Sunday, December 05, 2010

Oregon ousts Oregon State for BCS title bid

The Ducks were far from their best Saturday, but as the clear skies turned gray and clouds began to cover Mount Hood off in the distance, Oregon showed its resolve and toughness.

As the third quarter turned to the fourth and AC/DC blared in Reser Stadium, Oregon State's sideline was rocking, its players thinking they just might pull off a monster upset. On their side, Oregon stayed cool -- focused on winning the day. When it was done, and a spot in the BCS national title game was secured, that's when the Ducks finally let loose.

Heisman Trophy contender LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and the fast-paced Ducks (No. 2 BCS, No. 1 AP) negotiated the last speed bump on the way to Glendale, Ariz., grinding out a 37-20 victory over the Beavers in the Civil War on Saturday. The matchup becomes official Sunday, but there will be no surprises when the final Bowl Championship Series standings come out: Oregon will play Auburn on Jan. 10 for its first national championship.

James ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns while Barner had 133 yards and scored twice for the Ducks (12-0, 9-0 Pac-10), who used some stiff defense in the red zone -- led by Bair and Casey Matthews -- and three interceptions to fend off their feisty rivals.

Not until the fourth quarter did Oregon finally shake free. Barner's 23-yard touchdown run with 12:16 made it 30-13 and James popped through the middle for a 10-yard score with 4:27 left to seal it.

When the clock hit 00:00, James and his teammates bounded over to a corner of the stadium to celebrate with their band, their famous Donald Duck-clone mascot and their fans. The Oregon faithful spilled onto the field and the push up-pumping mascot got swallowed up as he crowd surfed. The party was headed south, 40 miles down Interstate 5 to Eugene.

The Ducks, the Pac-10's new power with their high-speed spread offense, rising star coach Chip Kelly and the wildest uniforms Nike and Oregon alumnus Phil Knight can provide, are relative newcomers among college football's elite. Yet Kelly disdains such big-picture talk about a shift in the football landscape. "Win the day," is his motto -- and there are 37 between now and the national title game.

"We're not going to play a national championship right now, we're going to prepare for one," he said. "But we got to this point by our preparation and we know we're going to have to go to work for the next month to show up on the 10th."

The stakes for the 114th Civil War were higher than for any of the rivalry's previous meetings, with the Ducks assured of a spot in the national title game with a victory. The Beavers? They were simply looking to get to .500 and avoid sitting out the bowl season for the first time since 2001. Oregon State didn't play like a three-touchdown underdog and Oregon never did unleash a wave of big plays, like those that have consumed so many other teams.

For decades, Oregon was a second-class Pac-10 team, too. But in 1994 Rich Brooks led the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl since 1965 and it turned out to be no fluke. Brooks left for the NFL and handed the program off to Mike Bellotti. With Knight helping to fund the cause, the Ducks became a factor in the Pac-10 and probably should have played for a national title with quarterback Joey Harrington after the 2001 season. The BCS numbers didn't work out for the Ducks that season and the window of opportunity in the Pac-10 closed the next season as Southern California began its dominant run.

After the 2008 season, Bellotti stepped aside and Kelly, after just one season as offensive coordinator, was promoted to head coach. The Ducks finally knocked the Trojans off the Pac-10 throne and went the Rose Bowl last season, wrapping up the conference title with a victory in the Civil War.

Now it's on to Glendale, Ariz., for the fashion plates of college football.

Fast Facts
• Oregon ran for 346 yards, 134 from LaMichael James and 133 from Kenjon Barner.
• It would be the Ducks first BCS title game appearance and the Pac-10's first appearance since USC in the 2005 season.
• Oregon is the first Pac-10 team to go undefeated in a nine conference game schedule (since 2006). The Ducks have won at least eight conference games in consecutive years.
• The Ducks have topped the Beavers three straight times, their longest streak since winning four straight from 1994-97.
• Oregon State fell to 2-7 against AP No. 1 teams all-time.

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