by No. 10 Stanford with 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points, and blow out Oregon State 48-14.

The rematch with the 11-1 Trojans is set for the Pac-12 championship, only this game is in Autzen Stadium.

Still, Barkley comes out flinging, and USC jumps ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, with a feeling of deja vu waking up the previously dormant crowd. Barner scores on runs of nine and two yards, and the margin is just three at 38-35.

USC takes over and drives to the Ducks 11-yard line with just over three minutes remaining. The crowd seems uneasy. But the Trojans fumble and Dion Jordan recovers.

Oregon quickly drives the other way. With five seconds remaining, Alejandro Maldonado lines up for a 37-yard field goal.

The snap. The hold.

It's a fake. Maldonado takes a pitch from holder Jackson Rice and sprints 20 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining.

It's Oregon vs. Alabama for the national title.

College football pundit: Yawn. We've seen this before. A nice little team with a gimmick offense from the Pac-12 against a group of finely tuned athletes from the SEC. It's boys versus men. Oregon doesn't have a chance, and they probably know it.

Kelly gathers his team inside Sun Life Stadium. All week, they've heard about the dominance of the SEC.

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!" he says. "A day may come when the courage of the Ducks fails, when we don't win the day, decide to entertain hypotheticals and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this night. There may come an hour of overflowing SEC revenue, $6 million coaches and mutant defensive linemen fueled by grits and fried seafood, and when the Age of the Pac-12 comes crashing down, but it is not this night! This night we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

The game is tied 10-10 at halftime. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott runs into SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Slive: Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your undersized Oregon offense is walking into a trap, as is your scrappy but untalented defense. It was I who allowed Oregon to score that touchdown just before halftime. Alabama is quite safe from your pitiful little team. An entire legion of Nick Saban's best troops awaits them!

Scott: What an eccentric performance!

Down 16-10 with two minutes left, Thomas returns a punt 32 yards to the Alabama 42. He runs out of bounds on the Alabama sideline in front of Saban.

Saban: Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Crimson Tide.

Thomas: What? You need to stop reading the Pac-12 blog. Messing up your brain.

Saban: Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you.

On third and 12, Mariota connects with Josh Huff at the Alabama 18. Barner goes for nine yards to the Tide 9-yard line. Mariota scrambles to the one with 10 seconds left.

The Ducks line up. "Hey!" Mariota yells at Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. "It's a quarterback sneak!"

Mariota bulls in for the winning touchdown.

Oregon wins the national championship. And fortunately, not a single Ducks fan says, "Natty."

The NCAA rules that Oregon can no longer incorporate lime green into its color scheme due to its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

"You know what?" an Oregon fan writes on Addicted to Quack. "I'm not going to complain about a thing. Or trash talk. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. All is well."

Worst case

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Mariota says.

The Ducks lead 35-17 midway through the third quarter. Across the Autzen Stadium field, Chip Kelly eyeballs a gathering of Huskies.

"What are they up to?" he says. But he's not really that curious.

The Huskies huddle around quarterback Keith Price, "This is where they end and we begin. Right now! We're going to score a quick touchdown, our defense is going to get the ball back and then we're going to score again. And they will wilt. They will see us coming and know this night belongs to us."

Price connects with Kasen Williams for a 35-yard touchdown. Washington safety Shaq Thompson then reads a telegraphed throw from Mariota and jaunts 33 yards the other way for a touchdown. It's 35-31.

Josh Shirley sacks Mariota and 330-pound tackle Danny Shelton picks up the loose ball and rumbles into the end zone.

There's a palpable tearing sound in the stadium. It's Oregon's confidence.

Final: Washington 52, Oregon 35.

Kevin Gemmell: With wins against LSU and Oregon, and a close loss to Stanford, USC should be plenty worried about the 3-1 Huskies. It's fair to say Washington is back and Oregon's Northwest dominance might be teetering on the brink.

Ted Miller: It is fair to say that.

After a bye, the Ducks whip Arizona State and Colorado and improve to 7-1.

Up next: Undefeated and top-ranked USC.

Barkley comes out flinging, and the Trojans jump ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But De'Anthony Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the USC 10-yard line.

On first down, Mariota drops back to pass. But he's hit from behind by Wes Horton and fumbles. Dion Bailey picks up the loose ball and dashes the other way for a touchdown.

The Trojans roll in front of their home crowd 45-21.

The Ducks bounce back with wins against California and Stanford.

Gemmell: The Huskies' upset home loss to Utah leaves them a game behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 North Division.

Miller: That's right Kevin! All Oregon needs to do is beat rival Oregon State and it wins the North. So that's sort of a done deal. It's been, like, forever since the Beavers beat the Ducks.

The Ducks recover an onside kick from Oregon State, leading 35-30 with just over a minute left. Mariota takes a knee on first down. He takes a knee on second down.

Announcer: NO! The ball is free. Dylan Wynn is running the other way. The Beavers are going to beat Oregon on a fumbled snap with no time remaining!

