Commentary

Substance, not swagger selling Oregon

Originally Published: October 6, 2011
By Mitch Sherman | Recruiting Nation

Perhaps you've noticed that Oregon leads the nation in scoring as it prepares to host Cal Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

If so, you're among the few.

The Ducks have flown under the radar this season since a season-opening, 40-27 loss to LSU, despite averaging more than 60 points in wins over Nevada, Missouri State and Arizona.

It's an unusual spot for coach Chip Kelly's program, which has grown accustomed to the main stage in recent years for many reasons, including an appearance in the BCS title game last year and two straight league titles.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Kirby Lee/US PresswireOregon's flashy uniforms certainly grab your attention, but they're not the main reason recruits pick the Ducks.

Often, though the Ducks' loud uniforms and reputation pampering athletes with Nike-furnished amenities draw just as much attention.

The fancy facilities and flashy gear help lure recruits to Eugene, but they account for only a fraction of Oregon's appeal, according to 2012 commitment Alex Balducci, a defensive end from Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore.

"That stuff is all a bonus," Balducci said. "It's like Oregon takes that extra step and makes sure they have everything right for the athletes."

Balducci pledged to the Ducks in June after a courtship by defensive line coach Jery Azzinaro. Azzinaro noticed Balducci while recruiting former teammate Brennan Scarlett, now a true freshman at Cal. Oregon was the first to offer Balducci. Others followed, including Cal, Oregon State, Arizona State and Boise State.

He's among the headliners of an nine-man group of Oregon pledges that also features quarterback Jake Rodrigues of Whitney, Calif., and tight end Evan Baylis of Grandview, Colo., both rated 11th nationally at their positions.

It remains early in determining how the Ducks' relationship with reputed street agent Will Lyles will affect the ability of Kelly's staff to recruit. Lyles and Oregon have come under scrutiny from the NCAA for Lyles' connection to former Oregon recruiting targets, including running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk.

For prospects like Balducci, it mattered little.

"The way they care for their athletes," he said, "it's like no other school. It's something you can only understand once you're inside the program."

Kelly scoffed at the notion this week that the Pac-12 -- and his Ducks -- went largely unnoticed through September. He suggested that the league holds its own in the national rankings, with No. 7 Stanford and ninth-ranked Oregon. Of course, the Southeastern Conference boasts No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama and 10th-ranked Arkansas. The Big 12 also features a pair of top-10 teams.

Attention figures to return, if the Ducks keep winning, before Nov. 12, when Oregon visits Stanford.

Balducci plans to visit Autzen Stadium in November to see Oregon play USC and Oregon State. He can't make it to Eugene Thursday night to watch in person as Oregon rolls out its retro uniforms -- green tops with Puddles, the Ducks' mascot, prominently displayed on the shoulders of every player.

Puddles or not, as Balducci said, substance sells the Oregon program. Everything else is just fun to watch.

Recruiting rivalry

Just how different are Bob Stoops and Mack Brown, rival head coaches in the Red River Rivalry between No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 11 Texas, Saturday at noon ET on ABC.

Asked about the impact of Saturday on recruiting, here's the answer from Stoops, the 51-year-old coach in his 13th season at Oklahoma:

"Oh, only marginally. If you win this game and lose the rest of the year, it doesn't help you very much, does it, you know? At the end of the day, it's what you do through the whole year and what you've been doing through the years that matters more than one game."

From the 61-year-old Brown, in his 14th season at Texas, on the same subject:

"It means so much to recruiting. Every recruit in this state and in Oklahoma will be there Saturday. Probably all the juniors and all the seniors. All of them.

"And they make choices. Usually they have already decided by the time they get there. They don't show you who they are pulling for. ... That is just the way this game is."

For all their differences, Stoops and Brown often agree on the talent of prospects.

The Longhorns sit No. 1 in the latest 2012 class rankings; Oklahoma is No. 10. Both schools remain in pursuit of a few common targets -- notably defensive end Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan), a Florida State pledge who will watch from the UT sideline Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

That indicates no advantage for the Longhorns, though, who earn the right to entertain recruits this year as the designated home team.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.

Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman