The Case for Kenjon (Barner)

Ed’s Note: Written by Jeff Spiegel

Immediately following the devastating Rose Bowl loss last January, the only positive Oregon headline in circulation read: “Kenjon Barner is the Lone Bright Spot for Oregon” (Los Angeles Times). For anyone who has forgotten the details of that game, that wasn’t a typo. It wasn’t Jeremiah Masoli or LaMichael James who carried the Ducks in the biggest game of the season; it was that other running back that kept it close. Said Chip Kelly after the game, “I know there’s a lot of negatives about tonight…but I get to spend three more years with Kenjon.”

You see, while everyone has spent the off-season touting LaMichael James, the breakout freshman from last season, it appears many people are passing over the explosive Barner. While many would claim they aren’t underestimating Barner, I’m asking you to consider the following: could Kenjon Barner actually be better than James?

On the face of it, the competition doesn’t seem that close. James was given four times the carries Barner was, and carried the ball for an astounding 6.7 yards per carry compared to Barner’s 6.0 YPC. Consider, however, that over the final eight games of the season, Barner’s averaged jumped to 7.2 YPC against defenses such as UCLA, ASU, USC, and Ohio State compared to James’ 7.0 against the same opponents. The reason to look at just these final eight games has nothing to do with the added importance of these games, but just the added grasp Barner had of the offense.

While James had the luxury of learning the system for an entire season during his redshirt year, Barner spent that time playing defensive back for the scout team. Last season, Barner was essentially a true freshman learning the offense on the fly after taking an entire season off. In addition to all this, Barner starred during his time on special teams last season, setting a single-season Duck record for kickoff return yardage, and figures to do more of the same this season. What I am trying to say is not that Kenjon Barner is definitively the best Duck running back on the roster, but that Barner hasn’t done anything to lead us to believe he can’t be.

To clarify further, none of this has anything to do with James. LaMichael is a freak, and figures to be one of the nation’s top running backs this season; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barner joined him in that group this season. During James’ Week One suspension, Barner will have the opportunity to make a statement regarding his place on the Oregon depth chart, and given the porous defense he’ll be facing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes that statement at the top of his lungs.

With as much talent as the Ducks have rotating around the running back position with both of these elite backs — and the addition of two of the most highly recruited backs in Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams — Chip Kelly’s task of spreading the ball around will most certainly be difficult. All this being said, that remains a problem most coaches wished they had.

Expect a lot more of this, this year:

Breaking Down the Rose Bowl: Battle of the WRs

Continuing with position breakdowns, today I’ll go over the running backs. If you missed yesterday’s, you can read about the running backs here.
This is by far the toughest decision so far. Oregon has the depth and Ohio State has the star power. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, I am leaving tight end for a separate position, so there is no Ed Dickson or David Paulson in the equation.
For all the publicity that Jamere Holland was getting during fall camp as the next breakout wide receiver, it’s a bit of a letdown that he finished the season with more drops than he had catches. (Maybe I’m making that up but it sure feels like it)
Looking back on it now, it seems like the Oregon media said, “Well, there’s no one else so let’s just say Holland is going to be the man.”
13 receptions, five missed games and only two touchdowns later, Holland has turned out to be a bigger disappointment than any single Nicholas Cage movie, finishing with only one catch in four out of his seven games.
Luckily for the Ducks, their offense isn’t exactly built around a superstar wide receiver. With the emergence of LaMichael James and the ability for Jeremiah Masoli to take off and run like a fullback with 4.6 speed, passing the ball isn’t the top priority.
But when he’s needed to throw, Masoli has several adequate targets. In fact, of late, Jeff Maehl has established himself as the go-to-guy, coming up with huge games against Arizona and Oregon State down the stretch.
Junior D.J. Davis and sophomore Lavasier Tuinei are both nice slot receivers, but the only plays ever really called for them are “Hey, let’s throw three screen passes in a row and see if the corners will figure it out.”
Shockingly, Davis and Tuinei average 10.5 and 8.5 yards per catch.
For tOSU, sophomore DeVier Posey is who Holland should have been.
The track star and former five-star recruit, has blossomed into a legitimate No. 1 wide receiving this fall, leading the Buckeyes with 727 yards and seven touchdowns. That is even more impressive considering that he has accounted for 40 percent of Pryor’s pass yards.
Although, some have said Pryor looks a little too much in Posey’s direction. (Maybe that’s why his interceptions have spiked this year)
It’s a good thing Posey has stepped up, because following the departures of Brian Robiske and Brian Hartline to the NFL, Ohio State was looking abnormally thin at the position compared to what they are used to having (Robiske, Harline, Anthony Gonzalez and Santonio Holmes).
Helping relieve some pressure from Posey is Dane Sanzenbacher. The junior has adjusted nicely from being the seldom used slot receiver last year to starting this season, finishing with 506 yards and six touchdowns.
I’m not sure which would be more impressive: his 18.7 yards per catch average or his last name in Scrabble if used on a double word score. (I vote for Scrabble, because if you can find a way to use 12 letters, you deserve a prize just for that)
Wide receiver play isn’t going to decide the game, because for both teams, passing the ball is the third option. But Ohio State’s quick strike ability sure is an advantage in case they need to come from behind.
Which I am sure hoping is the case.
Rating:
Ohio State 7, Oregon 6.
Overall: Oregon 25, Ohio State 22.