Washington advances to the Pac-12 title game, where it upsets unbeaten, top-ranked USC 33-30.

Oregon loses to Texas in the Holiday Bowl 38-13.

Price nips Barkley for the Heisman Trophy. The Huskies pound Michigan in the Rose Bowl 42-10. Price announces he's coming back for his senior season.

Oregon is hit with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 15 scholarships by the NCAA because of its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

Kelly is hired away by Arkansas.

Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.

"I planned to do this last year," Knight says. "But we ended up being good. Now that's no longer the case, I'm done with the Ducks."
Editor's note: RecruitingNation is taking a look at the state of each team's brand.

It is no great secret that Oregon is in the midst of the biggest boom in program history.

Dating back to 2000, The Ducks have finished seven seasons in which they finished ranked among the top 13. That includes five top-10 and three top-five finishes. The Ducks have won four outright league titles and a share of fifth in the same time frame.

So where exactly does that leave the Oregon program?

It would be easy to think the Ducks have peaked, but there is still room for improvement. The Ducks have been to four BCS bowl games since 2000, with a record of 2-2. Overall, the Ducks bowl record since 1990 is a subpar 7-11. Since Chip Kelly has been with the Ducks they are 3-2 in bowl games, but just 1-2 since he took over as head coach.

The Oregon program has arguably grown more than any other program in the country in recent years. The Ducks went from six wins in 1996 to 11 in 2001, improving one win per season. They took a step back toward mediocrity for three seasons until 2005, when they again won 10 games.

Since Kelly arrived in 2007, the Ducks have been one of the most talked about teams in the country. Television appearances and revenues have more than tripled. Bowl revenues have grown exponentially more than that.

In addition to the growing fan base and a new-found national following, the ever-changing uniforms and new color combinations have led to an marked increase in apparel revenue.

Oregon has always had passionate fans, as the options for Oregon residents are few and far between when it comes to sports. With the success of the Ducks during the past two decades, support for Oregon is at an all-time high. The Ducks have sold out Autzen Stadium 79 straight times dating to 1999.

In 2002, the stadium known as the "loudest stadium per capita," was expanded by 12,000 seats, bringing the total to around 54,000. The Ducks have been over capacity in every game since, capped off by crowds exceeding 60,000 when the Ducks hosted Arizona State and USC in 2011.

Another expansion has been a hot topic in recent years. There have been rumors of another 10-12,000 seats being added to the north side of the field to modernize and match the renovations done in 2002. Expansion is likely in the works, but the school wants to maintain the intimate setting that allows for such a unique environment. Time will tell, but with the success the Ducks have seen, they may have no choice but to expand.

With the backing of Nike founder Phil Knight, the Ducks have seen expansion in nearly every way. Since 2009, the university has opened the Jaqua Academic Center, built an impressive baseball stadium (PK Park) and opened the state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena.

A new six-story football complex is under construction and will be completed in 2013. The new complex will include upgraded locker rooms, meeting rooms, movie theaters, a brand new weight room and lounges for players and coaches. Some might call it overkill, but Oregon has been a trendsetter in all things over the past decade and will continue to do so as long as it has Knight's support.

Other schools around the country have followed the Ducks lead when it comes to uniform changes, style of play and facility upgrades. California and Washington have both fallen way behind the Ducks in terms of football success in recent years. Their response? Build. The two programs are in the midst of projects totaling nearly $600 million.

Even USC is in the midst of facility upgrades. All three schools were in desperate need of upgrades regardless of what Oregon has done, but the attention Oregon received, and the success that has coincided with its growth have given many programs a reason to think big.

Oregon is on top of the world entering 2012 after three straight league titles and the subsequent BCS Bowl appearances.

The program has never seen this kind of sustained success in its history. It remains to be seen if it can maintain the high level of success once schools such as Washington and Cal improve. The league is full of new coaches and new facilities, but for now, Oregon is still leading the pack.

It is hard to imagine a relatively small school from the Northwest, with no history and even less local talent to build their roster with, being able to sustain itself over the long haul. With USC looking to be back at a traditional level, Oregon appears to have its hands full. If anyone can do it though, it might just be the Ducks.

Oregon's widespread innovations have made an impact on schools and programs all over the map. The financial backing of powerful boosters and general community support have helped the program grow into a national brand that has everyone's attention.

The question in the coming years will be what the Ducks will do next to push the envelope. The way things stand now, betting against the Oregon program seems like an exercise in futility.

No hot tub film room for Chip Kelly

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
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Here's an image: Chip Kelly and several of his assistant coaches breaking down film. In a hot tub.

If only it were true.

The Eugene Register-Guard reported this on Tuesday about Oregon's new $68 million football operations facility that is due to open in 2013:
Football coaches will have a private hot tub and steam room, each with a waterproofed video center, next to their locker room, so they can watch games while taking a soak.

Awesome! First, there was James Brown's celebrity hot tub. Then there was the Hot Tub Time Machine! Now Kelly had an entry: Hot Tub Film Study, coaches breaking down game film, winning the day and living the life, courtesy of Sugar Daddy Phil Knight.

Alas.

"ERRONEOUS " wrote sports information director Dave Williford. "In fact there is not so much as a bathroom in, or next to, Chip’s office."

So while this tempest roiled in a teapot -- this appears to be some sort of controversy; here's the Register-Guard's correction -- the Pac-12 blog became distracted by the idea of Kelly, after a pot of coffee and a couple of bottled waters inside him, furiously dashing from film study in his fancy new office, desperate to find a pot in which to make water.

"Look there goes Chip," an observer might remark. "Dashing for his no-huddle micturation."

There seems to be some debate as to whether there was a hot tub in the original architectural plans. The newspaper believes so. Oregon says not. This feels very Watergate-y doesn't it?

[Editor's note: And it appears there is a final chapter to this. There will be a hot tub next to the coaches locker room, just not next to Kelly's office].

Some things are not in dispute:
The complex will offer an array of stunning facilities: two movie theaters; an advanced video editing and distribution center; a players hall; a Duck football museum; defense and offense conference rooms; and a war room set up like the one at the White House, with a long conference table, 17 executive seats and a buffet, perhaps, for long strategy sessions, according to blueprints submitted to the city. On the top floor will be a 2,285-square-foot players lounge and deck, the blueprints show. On a lower floor will be an industrial-sized kitchen, 150-seat dining hall and a 50-seat private dining room.

Know what would be really cool? If Kelly brings some bulls back from his trip to Spain and has them run security in the hallways of his new headquarters. Every time a reporter arrives hoping for a word from Kelly, he's handed a red cape and flamenco music is piped into the hallways.

Tampa flip? Kelly's rise good for Oregon

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
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Oregon coach Chip Kelly told Eugene sports radio talk show host Steve Tannen Thursday that he never flip-flopped from the Ducks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and back again last weekend, as reported in both Tampa and Oregon.

"The only decision I ever made was to not accept the job," Kelly said. "I never changed my mind. I never committed to the job and then flip-flopped."

You can listen to the full interview here.

First, response: Interesting, but it doesn't matter. He's still the Ducks' coach. End of story.

But as far as reading the entrails on this, there are four options you can choose from: 1) Kelly is telling the truth; 2) Kelly is lying; 3) Kelly is splitting hairs; 4) Kelly is shortly going to improve to 35-6 at Oregon and not 1-0 at Tampa Bay -- again, end of story.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony AvelarChip Kelly flirtation with the NFL was a win-win for Kelly and the Ducks.
Whatever Kelly said on the radio, lots of people believed Sunday night that he was headed to Tampa. It's possible -- and perhaps likely in some way -- that Kelly gave a strong indication to principals on both ends that he was leaning toward Tampa and away from Eugene, but when it came time to put pen to paper he got cold feet, likely considering the spiraling void of darkness that would ensue without regular chats with the Pac-12 blog. "Eeek," he said. "Can't do it."

Yes, no one can prove that Kelly didn't return to Oregon because the Pac-12 blog has very little interaction with the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Just as no one can prove that Kelly said "yes" to Tampa before he said "no."

Why is it important whether Kelly flip-flopped or not? In either scenario, he turned down a hefty raise to remain at Oregon. So this flirtation wasn't about contract leverage, and it's reasonable to conclude that money isn't solely driving him. An interesting tidbit from the Eugene Register-Guard:
Kelly pointed out that his decision "obviously wasn't financial, because I turned it down and it was more than I got paid." The Register-Guard has reported that Kelly received a contract extension but that his deal with the Ducks wasn't otherwise dramatically overhauled.

Further, Kelly got to cite a heart-warming reason for returning: "... the relationships I have with the current coaches on our staff and the players was the underlying reason why I came back."

Oregon fans can look at this any way they like, but I'd rate it a win-win for Kelly and Oregon.

The football nation -- NFL and college -- got to see how highly Kelly is held in esteem. Multiple NFL pundits, including former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, have said of late that Kelly would be a good NFL coach. Kelly's star, which is already high, just climbed a bit higher. That's good for him, of course, but it's also good for Oregon as long as Kelly is in Eugene.

Some have said Kelly's flirtation would hurt recruiting. They are not only wrong; the opposite is true.

Players respect superstar coaches. Recall that, in his heyday, Florida State's Bobby Bowden used to crush it the final week of recruiting with that last in-home visit. So did Pete Carroll. So does Nick Saban, etc. Oregon fans, not satisfied with winning three consecutive conference titles, want to move up the recruiting rankings. Lots of five-star guys -- in 2012-13 and beyond -- just learned a little bit more about Kelly.

The NFL banging on Kelly's door makes him more of a star, and that will play well in living rooms, much more so than the idea that Kelly might leave for an NFL job at some point.

Further, some have tried to diminish Kelly as a "system" coach. In recruiting, some coaches say that Oregon is a great program but it's not an NFL feeder with pro-style schemes. Well, now there's clear evidence the NFL thinks highly of Kelly and his systems.

