— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Had the format stayed the same, Oregon could’ve booked their travel plans to Pasadena this week. The 49-21 win over Oregon State would’ve guaranteed a Rose Bowl bid, and a third consecutive conference title.
However, my friends, these are new times. Since the Pac-10 expanded into the Pac-12, the conference had to split up into two divisions. Thus, the Ducks merely won the Pac-12 North and will now face UCLA at Autzen in the inaugural championship game. If it seems a little strange to you, think about how some of the long-time coaches feel.
“It is a little weird,” explained defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “It’s different and new. But it is what is, and we’re excited to be in the game. Now we have to show up on Friday, so we can win and go the Rose Bowl.”
Admittedly, the sexiest match up hasn’t been arranged for Friday. Had a couple fellas (who we will simply call Pete and Reggie) kept their noses clean, the Ducks would be getting a second crack at USC on Friday night. That’s one a lot of people (including myself) want to see again.
Instead, Oregon will be playing a 6-6 Bruins team who got the nod by virtue of a second place tiebreaker in the Pac-12 South. That said, head coach Chip Kelly isn’t worrying about who they’re not playing.
“We have no control over that,” said Kelly.”We don’t control what time we kick off or that the game is on a Friday. No one asks us. We don’t worry about outside influences or things we can’t control. It’s wasted energy to talk about something that is not in existence.”
Sure, UCLA got waxed 50-0 against the Trojans last week. If you want to add to any potential misery the Bruins might endure, the Ducks did plaster them 60-13 a year ago. Oh, and let’s not forget their head coach Rick Neuheisel will be coaching his final game (since he got a pink slip this past Monday). All that in mind, Oregon is not overlooking what stands between them and a third straight BCS appearance.
“We’re not looking past UCLA,” claimed quarterback Darron Thomas. We’re not looking at the 31-point spread or anything like that. Those guys have a shot to come out and mark off one of their goals, which is to win the Pac-12 Championship. So they’re going to come out ready to go, and may even play their hardest game.”
As has been said in previous columns, there are no guarantees. For all their flaws, UCLA has shown the ability to play defense.
“They have a really athletic group,” stated running back LaMichael James. “I don’t think many people realize how athletic they are up front. They have great speed. It’s going to be an incredible game.”
The Bruins also employ a unique offensive scheme, and do have a very good running back in Johnathan Franklin.
“They run the pistol like Nevada does,” said Aliotti. “The Bruins are much better at it this year, because they’ve used it for two seasons. They’re one of the top four rushing teams in the conference, so they run the ball very well.”
Nonetheless, this one still looks like a game that the Ducks should run away with as long as they don’t come in asleep.
“All I hope is that we play with great effort and passion,” said Aliotti. “If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
So how does this one play out? Maybe the Bruins give Oregon a fight for a quarter. After that, this is the other team from Los Angeles that we’re talking about.
The only question I have is what number will be lower? The television ratings that come with a clear mismatch or the number of points UCLA will actually score? Your guess is as good as mine on that one, folks.
As for the game itself, it will be okay to start smelling the roses by halftime. The Ducks win a 55-17 laugher over the Bruins and can finally start thinking about Pasadena.
I would like to mention one more thing on the Pac-12 Championship game before moving on to other items. After all the sarcasm I just spewed about the contest, it is going to do a lot of good for some kids in our area.
The Pac-12 is partnering with the U of O to help create a new technology center and reading area for the Boys and Girls Club of Emerald Valley. The project, launched as part of the inaugural Pac-12 Legacy Event, will mean new computer equipment, an EA gaming area, and many other things for the kids to use.
It comes at a very welcome time for the Boys and Girls Club. They were forced to close their doors in October due to a lack of funds. But now they’ll be able to reopen their doors on January 4th. Extremely good news, indeed.
Now let’s talk a bit about the Oregon men’s basketball team. The Ducks have been a bit of an enigma so far. Last week, they go on the road to defeat a solid Nebraska team 83-76. But on Tuesday, they barely got by a 1-4 UTEP squad 64-59.
They’ve also had a couple guys depart the roster. After playing in the first two games, the highly-touted freshman Jabari Brown decided to leave the program. Then, on Tuesday night, it was announced that Bruce Barron chose to follow Brown out the door. Still, head coach Dana Altman is trying to put a good face on the situation.
“We’ll move forward with the players we have,” said Altman. “I’m not going to talk any more about guys not on the team. We’ll discuss the 13 that are here. But Jabari and Bruce have left, so we’ll just move on from here.”
It’s all they can do, really. Even without those two guys, this team has the potential to vie for an NCAA Tournament bid this year (failing that, they’ll be in the NIT). It won’t be easy, but Altman seems to have this program on the right track.
Moving quickly to some high school football, the Irish are two days away from moving one step closer to another state title. By defeating Central Catholic in the 6A OSAA semifinals on Saturday, Sheldon will advance to the final round. But they have to get past the Rams first. Should be an interesting affair at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.