University of Oregon is Running Back U: But Which Player is No. 1?

This is still one of my favorite ESPN Mag covers of all time.

It’s only right that the school with the flashiest uniforms and fanciest facilities has the most star players at the flashiest position: running back. Take a look back throughout the decade:

Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smith, Terrance Whitehead, J-Stew, JJ, LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James. And that doesn’t even count Reuben Droughns or the newest crop of soon-to-be standouts.

Without a doubt, University of Oregon is Running Back U.

And accordingly, that creates quite the controversy in Aaron Fentress’s daily Oregon football all-decade team poll.

Do you go with strong and steady (Jeremiah Johnson, Mo Morris, Terrance Whitehead) or short-lived superstuds (Onterrio Smith, Stewart, LMJ)?

It’s a tough choice, but there’s really no wrong answer.

I’m partial to Smith, because he was the first Duck I ever fell in love with (although at 11, I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the meaning of the Whizzinator). But unfortunately, his career fizzled out and said Whizzinator is now his lone claim to fame.

I would pick LMJ because he was AWESOME in my first year covering the Ducks as more than a fan (and being able to watch a player in person makes you appreciate them that much more), but he needs one more studly year for me to justify putting him atop the list. Although, based on pure talent and potential, he’s probably number one.

That leaves one: Jonathan Stewart. Although I never saw him play in person, his 1,722 yards and third-team all-American performance in 2007 speaks for itself. Plus he helped carry my fantasy team to a championship last season. Great recruit, great guy, great player, great pro. J-Stew embodies everything we want from an Oregon Ducks running back.

Who’s your favorite Oregon Ducks running back?

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Boise State Shows Oregon The Importance of Scheduling

It’s easy to look back after the fact and play armchair GM. You hear it all the time from fans: “coach X needs to grow a pair, he should have went for it on 4th down!” or “he shouldn’t have tried to steal second base in that situation, what an idiot.” But those are the types of plays where if you make it, you’re a genius, and if you don’t, well, you get the picture. After all, hindsight is called 20/20 for a reason.

That blue on blue combination is completly unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

That blue on blue combination is completely unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

But there are some instances so apparent, so obvious, that even before something goes wrong, you just know it’s going to happen. And when it does, all you can do is just cover your face with your hands and painfully watch through the cracks in-between your fingers, like watching a replay of car accident in slow motion, over and over again.

What am I referring to? No, it wasn’t the Legarrette Blount punch, or Jeremiah Masoli’s mountain of sucktidude on Saturday against Utah. It was scheduling the first game of the season on the road against Boise State.

Let me break it down. Coming into the season, Oregon wasn’t really a model for stability and constancy. Unlike Florida, who returned all 11 starters on defense, their Heisman-winning quarterback, and a head coach who has a vice grip on the title of “best football coach east of USC”, Oregon faced a lot of questions marks.

How fluidly will Chip Kelly take over the reins from the Mike Bellotti era? Will Masoli play like the superstar he was against Oregon State and Oklahoma State or will he produce stinkers like the Cal game? How will the Ducks handle the losses of Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, Nick Reed and Ra’shon Harris on defense and the departures of Max Unger, Fenuki Tupou and Jeremiah Johnson on the offense? That’s a whole lot of turnover to deal with over one offseason. And despite all that, Oregon was hyping themselves up as a Pac 10 contender and BCS title sleeper. That’s a lot of pressure.

So in a season with so many unknowns, they scheduled Boise State, a team desperate for a major non-conference win, in their first game on the road, in a stadium that can unflap even the most unflappable. Doesn’t sound good.

Yes, when they scheduled this game several years ago, they might not have known how much turnover they would be dealing with this season. But last year, when the Broncos traveled to Eugene to face the Ducks – in a very similar situation (new quarterback, a raucous stadium notorious for its effect on the opponents), Boise State didn’t have to play Oregon until their third game of the season, conveniently scheduling tune-up games against Idaho State and Bowling Green to work out all the kinks before playing a powerhouse like the Ducks. And what do you know, it worked out.

So the unproven Ducks go into Boise that Thursday night, in front of a nationally televised audience no less, to play a team who has a home record of 64-2 since 1999 and playing for their BCS life. That’s a dangerous combination.

Playing in a non-BCS conference, where even if they go undefeated, they still aren’t guaranteed a BCS bowl berth, a win against a team like Oregon was absolutely necessary, as a loss would make pundits say, “if they can’t beat Oregon, they have no chance against Texas or Florida.” And Boise State played like it.

But luckily for Chip Kelly and the Ducks, and the fate of their 2009 campaign, even with a loss in the opener, a Rose Bowl appearance still hangs in the balance. So in order for Oregon to have a chance in the Pac 10, they must put the loss to Boise State completely behind them and focus solely on the task at hand, the #6 California Golden Bears. Oh my.