The key thing on the Oregon end of things: It will be a huge mistake if the Ducks' top boosters -- Phil Knight, et al. -- want to get grumpy over this. Creating friction to make a point about loyalty or acting wounded will only hasten Kelly's exit. And hurt the program.

The most interesting aspect coming out of this was detailed in this column from George Schroeder: Oregon's potential succession plan would have made offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich the head coach.

Helfrich is highly respected, but I'd always thought he'd have to leave for another job -- and call his own plays -- to escape Kelly's considerable shadow and land a head-coaching gig. Schroeder's column shows that the same folks who quickly and accurately identified Kelly's rising star believe Helfrich is made of the same coaching stuff.

So just as Kelly's star rose this week, and Oregon fans got a huge relief after it stayed in the Eugene sky, so did Helfrich's. Know that more than a few ADs at some AQ schools added his name to their list of coaches to watch.

Oregon believes Kelly is a long-term Duck

December, 31, 2011
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The ink was barely dry on Rob Mullens' new contract to become Oregon's athletic director when he faced what perhaps will be considered the most important task of his tenure, even a decade down the road: Make football coach Chip Kelly happy.

It was the summer of 2010, and there was a general feeling among the pooh-bahs of Oregon sports -- most notably Nike founder Phil Knight and millionaire former AD Pat Kilkenny -- that Kelly sticking around for the long term in Eugene was the best chance for the football program to experience long-term success, a condition that keeps a department with an $80 million budget afloat.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezOregon doesn't want coach Chip Kelly -- who is in the midst of a 6-year, $20.5 million deal -- going anywhere.
So within 48 hours of his hiring, Mullens -- who was hired away from Kentucky in large part because of his skills with dollars and sense (no cents involved here) -- was on the phone with Kelly's agent working on a new contract.

The endgame was a six-year deal worth $20.5 million. Kelly made $2.4 million last year. He's making $2.8 million this year and will make $3.5 million the next. In 2014 and 2015, he'll pocket $4 million, which is roughly what the nation's highest-paid coaches made this year.

"People can look at the numbers and say it's high, but it fits within the marketplace," Mullens said. "It fits with the results. We have the person we want at the helm of our football program."

No other team in the nation is riding a streak of three consecutive BCS bowl games. That's a big reason Oregon merchandising sales went up from $1.5 million in 2007 -- the year Kelly left New Hampshire to become the Ducks' offensive coordinator -- to $2.25 million in 2010.

While it's difficult to quantify the entire picture financially, Mullens points out that the unprecedented success Kelly has produced over the past three years has more than paid for his big-dollar contract, mostly notably in exposure and increased donations. That revenue flow has been particularly important in a tough economy that has many athletic programs struggling, including many in the Pac-12.

Or at least it did. When the conference signed a $3 billion, 12-year TV contract with ESPN and Fox, athletic directors across the Pac-12 leaped into the air and clicked their heels. They also started to spend that money. Some on new coaches.

Sure, Kelly will make $3.5 million next year. But new UCLA coach Jim Mora, with no college coaching experience, will pocket $2.4 million. Washington State will pay Mike Leach $2.25 million.

In a lot of ways, Kelly's compensation pencils out pretty well for Oregon on the cash-for-accomplishment curve.

"It pays [for Oregon] because, one, he's a great coach," Mullens said. "Two, he's a perfect fit. That combination, you can never guarantee that. He has delivered the results."

In addition, Oregon is paying extra for stability. When the school committed to Kelly with SEC-like money, Kelly also committed to Oregon. His buyout dropped from $4 million last year to $3.75 million this year, but that number is almost prohibitive for even the richest athletic departments. In 2015-16, it will be $2 million, which is still pretty large by industry standards.

What does that buyout mean? Well, it means Kelly doesn't have wandering eyeballs. Further, it mutes all but the most uninformed rumor mills: Despite chatter to the contrary, Mullens said he has not been contacted this year by any college or NFL team that wanted to talk to Kelly about a job.

Further -- as Ken Goe of The Oregonian pointed out when there were rumors in December 2010 that Florida might come after Kelly after Urban Meyer resigned -- Kelly's contract has clauses that will make it a pain in the rear for a team to pursue him.
And a clause in the contract stipulates that Kelly must give Oregon 15 days' written notice before leaving, and further stipulates that he cannot leave during the regular season or before a postseason bowl game in which Oregon is a participant.

The sum total of all this suggests that Kelly wants to remain in Eugene, and Oregon wants him to stick around. There are no guarantees, of course, but the feeling at the administrative level -- and among key boosters -- is that Kelly is the right guy at the nexus of an athletic department that has ambitious, expansionist visions for itself.

No FBS athletic program thrives without football success, and Kelly's presence provides a sense of security for Oregon's cash cow. And as of today, it appears the marriage remains strong.

Bielema, Kelly becoming Rose regulars

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
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Bret Bielma, Chip KellyUS Presswire/AP PhotoEither Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, left, or Oregon's Chip Kelly will win his first BCS bowl game Monday.


LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday morning in a hotel ballroom, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Oregon coach Chip Kelly will stand together and pose for pictures with the Rose Bowl trophy. It's the kind of staged, sometimes forced, photo op that occurs before every big game.

Stare at this particular picture a bit longer, though. Appreciate the similar traits each man brought to this moment, even though they are in many ways unique. Try to imagine how they'll look in the same pose when they are older. Because this image is likely to be repeated in the future.

Here is Oregon making its second Rose Bowl appearance in three years, and here is Wisconsin back in Pasadena for the second consecutive season. Kelly and Bielema are quickly becoming the faces of the most tradition-laden bowl game, even if they are not exactly cut from a traditional cloth.

One (Kelly) played and coached for more than a decade at the relative outpost of New Hampshire before suddenly emerging as the titan of West Coast football. The other (Bielema) is thoroughly Midwestern -- born in Illinois, played linebacker at Iowa, defensive assistant for the Hawkeyes and Kansas State -- yet knows how to merge new-school fun with old-school, power football.

Kelly is hailed as a genius, the offensive innovator whose forward-thinking, high-speed spread attack plays perfectly to the video-game generation. Bielema's scheme is more brute than scoot but is almost equally as effective. Kelly's Ducks have averaged 43.1 points per game since he became head coach in 2009. In that same time frame, Bielema's Badgers have averaged 39.2.

"What Bret's done with that program, as a coach from the outside you really kind of admire it," Kelly said. "There's a consistency to it. He has a style of offense he plays and a style of defense he plays, and they stick to that. And they're really, really good at it."

Both coaches have achieved a lot at a young age. Kelly is 48, while Bielema turns 42 on Jan. 13.

"I think with his age being a little bit closer to ours, it makes him a lot easier to relate to," Wisconsin linebacker Kevin Claxton said of Bielema. "He knows what we're thinking and going through."

Both men can be described as players' coaches. Kelly handled the very difficult LeGarrette Blount punching controversy in his very first game as head coach with a solid measure of both discipline and compassion for his player. Bielema pumps up rap music at practice and gives his players the freedom to be themselves. Kelly's players buy into his cult of personality. Bielema is more like your favorite uncle.

"He's so outgoing," said quarterback Russell Wilson, whom Bielema recruited as a transfer from NC State over the summer. "He tried to get to know me quickly, like he was my best friend, to be honest with you. But at the same time, he makes you work. He wants to see the best out of you and all his players."

Both men are single in a profession in which being seen as a family man is a good career choice. Bielema is engaged and plans to wed next spring, while Kelly dislikes discussing his private life.

Kelly and Bielema are liked but probably not loved by all their peers. They'll ruffle feathers on occasion with the way their teams continue to pile on the points during blowouts. If you're an opposing team's fan, you'd probably describe them as arrogant. You'd also secretly wish they were your team's coach.

The only real knock on either is a perceived failure to win games. Which is mostly ludicrous, considering that Bielema is 60-18 in six seasons and Kelly is 33-6 in three years at their respective schools. One guy is going to win his first BCS game on Monday night, while the other will have to fight off the "can't win the big one" charge a little harder.

Neither is blessed with an abundance of in-state talent from which to build his program. But Kelly has Phil Knight, those wild uniforms and that offense to attract skill players from around the country. Bielema likes to say his program isn't sexy, but there is no greater destination for an offensive lineman or a running back who wants to earn national honors and go to the NFL. The success of Wilson at quarterback has signaled to other skill players that you can do more at Wisconsin than just grind it out.

Bielema and Kelly are arguably the most successful examples ever of the head-coach-in-waiting practice. That idea is falling out of vogue now, but every school would do it if the transition went as well as it looked in Madison and Eugene. Bielema inherited a Badgers team that won 10 games in Barry Alvarez's final year; Kelly took over after Mike Bellotti won 10 games his last season.

There are subtle differences between the two, of course. Kelly has a heavy hand in play calling on offense, while Bielema delegates more to his assistants (which has helped two coordinators land head-coaching jobs in the past two seasons).

"One of the things I made as a decision early on as a head coach, I wasn't going to be involved in play calling on offense or defense," Bielema said. "I just call the good plays. ... I let guys coordinate and run it, but I'll always have constant feedback on things I like, dislike, and the way I see things unfold during practice."

Bielema is as accessible as any coach at a major program. He's unafraid to open his doors to the media, like when he allowed ESPN to follow Wilson around for a special last summer. Kelly is a little more roped-off, particularly to local reporters. But when he talks, he often gives thought-provoking and colorful answers.

Kelly's reputation has taken a hit with the ongoing NCAA investigation involving recruiting service owner Willie Lyles. Bielema has steered clear of any NCAA issues thus far.

Kelly told reporters on Friday that Bielema couldn't be considered an "up-and-coming" star head coach, because six years is a long time to be in the same job these days. That's true. But these two seem like prime candidates to build a lasting legacy where they are. Bielema enjoys a close relationship with Alvarez, now the Wisconsin athletic director, and has shown no inclination toward leaving Madison. Kelly insisted on placing a $4 million buyout in his contract to ward off potential suitors.

