Pac-10 Preview Week Seven: Watching from the Sideline

Ahhhhhh gotta love 'em.

Ahhhhhh gotta love 'em.

No matter what happens this weekend, I can 100 percent guarantee that it will not come even remotely close to the last five weekends.

Not even if I go to the best party ever. Going undefeated in beer pong? No big deal. Breaking ankles at the Rec Center? That’s an everyday occurrence. Hooking up with the hottest chick on campus? Well, that one I can’t do till winter term (when my girlfriend gets here)—among other reasons.

So why will this weekend pale in comparison to any other this fall? It will be the first Saturday since Sept. 12 without an Oregon Ducks football game.

So what is a Duck fan to do?

Spend the weekend watching inferior college football teams and hoping for the teams ahead in the rankings to drop faster than Mike Singletary’s pants in the 49ers’ locker room.

But fortunately, next weekend will more than make up for it. I’ll be making my first journey up to Seattle to watch the Ducks in Husky Stadium. Best $46 I’ve ever spent.

With no Oregon game to preview today, I am relegated to the rest of the Pac-10.

Once again, the Pac-10 has failed to deliver multiple national title contenders. With Cal being a shocking disappointment and USC once again losing to an unranked team, there is more mediocrity than ever.

With all the parity in the conference, only one team has started to separate itself from the rest of the pack—Oregon. But keep in mind, the three teams the Ducks have played so far are 0-8 in the Pac-10. Washington and USC will make or break the season for the Autzen faithful.

On to this weekend’s games.

Washington at Arizona State

I’m still trying to figure out this Sun Devil team. I’m not sure if they’re decent or flat-out bad. They blow out two awful teams at home, as expected, and then lose by a field goal at Georgia, a loss that looked a lot more impressive then than it does now.

Arizona State outplayed Oregon State on paper, outgaining the Beavers 406 to 295, but the three fumbles killed them. But more embarrassing than either of those losses was the 27-14 win over Washington State. Unless you have seen the Cougars play, you cannot appreciate how truly bad they are. Anything less than a blowout is officially a disappointment.

Meanwhile, the Huskies have regained a bit of their momentum after the Stanford loss by putting a solid game together on the road at Notre Dame and then a miracle win against Arizona. With a big matchup looming against Oregon next Saturday, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies let down against a lesser team.

Prediction: Washington 34, Arizona State 17

Cal at UCLA

There is a legitimate chance that at least one of these teams will end up not bowl eligible.

After starting the season scorching hot, the Golden Bears have fallen flat on their face. Granted, at Oregon and home against USC is an almost unfair way to start Pac-10 play, but it looked as if Cal didn’t even bother to show up to either of those games. They didn’t score a single touchdown and were outscored 72-6.

But don’t worry, Cal fans, you can still make the Emerald Bowl.

UCLA, meanwhile, would be lucky to make the Las Vegas Bowl. Needing three more wins to gain bowl eligibility, the Bruins still have to play Cal, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington, and USC. Assuming they beat Arizona State and Washington State, I don’t know which team they could beat for that elusive sixth win.

Prediction: Cal 24, UCLA 17

Stanford at Arizona

This probably isn't PC, but he looks like a homosexual ostrich.

This probably isn't PC, but he looks like a homosexual ostrich.

Just when I start to buy the Cardinal, the Quizz Show comes along and stumps Stanford. I still like the direction Jim Harbaugh has his team heading, but a Rose Bowl appearance this year looks out of the question.

They certainly have the pieces, with Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart, and Ryan Whalen, but it seems like they don’t have the mentality of a winner—which makes sense, considering they haven’t been good since the beginning of the decade.

Arizona has a pretty impressive résumé, with their only slip-ups coming on the road to an extremely overrated yet undefeated Iowa team and to the Huskies in a heartbreaking loss in Seattle.

This will probably be the most competitive game of the week, because I think both of these teams are stuck in “good but not great” purgatory.

Prediction: Stanford 31, Arizona 28

USC at Notre Dame

I am so tired of this matchup. It hasn’t been close since the famous “Reggie Bush push” in 2005, and the Fighting Irish haven’t been half as good as the hype in over a decade, despite being given every advantage by the NCAA. Jimmy Clausen is for real, but they haven’t had a dominating win all season. I don’t think it starts here.

The Trojans, although overrated at No. 6, have so much talent that they can get by with only mediocre quarterback play. But for USC to be taken seriously as a title contender, Matt Barkley will have to show that he can make plays and not just be a game manager. Maybe he can learn a thing or two from his QB counterpart and fellow No. 1 overall recruit on Saturday.

Prediction: USC 34, Notre Dame 24

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Third Quarter Hat-Trick Propels Oregon Ducks Past UCLA Bruins

Chip Kelly must be one hell of a motivational speaker.

After being held scoreless in the first half—for just the second time since 2007—the Oregon Ducks overcame their three-point deficit faster than you could say “LaMichael James for Heisman in 2010.”

Literally.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

Kenjon Barner took the third quarter kickoff back 100 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. And then just 13 seconds later, on the Bruins’ first play of the half, Talmadge Jackson stepped in front of Terrence Austin, picked off Kevin Prince’s pass, and ran it back for 32 yards.

Those two plays epitomized the Ducks’ season so far—winning with defense and special teams.

But they weren’t done yet.

Just two plays after Jackson’s interception, Kenny Rowe knocked the ball out of Prince’s hands on a scramble, and Oregon recovered.

Now that the offense finally had the ball, they were ready to join the party. On third down, Nate Costa found Jeff Maehl on a quick slant pass in heavy traffic, but broke through to race 20 yards into the end zone.

Hat trick: complete.

That touchdown throw, the first of Costa’s career, was the first touchdown pass caught by an Oregon wide receiver this season.

Special teams. Defense. Offense. Three touchdowns in under four minutes. In the end that’s all the Ducks would need, as they went on to win 24-10.

“The fire that everyone had in them just ignited,” Costa said. “We got on a roll and started saying, ‘We’re going to put these guys to sleep.”’

Costa, who was making the first start of his career, replaced Jeremiah Masoli, who sat out with an MCL sprain.

Costa wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be. The Ducks ran the ball at will against the Bruins. Led by speedy freshman LaMichael James, the Ducks totalled 222 rushing yards. James had 151 of those. Barner added 50.

James, who is establishing himself as one of the premier running backs in the conference, was absolutely electric. The Texas native put on a juking spectacular for UCLA, spinning his way out of trouble and into daylight several times.

His best run came after UCLA pinned Oregon at their own one-yard line in the first quarter. With the Bruins stacking eight in the box, Costa handed off to James, meeting several defenders at the goalline. Averting disaster, James first spun out of the grasp of a lunging tackler, and then spun back around three Bruins into the open field.

The only thing that stopped James from a 99-yard touchdown run was himself, as he outran his blocker and collided with a UCLA defensive back at midfield.

“That’s what our team does,” coach Chip Kelly said. “They feed off each other. When somebody makes a big play, the other guys feed off that. These guys have a great attitude, a great chemistry right now. It’s fun to be around them.”

When I was looking ahead to the matchup against UCLA, I saw the serious possibilty of a trap game.

Playing on the road in a stadium where they typically don’t fare well, playing without three of their four best defensive backs—Walter Thurmond, Willie Glasper, and T.J. Ward—and letting Costa make his first collegiate start made me weary of a potential upset.

But the Ducks quickly dispelled any notion of suffering their first Pac-10 loss. This team is 100-percent focused right now, living up to Kelly’s mantra of “one game at a time.”

With next week’s open date, Oregon will have time to rest up and get healthy before traveling to another difficult environment in two weeks—Husky Stadium.

Kelly brought along four quarterbacks to Saturday’s game, including Masoli and true freshman Daryle Hawkins.

“I thought it would be nice if Daryle could see Los Angeles,” Kelly said in some postgame levity. “Maybe Disney World on the way back.”

Let’s hope Hawkins doesn’t need to go anywhere near the Space Needle on Oct. 24th.

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Live From The Chip Kelly Press Conference: “This Is Not a Football Decision”

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.

“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”

Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.

It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.

So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?

Not according to Kelly.

“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”

Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.

But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.

After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.

Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.

Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.

But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.

“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”

Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”

Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.

Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.

And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.

According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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