Continuing with position breakdowns, today I’ll go over the wide receivers. If you missed yesterday’s, you can read about the running backs here.

Devier Posey is the biggest airial threat in the passing game for either team.

Devier Posey is the biggest airial threat in the passing game for either team.

This is by far the toughest decision so far. Oregon has the depth and Ohio State has the star power. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, I am leaving tight end for a separate position, so there is no Ed Dickson or David Paulson in the equation.

For all the publicity that Jamere Holland was getting during fall camp as the next breakout wide receiver, it’s a bit of a letdown that he finished the season with more drops than he had catches. (Maybe I’m making that up but it sure feels like it)

Looking back on it now, it seems like the Oregon media said, “Well, there’s no one else so let’s just say Holland is going to be the man.”

13 receptions, five missed games and only two touchdowns later, Holland has turned out to be a bigger disappointment than any single Nicholas Cage movie, finishing with only one catch in four out of his seven games.

Luckily for the Ducks, their offense isn’t exactly built around a superstar wide receiver. With the emergence of LaMichael James and the ability for Jeremiah Masoli to take off and run like a fullback with 4.6 speed, passing the ball isn’t the top priority.

But when he’s needed to throw, Masoli has several adequate targets. In fact, of late, Jeff Maehl has established himself as the go-to-guy, coming up with huge games against Arizona and Oregon State down the stretch.

Junior D.J. Davis and sophomore Lavasier Tuinei are both nice slot receivers, but the only plays ever really called for them are “Hey, let’s throw three screen passes in a row and see if the corners will figure it out.”

Shockingly, Davis and Tuinei average 10.5 and 8.5 yards per catch.

For tOSU, sophomore DeVier Posey is who Holland should have been.

The track star and former five-star recruit, has blossomed into a legitimate No. 1 wide receiving this fall, leading the Buckeyes with 727 yards and seven touchdowns. That is even more impressive considering that he has accounted for 40 percent of Pryor’s pass yards.

Although, some have said Pryor looks a little too much in Posey’s direction. (Maybe that’s why his interceptions have spiked this year)

It’s a good thing Posey has stepped up, because following the departures of Brian Robiske and Brian Hartline to the NFL, Ohio State was looking abnormally thin at the position compared to what they are used to having (Robiske, Harline, Anthony Gonzalez and Santonio Holmes).

Helping relieve some pressure from Posey is Dane Sanzenbacher. The junior has adjusted nicely from being the seldom used slot receiver last year to starting this season, finishing with 506 yards and six touchdowns.

I’m not sure which would be more impressive: his 18.7 yards per catch average or his last name in Scrabble if used on a double word score. (I pick Scrabble, because if you can find a way to use 12 letters, you deserve a prize just for that)

Wide receiver play isn’t going to decide the game, because for both teams, passing the ball is the third option. But Ohio State’s quick strike ability sure is an advantage in case they need to come from behind.

Which I am sure hoping is the case.

Rating:

Ohio State 7, Oregon 6.

Overall: Oregon 25, Ohio State 22.

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Breaking Down the Rose Bowl: Battle of the QBs

It’s never too early to start talking about the Rose Bowl. And even though we’re still 18 days away from the annual New Years Day tradition, I’m about nine days and eighteen hours behind everyone else.
With so much time to kill before the actual game (insert I want a playoff rant here), I will compare the Ducks and Buckeyes position by position to see who stacks up better on paper – because as we know, whoever is better on paper always wins the game. Uhh, never mind.
Where better to start than the quarterbacks? Let’s get it on.
If I had told you in December of 2007 that Jeremiah Masoli would be better than Terrelle Pryor you probably would have laughed harder than the first time you showed your unsuspecting friend the two girls one cup video.
Prior, the all-everything uber recruit, drew Vince Young comparisons before he even signed a letter of intent. The Army All-American Bowl MVP was ranked No. 1 by every single recruiting service in the world, galaxy and universe.
My roommate even started a Facebook fan page called “Make Terrell Pryor an Oregon Duck” that quickly amassed 2,000 supporters. Of course, on March 19th, the name of the page was quickly changed to “Terrelle Pryor Will Get Owned by the Oregon Ducks”.
Funny how things change in the world of sports.
What about Masoli. Where was Masoli in 2007? He was trying to recover from being expelled from Bay Area football power house Serra High School (in my hometown!) after he, and three other captains, were arrested and charged with robbing a kid at the mall.
Fortunately, Masoli got back on track at Community College of San Francisco, a national junior college power, winning the national championship and player of the year honors as a freshman.
Quietly and with little fan fare, the Ducks landed the three star recruit and listed him fifth on the depth chart going into last season. There was no such Facebook page was made for him.
Four injured quarterbacks later, Masoli was starting and we all know the story from there.
Masoli is what Pryor was supposed to be, a spread-option machine, perfect for Chip Kelly’s wide open system. And well, Pryor is the tenth most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten – slightly behind expectations.
Ok, maybe that’s selling Pryor a bit short.  He still has all the potential in the world, and being thrust into the starting role as a freshman in one the country’s biggest programs, and having coach who has no idea how to run a spread offense is no easy task to deal with.
That said, he still has trouble making the correct reads and knowing when to take off or stay in the pocket. His interceptions are up and his completion percentage is down from last year. Also, Prior has been sacked 18 times for more than 200 yards.
With a month to prepare for Oregon’s speedy, yet undersized defense, Pryor might be at an advantage. The Ducks have never seen such a gifted dual-threat quarterback before, so they might have some trouble stopping him in the open field.
But if the Oregon defense can bring pressure and fluster the sophomore quarterback, there’s a good chance Pryor will start to lose composure, like in the Purdue game where he was visibly upset, even starting arguments with his teammates.
Masoli, on the other hand, has played just about as well as humanly possible since the start of Pac-10 play. Since the Cal game, Masoli holds a 63-percent completion percentage and a 15:3 touchdown to interception ratio, not including his seven rushing touchdowns.
Another plus for Masoli is that he gets up for big games: Both Civil Wars, the Holiday Bowl and the last few games in the Pac-10.  Masoli truly thrives when the pressure is on (see Masoli’s run late in the fourth quarter against the Beavs in you don’t believe me).
I fully expect Masoli to be the better quarterback on New Years Day.
Rating (I will rate each position on a 1-10 scale and keep a running tally as we go along):
Masoli 9, Pryor 7.
If the only thing that mattered in college football was freaking athletcism, Pryor would be a two-time Heisman winner.

If the only thing that mattered in college football was freakish athleticism, Pryor would be a two-time Heisman winner.

It’s never too early to start talking about the Rose Bowl. And even though we’re still 18 days away from the annual New Years Day tradition, I’m about nine days and eighteen hours behind everyone else.

With so much time to kill before the actual game (insert I want a playoff rant here), I will compare the Ducks and Buckeyes position by position to see who stacks up better on paper – because as we all know, whoever is better on paper always wins the game. Uhh, never mind.

Where better to start than the quarterbacks? Let’s get it on.

If I had told you in December of 2007 that Jeremiah Masoli would be better than Terrelle Pryor you probably would have laughed harder than the first time you showed your unsuspecting friend the two girls one cup video.

Pryor, the all-everything uber recruit, drew Vince Young comparisons before he even signed a letter of intent. The Army All-American Bowl MVP was ranked No. 1 by every single recruiting service in the world, galaxy and universe.

My roommate even started a Facebook fan page called “Make Terrell Pryor an Oregon Duck” that quickly amassed 2,000 supporters. Of course, on March 19th, the name of the page was swiftly changed to “Terrelle Pryor Will Get Owned by the Oregon Ducks”.

Funny how fast things change in the world of sports.

What about Masoli. Where was he in 2007? Masoli was trying to rebound from being expelled from Bay Area football power house Serra High School (in my hometown!) after he, and three other captains, were arrested and charged with robbing a kid at the mall.

Fortunately, Masoli got back on track at Community College of San Francisco, a national junior college power, winning the national championship and player of the year honors as a freshman.

Quietly and with little fan fare, the Ducks landed the three star recruit and listed him fifth on their depth chart going into last season. There was no such Facebook page was made for him.

Four injured quarterbacks later, Masoli was starting and we all know the story from there.

Masoli is what Pryor was supposed to be, a spread-option machine, perfect for Chip Kelly’s wide open system. And well, Pryor is the tenth most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten – slightly behind expectations.

Ok, maybe that’s selling Pryor a bit short.  He still has all the potential in the world, and having been thrust into the starting role as a freshman in one the country’s biggest programs, and having coach who has no idea how to run a spread offense is no easy situation to deal with.

That said, he still has trouble making the correct reads and knowing when to take off or stay in the pocket. His interceptions are up and his completion percentage is down from last year. Also, Prior has been sacked 18 times for more than 200 yards.

With a month to prepare for Oregon’s speedy, yet undersized defense, Pryor might be at an advantage. The Ducks have never seen such a gifted dual-threat quarterback before, so they might have some trouble stopping him in the open field.

But if the Oregon defense can bring pressure and fluster the sophomore quarterback, there’s a good chance Pryor will start to lose his composure, like in the Purdue game where he was visibly upset, even starting arguments with his teammates on the field.

Masoli, on the other hand, has played just about as well as humanly possible since the start of Pac-10 play. Since the Cal game, Masoli holds a 63-percent completion percentage and a 15:3 touchdown to interception ratio, not including his seven rushing touchdowns.

Another plus for Masoli is that he gets up for big games: Both Civil Wars, the Holiday Bowl and the last few games in the Pac-10.  Masoli truly thrives when the pressure is on (see Masoli’s run late in the fourth quarter against the Beavs in you don’t believe me).

I fully expect Masoli to be the better quarterback on New Years Day.

Rating (I will rate each position on a 1-10 scale and keep a running tally as we go along):

Masoli 9, Pryor 7.

It’s Finally Game Day: The Biggest Civil War Ever

Duck Voodoo at it's best!

Duck Voodoo at it's best!

Before this year, Abraham Lincoln must have rolled in his grave at the thought of two Oregon football teams making light of our country’s most historic moment to promote a rivalry game.

But this year, good ol’ Uncle Abe understands.

Never before in the history of this game – all 112 years – has this game carried so much weight. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl and the loser, well, the Holiday Bowl isn’t much of a consolation.

Seeing as this is the biggest sporting event of my life – and in the history of Oregon – it’s truly unfortunately I couldn’t spend more time previewing this  game. But I’m a student first and a football fan second, err, well, at least that’s what I lead my dad to believe.

Professors really should know better than to assign final projects, essays, exams the week of the Civil War. One even scheduled a final exam review for 4 p.m. this afternoon. Seriously. Let’s see who shows up for that one.

But I will give you a prediction, and more links,  so I help satisfy you football fix before kickoff.

I honestly just can’t see the Ducks losing this game. Not with how the Ducks steamrolled OSU last year in Reser, not with how explosive Oregon’s offense has been, not when I just found out Oregon State actually has a homosexual Sheep Center on campus (seriously!), and most importantly, not in Autzen.

The one thing that does worry me though, is Jacquizz Rodgers.

In case you were wondering, yes, that is real horse poop.

In case you were wondering, yes, that is real horse poop.

I don’t like him. You don’t like him. No Duck fan likes him. But he is a fantastic football player, and a threat that Oregon State didn’t have last year. He is a total game-changer.

Fortunately, Oregon’s front seven is much improved and stopping the run has turned from a weakness last year, to a strength this year.

This is going to be one of those nail-biting, cover your eyes at the  finish, down to the wire games that makes football so great.

And I can only expect one thing: A Duck victory.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Oregon State, 38

Here are some more links you definitely need to check out:

ESPN’s Ted Miller examines the importance of this game for both teams, the fan bases and even conference awards.

OregonLive’s Bob Rickert has some videos to get you fired up, including – you guessed it- I Love My Ducks.

Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy weighs in with his thoughts on the Civil War.

The AP breaks down the differences between a Duck and a Beaver. It won’t just be anatomically, I promise.

And finally, the Oregonian’s John Canzano says the fans need to their part to make this Civil War epic. Shouldn’t be a problem, Johnny boy.

And there you have it, Go Ducks!

I’ve told you mine. What’s your final score?!?!

Rivalry Renewed: Oregon Ducks Look for Sixth Straight over Huskies

I remember going to my first Oregon Duck football game last fall as a freshman. Because of weird scheduling circumstances, the Washington Huskies came to Autzen in just the second week of the season.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

And being a fan of the Ducks for several years before I stepped on campus, I was well aware of the rivalry and was excited to witness it firsthand.

Soon after entering the stadium, I was quickly thrown into the competitive trash-talking that those clever collegians in the student section like so much. Well, this time we weren’t so clever.

From the very second the first purple-clad player appeared in the tunnel, there was a telekinetic-like power that united the entire stadium; students, alumni, and even children to stand up and chant: “Fuck the Huskies!”

Over and over again. I didn’t even know we were allowed to do that. Looking back, we probably weren’t, but it was too much fun it didn’t matter. The loathing between the two teams was palpable.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, the dislike quickly turned to sympathy, as the Ducks went all Michael Vick on the Huskies, 44-10. To make matters worse, Washington didn’t win a single game the rest of the season, including a heartbreaker to the lowly Washington State Cougars.

For some reason, the rivalry didn’t feel so much like a rivalry to me anymore after that game. It was more of a business as usual, fifth straight win in a row type of thing.
But the Huskies are no longer a joke. No more Tyrone Willingham or Rick Neuheisel and his March Madness office pools.  Washington now has a legitimate head coach: Steve Sarkisian, who learned from the best of the best in Pete Carroll at USC. Coach Sark finally has the Huskies playing up to their full potential.

Despite going winless last season, Washington had plenty of talent, although most of it was inexperienced. Willingham brought in several solid recruiting classes, including QB Jake Locker in 2006 and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton last season. He just couldn’t get anything out them. I mean, Locker is good enough that he should be able to win a handful of games by himself.

But now Locker has developed into the player many expected him to become, the West Coast’s version of Tim Tebow, Chris Polk emerged as a talented running back and Kearse has excelled in his first season.

However, the one thing that has kept the Huskies from a 2008 Miami Dolphin-like turnaround is their defense. Although better than last season, the Huskies still rank ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing 424 yards per game.

And that’s why the Huskies are at least a year away from putting a stop to Oregon’s five game winning streak. Jeremiah Masoli (who should play) and LaMichael James, two of the hottest players in the country, should be able to feast on the porous Washington defense.

With two weeks for the Ducks to rest up, and two weeks for offensive mastermind Chip Kelly to game plan, Oregon should be focused and ready to march into Husky Stadium for their sixth straight win.

Kelly has instilled his mantra of “one game at a time” into his players, as offensive tackle Bo Thran can attest: “They’re just the next team on our schedule.”

The only worry for the Ducks, is adjusting to the unfriendly confines of Husky Stadium. Only one game in their current five game winning streak over Washington came in Seattle.

But Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job preparing this team week in and week out. Going into the Rose Bowl before the bye, many fans were frightened because it was the first road game since the Boise State debacle, but Oregon overcame a lackadaisical first half to win handily.

“We don’t put any more stock in this game than another,” Kelly said. “By that, I don’t mean to diminish it, but we put everything we have into every game. We haven’t done anything different in terms of our approach. It’s a league game. It’s on the road. And that’s enough to get our players up and excited for practice.”

In Big Balls Chip I trust.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 24

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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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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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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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Oregon Must Overcome Several Challenges at UCLA to Stay in The BCS Hunt

I’m worried. For the first time all season. Seriously.

I bought into the hype before Boise State. I was certain Oregon would get their revenge against Purdue. I knew Utah was overrated. I had a feeling the Ducks would step up against Cal. And Washington State is, well, Washington State.

But UCLA? What’s so special about the Bruins?

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

It’s really not that I’m worried about UCLA at all. I mean, yeah, they’re a decent team. Actually, they’re a little better than that. They went into Knoxville and knocked off the Volunteers. And they gave Pac-10-leading Stanford a late scare in Palo Alto. Both pretty impressive.

But in a vacuum, there is nothing about the Bruins themselves that scares me. Kevin Prince? Johnathan Franklin? Terrence Austin? I’m sure they’re nice guys, but man, that’s a whole lot of mediocrity.

So you ask, what could I possibly be worried about? What is it that caused me to stay up late last night, tossing and turning while I pictured what will happen when the Ducks travel to Westwood on Saturday?

There are four things. And any single one of them could be enough to derail Oregon’s Rose Bowl aspirations with a devastating loss at, coincidentally, the Rose Bowl.

Jeremiah Masoli’s Injury

Just as Masoli finally started playing up to his Heisman-like potential the past two weeks, the curse of the Oregon quarterback struck: a knee injury. Seriously, another one?

Masoli came out in the second quarter against Washington State with the Ducks already leading 35-0. So when he came out, the initial thought was they were just resting him and putting in the second stringers in early.

Turns out Masoli has a sprained MCL, an injury that usually takes at least a couple weeks to heal completely. So the Ducks will turn to junior backup Nate Costa as the starter on Saturday. And if things go according to plan, Costa will lead Oregon to victory, allowing Masoli to rest this week and during the open date next week, before suiting up at full strength in Husky Stadium on Oct. 24.

Costa, who was supposed to be the starter last season before re-tearing his ACL in fall camp, has never started before. And the only in-game experience he has, is against the second team during blow outs over Cal and Washington State this season, Portland State in 2006, and during a big loss at USC that same season.

Sure, he has an inspiring story, as he has come back from multiple devastating knee injuries. Sure, he was a top recruit coming out of high school. And sure, he has a career 84.4 completion percentage. But he only has 21 career passes has never started a game before.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Chip Kelly has enough confidence in Costa to let Masoli rest up and avoid any resemblance to what happened with Dennis Dixon in 2007. It’s just that getting handed the ball in the Rose Bowl with the season on the line is a lot of pressure to deal with.

Playing on the Road

Oregon has had it easy the last month with four straight home games. And for the Ducks, playing in Autzen stadium is an advantage that very few other teams are privileged with.

Before Cal came to Eugene two weeks ago, Jahvid Best told reporters that the crowd at Autzen is the only one that stands out in his mind as having gotten to him.

Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr once said, “Autzen Stadium is where great teams go to die.” And trust him, he knows from experience.

So when Oregon travels south to UCLA, it will be their first road game since the debacle in Boise.

The Ducks have had some trouble playing away from Autzen in the recent past, with a 9-9 road record since 2006.

It will interesting to see how focused Kelly has team this time, because Oregon looked lost and overmatched in the season opener against the Broncos.

Injuries in the Secondary

Apparently knee injuries don’t only happen to quarterbacks at Oregon.

Just weeks after team captain Walter Thurmond suffered an ACL ending his season, fellow senior cornerback Willie Glasper succumbed to the same fate. That leaves Talmadge Jackson as the only remaining cornerback with starting experience.

“We just got to plug the next guy in,” Kelly said. “You deal with injuries every day. It’s college football. UCLA’s quarterbacks are banged up. Tim Tebow’s hurt. Sam Bradford’s hurt. It doesn’t just happen at Oregon. It happens everywhere in the country.…We’ve got a lot of guys out so it’ll be interesting to see how this thing finishes up.”

After the defense stepped up following the loss of Thurmond, despite already being without T.J. Ward, they held Cal and WSU to just nine total points, it will interesting to see how the Ducks respond to yet another hit to their secondary. Inexperienced reserves, Anthony Gildon and Chad Peppars will compete for the starting spot.

Playing With Expectations

Oregon has gotten off to many fast starts throughout the decade. But just when they appear to be a serious contender, the Ducks have wilted under the pressure.

For example: 2003, 2006, 2007, and this season, in the opener against Boise State.

Playing with the hype of being a contender for the BCS is a completely different animal than fighting for the Emerald Bowl. The entire country is watching. Every play matters. Just one mistake marks the difference between playing in San Diego in December instead of the Rose Bowl in January.

And now, as Oregon has climbed back to No. 13 in the rankings, they have once again emerged as the sexy, dark horse pick for the national championship.

By all means, I think the Ducks have a great chance to run the table and end up in Pasadena on New Years Day, or possibly better. But it’s up to Chip Kelly to have his team focused for every single game, whether it’s UCLA or USC.

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