So take a look at the trophy photo again. Or don't. You'll probably have a chance to see it staged again soon.

'Black Mamba' makes mythic plays

December, 27, 2011
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According to National Geographic, "Black mambas are fast, nervous, lethally venomous, and when threatened, highly aggressive. They have been blamed for numerous human deaths, and African myths exaggerate their capabilities to legendary proportions. For these reasons, the black mamba is widely considered the world’s deadliest snake."

Which reminds me: Did I tell you about the time Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas caused a sonic boom at Autzen Stadium? He caught a kickoff against USC and -- just as he crossed the Trojans' 30-yard line -- BOOM! It shook the stadium as he strutted into the end zone. I thought we were under attack.

Or what about when the player known as the "Black Mamba" caught that screen pass against Nevada and the field caught on fire behind him as he jetted for a 69-yard TD? I wouldn't lie to you.

Or that time Thomas hypnotized Washington State safety Tyree Toomer at the end of a 45-yard screen pass for a TD? He said to Toomer, "Look right, look left, look right, look left!" As Thomas went left, went right, went left, went right.

[+] EnlargeOregon's De'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesFreshman De'Anthony Thomas was Oregon's leading receiver with 42 catches for 571 yards and nine scores. He also rushed for 440 yards and five more scores, while adding two return TDs.
Kobe Bryant calls himself the Black Mamba, and that's cool. He's a righteous basketball player. But Snoop Dogg started calling Thomas the Black Mamba when Thomas was playing Pop Warner ball way back in 2005. Against Snoop's team.

Advantage: Thomas.

"I guess I'm deadly on the field," said Thomas, the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, when asked for the significance of the nickname.

No doubt. While USC QB Matt Barkley is the conference's leading Heisman Trophy candidate heading into 2012, plenty of smart money next preseason will chase Thomas. Is there a more electric player in college football? No, because no other college football player can send bolts of electricity from his eyeballs.

OK. We made that one up. But Thomas' résumé of thrills, numbers and prone defenders lying in his wake is electrifying.

He was the Ducks' leading receiver with 42 catches for 571 yards and nine TDs. So 21.4 percent of his receptions ended up in TDs. USC receiver Robert Woods also is a spectacular player (see all of his All-American honors). But his 15 TDs on 111 receptions breaks down to a TD rate of just 13.5 percent.

But that's not all!

Thomas was the Ducks' third-leading rusher with 440 yards. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry and scored five TDs.

But that's not all!

Thomas also led the Pac-12 in kickoff returns with a 27.7 average, including two TDs. His 16 touchdowns not only set a school record for a freshman, no other freshman in the nation scored as many. He was Oregon's first true freshman to earn team MVP honors, too, which he shared with tight end David Paulson.

"The first thing that jumps out is his athletic ability -- how quickly he can do things," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "Not only is he fast, but his ability to change direction is incredible. It's how quick he gets out of cuts. There's a suddenness to him. I don't think people appreciate it until they really see him in person. Then they're like, 'Wow!'"

Thomas' elusiveness became legendary during his career at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, but his figurative shake-and-bake move on USC just before signing day also inspired a few "Wow" reactions. He grew up a USC fan and was a longtime commitment before switching to the Ducks the final week before signing day.

"It still doesn't make sense," USC coach Lane Kiffin said before the teams' met in Eugene on Nov. 19. "It was very strange."

Thomas has been consistent when explaining his change of heart, which has inspired more than a few unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. He liked USC until he fell in love with Oregon after a visit.

As for trading the Southern California sunshine for the tenacious winter drizzle of the Northwest, Thomas is unbowed.

"To me the weather, it doesn't really affect me," he said. "I adapted to it real fast. It doesn't bother me."

If junior running back LaMichael James departs for the NFL draft, as expected, Thomas should step into the role of primary playmaker for the Ducks, though James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is hardly chopped liver. Kelly, known for his offensive creativity, said Thomas will continue to play a hybrid role that allows him to challenge a defense from many spots on the field.

"That's the fun part for us," Kelly said. "How many ways can we get him into the right spots to exploit a matchup without him getting confused? He's done a great job of it so far, but we haven't put everything on his plate, either."

As in: What happens if Thomas touches the ball 200 times instead of 126? Zeus himself might come down from Mount Olympus and hang out with Phil Knight in his Autzen Stadium box to see such a thing.

Thomas seems pretty blasé about his budding stardom. Sure, he and Snoop keep in touch. Heisman talk? It will be great motivation next season. Does he have a favorite play from this season? Nope. Does he watch YouTube highlights of himself? Nope.

Those spectacular plays that sometimes inspire mythologizing are just what Thomas does.

"It's always been the way I was," he said. "Sometimes I don't even know where the moves come from. It's just playing the game of football and having fun."

Did you hear about the time a Pac-12 defensive coordinator spontaneously combusted while thinking about Thomas? Well, that's because it hasn't happened, silly.

Not yet, at least.

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
8:30
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The final entry in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

Best case

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.

Worst case

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.
Chip KellyKirby Lee/US PresswireChip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks remain focused on taking care of business on the field.
Wise folks have said and written many things about dealing with the hills and valleys of life. Most of us are well aware that it's a mistake to get too high when things are good or too low when they aren't. We know it's better to focus on things we can control and to avoid allowing our emotions to overcome constructive decision-making and ensuing action.

And if any of that were easy, wise folks would spend more time talking and writing about other things.

So we have Oregon. No college football program in the country has combined stunning successes and swirling controversies over the past two-plus seasons as much as Oregon has under coach Chip Kelly. Perhaps even more amazing than the frenetic tempo and creativity of the Ducks' offense is their ability to make news in positive and negative ways, yet remained focused.

Year 1 started with a humiliating loss at Boise State and a punch from then-Ducks RB LeGarrette Blount and ended with a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Year 2 started with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- a Heisman Trophy candidate -- getting booted from the team and ended with another Pac-10 championship and a berth in the national title game.

Year 3? It's started with an NCAA inquiry into the recruitment of redshirt freshman running back Lache Seastrunk, who decided to transfer last weekend, and a $25,000 payment to his mentor, Willie Lyles, who is a recruiting scout and alleged "street agent."

Where will Year 3 end? Will this be the year that the Ducks do get distracted and upended by off-field issues?

"I think the media around here is the smartest people I've ever been around my entire life," Kelly said with what sources said may have been some sarcastic shadings.

"If they voted us No. 1 in the conference and No. 3 in the country, they must not think it is a distraction. So we shouldn't let it be a distraction, because I don't think anyone would vote us No. 3 in the country if you guys thought it was a distraction."

Zing! The capacious "Book of Quotable Chip" adds another entry.

Kelly then referred to one of his handful of mantras: "We have the same mentality all the time. We have a vision for what this football program is supposed to be about and we prepare against that vision. We compete against that vision every Saturday and that's how we measure ourselves. ... We are not concerned with any outside influences, whether it be praise or blame."

Kelly's ability to impose that philosophy -- all part of his "Win the day" credo -- has been remarkable, the fuel for the Ducks' rapid rise in the college football pecking order. When you talk to his players, they either parrot what he says verbatim or provide their own little twist.

Said redshirt junior running back LaMichael James: "I focus on my team and that's it. I don't really care what outsiders have to say."

Still, there's just a little bit of double-speak. Don't believe for a moment the Ducks are unaware of -- and not following -- both the intrigue (Lyles & the NCAA!) and hype (national title contender!) that surrounds them. Kelly claims he doesn't pay attention to what reporters write, but he is curiously apt to tweak them for their stories -- Hey, Chip! -- most notably when they are wrong.

And the players, though totally bought into the Temple of Chip, are the same way. They claim they never discuss the day's headlines. Balderdash.

"Everybody wants to say all this about Oregon," redshirt junior quarterback Darron Thomas said. "We don't like that. We've just been working hard, getting ready for the season, ready to shut everybody up, ready to come out and play ball and forget about all these other allegations that are eventually going to come out."

No one knows when things are "going to come out." The NCAA hasn't even gotten around to sending Oregon an official letter of inquiry, which would spell out how the organization plans to apply vague rules about the use of scouting services. Those who say they know the endgame are lying. Nonetheless, there's been lots of guessing that Oregon and Kelly are in big trouble, with a couple of columns suggesting Kelly will be fired.

"I hope whoever wrote that, and I didn't read it, isn't our athletic director or our president," Kelly said. "I'm very confident in everything that will happen."

It's sometimes hard to believe that Kelly has been a coach in FBS football for just four seasons. Recall that in 2006, he was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, a guy only a handful of offensive aficionados knew of. His two-plus years of leading Oregon have been more eventful than entire careers for many head coaches.

When asked if Kelly has shown any stress or strain during his tumultuous tenure, James almost seems amused. "He always seems the same to me," James said. "He maybe seems a little more relaxed."

James also called Kelly "a phenomenal coach." While Rich Brooks made Oregon respectable, and Mike Bellotti created a consistent winner, it's fair to say that Kelly's dynamic leadership has pushed the program to heights that no Ducks fans imagined it could reach, even mega-booster Phil Knight. And for that, James said, Kelly deserves predominant credit.

"Coach Kelly changed the whole identity of the program," said James, who redshirted in 2008, Bellotti's final season as head coach. "Everything is 100 percent different from when I was a true freshman."

What did Kelly change? "I literally mean every single thing," James said.

Of course, Brooks and Bellotti were able to avoid any major NCAA issues, too.

What's next for the Ducks? A win over LSU, a third consecutive conference title and another run at a national championship? NCAA sanctions?

Said Kelly, "I don't know what is going to happen next. No one knows what happens in the future."

One thing is likely: With Kelly and the Ducks, it at least figures to be interesting.

Best case-worst case: Oregon State

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
4:16
PM ET
Fourth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year'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 State

Best case

Even the Wisconsin fans couldn't help but notice the crescendo building from the orange and black pie slice in the visitor's section at Camp Randall Stadium.

"Cripes sakes!" says a Wisconsin fan. "What's all that racket?"

"It's for the little guy, don'tcha know," says another. "'That one in the No. 1 jersey. Pass me a brat!"

James Rodgers takes the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

"By golly, I tells ya, sure as God made little green apples, he's a fast one!" says the first.

"Ohh, yaaa...Yoo Betcha!" replies the second.

Wisconsin scores a late touchdown and holds on for a 30-28 victory, but the Beavers matching up well physically with the Big Ten favorites bodes well for the season.

"This bodes well for the season," coach Mike Riley says. "You never like losing, but what I saw today made me optimistic after a tough go with injuries in preseason camp."

Rodgers didn't play in the opening win over Sacramento State and his entry was a bit of a surprise.

"That, yeah, well, James thought it would be fun not to tell any of y'all about that," Riley said. "Our little surprise for the Beaver Nation."

Rodgers catches two touchdown passes in a 28-17 win over UCLA.

The Beavers drop a 28-24 decision at Arizona State to fall to 2-2, which is good news: The only time two early losses didn't auger a good season since 2006 was last fall, and that was due to Rodgers knee injury.

"I know it's a great story, but is he a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate?" ESPN College GameDay's Chris Fowler asks. "Eight touchdowns in four games. Rodgers is well on his way to 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards rushing. And he leads the nation in kickoff returns."

"I hear you, but his team needs to win," replies Kirk Herbstreit.

The Beavers win their next four, besting Arizona, BYU, Washington State and, in overtime, Utah.

"Stanford might be looking ahead to its matchup with Oregon," Fowler says.

Nope. The unbeaten Cardinal rolls 35-21.

Oregon State wins at California and nips Washington. The Beavers, at 8-3, are ranked 17th when they head to Oregon for another high stakes Civil War. The unbeaten Ducks are No. 1 in the nation, with many pundits already salivating over a matchup of the Alabama defense and the Oregon offense.

Rodgers stands up in the locker room. The din of Autzen Stadium can be heard -- felt -- through the walls. "I'm from Texas. I had to learn to dislike Oregon. My freshman year, I scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard fly sweep in this damn stadium in double overtime. I never thought that would be my only victory over them. I know this is only a football game. And know what? I like a lot of guys in that other locker room. LaMichael James is a good dude. We go bowling together. I kick his butt in bowling [laughter]. But [Rodgers voice rises] I am sick of Oregon. Everything about them. Everybody is sick of Oregon. But we will all -- everyone in this room, my brothers! -- will continue to be sick, to suffer, to have something inside us, biting at us, until we go out there and shut. Them. Up. Until we go out there and beat their butts.

"Know what? @%$@! Oregon!"

As his teammates mob Rodgers moments after he hauled in the game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime, they chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"

"Well, at least we're still going to the Rose Bowl!" angry Ducks fans shout as the ebullient Beavers head back to their locker room.

Utah beats Oregon 45-42 in the first Pac-12 championship game. The Utes, in their first year in the conference, go to the Rose Bowl. Oregon settles for the Alamo Bowl, where it loses to Oklahoma State.

Oregon State beats Texas A&M 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl and finishes 10-3 and ranked 12th. Oregon finishes 17th.

Chip Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach.

On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.

Worst case

Though it was using vanilla schemes, the performance against Sacramento State suggests Oregon State has issues. A 45-17 loss at Wisconsin makes it abundantly clear the Beavers do.

The Beavers, not deep to begin with, are missing too many key starters, most notably receiver James Rodgers, H-back Joe Halahuni, cornerback Brandon Hardin, linebacker Cameron Collins and defensive tackle Kevin Frahm.

"I'm hoping we get some guys back," coach Mike Riley says. "James is still a ways away, though."

Frahm and Collins return and the Beavers beat UCLA. Halahuni comes back for the Arizona State game, but the Beavers are overwhelmed 35-20. Arizona takes revenge for a 2010 defeat with an overtime victory in Reser Stadium.

Rodgers returns against BYU. He catches six passes for 80 yards and a TD, and the Beavers win 28-24. But he's clearly not his old self.

Oregon State, highly motivated after losing at home to Washington State in 2010, improves to 4-3 with a win over the Cougars. But all the news isn't good.

"We're shutting James down," Riley says. "He's got an NFL future, and we need to protect that. His knee needs to be cleaned up, and if they do it now he'll be 100 percent before the NFL combine."

Bowl hopes end after four consecutive defeats. The Beavers limp into Eugene to face unbeaten and top-ranked Oregon.

"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Chris 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.

The Ducks roll Alabama 48-17 in the BCS national title game.

"That," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "is the best football team I've ever seen. And that include my tenure with the Miami Dolphins."

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. Kelly signs a lifetime contract. Oregonian columnist John Canzano requests that he be put on the Oregon State beat. His request is granted.

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