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There Are No Guarantees…


By Sam Finley, EDN

The Ducks are 23 point favorites on Thursday night against Cal.  You remember the Cal Bears, don’t you?  They were a mediocre team from Berkeley that gave the Oregon offense fits a year ago.

True, the Bears’ had one of the better defenses in the conference last season.  However, no one could’ve seen them almost completely shutting down the Ducks’ normally high-speed attack.
They held Oregon to their lowest game point total of 2010, and only permitted one offensive touchdown (a pass from Darron Thomas to Jeff Maehl early in the third quarter).

Jeff Maehl scored Oregon's lone offensive touchdown early in the second half last year at Cal. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In fact, the Ducks went against their nature in the fourth quarter to stem the tide. They actually huddled and took their time lining up between plays, taking the nine final minutes off the clock to preserve a 15-13 victory.  Still, all the talking heads were chirping after that game about how the Bears had displayed the blueprint for how to slow down Oregon.

“We learn something from every game,” said Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “But it was frustrating, because they didn’t do anything we didn’t prepare for. They almost stayed in the same defense the whole time.  But we learned from it, and have moved on.”

Then again, Cal didn’t exactly do it by stellar defense alone.  If you recall, there were several instances of their defensive linemen flopping on the ground and claiming to be hurt.  It might’ve been more believeable, had some of these guys not been standing perfectly erect before the ‘convenient’ joint tweakings occured.

That said, why do I bring all of this up? Because you play the games for a reason.  There are no guarantees the outcome will go a certain way, particularly in a sport of mistakes like football.  Just ask Oregon running back LaMichael James.

“Everybody is going to give you their best shot,” stated James. “Anybody can get beat in this conference or in college football period.  You don’t have to be the best team throughout the week, but you have to be the best team on game day.  That’s what really counts.”

Yes, Oregon is favored heavily against Cal (just like last year). But while the Bears may not quite be playing for the same prizes that the Ducks are, they still have plenty to fight for.

Cal can still have a winning season and, with a lot of luck, possibly win the Pac-12 South. They are also playing for the job security of their head coach Jeff Tedford.  Since he left his gig as offensive coordinator at Oregon, Tedford has become a victim of his own successes.  While the fans down there are now happy to have a competitive team, they’re tired of not quite getting to the next level that USC and Oregon have in recent years.

In other words, don’t necessarily expect these guys to roll over, because they certainly didn’t do it in 2010.  

“They (the Bears) are extremely talented,” said Helfrich. “I thought they were the most talented team in the conference last season, especially on the defensive side.  Their scheme is great, the personnel is really good, and they play hard.  It’s a tremendous challenge.”

LaMichael James understands that games are played for a reason. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

With that in mind, what will likely happen on Thursday? Cal will give the Ducks all they can handle early in this one.  At the same time, Oregon is pretty good at making adjustments, and they’ve learned a thing or two since the last close call against the Bears.

“We have to execute,” Helfrich explained. “We may have had some guys in various frames of mind in last year’s game.  So we have to go out there, play a clean game, and do our deal.”

If they do execute accordingly, Cal will only be able to ‘drop and flop’ on the defensive side so many times, and the Oregon offense will pick up speed before the second half is over.

Again, there are no guarantees, but I just don’t see a razor thin affair happening two years in a row.  Here’s my prediction:  Oregon 45, Cal 17.

Now onto something I picked up on a couple of days ago.  First off, I was watching the Houston/Pittsburgh game on Sunday, and I realized why I’m not a big fan of CBS color commentator Dan Dierdorf.  The guy is so repetitive around two words:  ‘Tremendous awareness.’

That’s all I heard.  It was either “Ben Roethlisberger showed tremendous awareness” or “Matt Schaub had tremendous awareness” all game long. I mean, really?  Couldn’t you say something like ‘good pocket presence’ or ‘very reactive?’  You’d think, with all the years he’s been in the broadcast booth, he’d expand his vocabulary a little bit.

The funny thing is, if you look at Dierdorf, it appears the only time he’s ever displayed any ‘tremendous awareness’ is when the catering crew was done putting the food out.  No wonder he got booted from “Monday Night Football.”

Speaking of which, I suppose I could talk about Hank Williams, Jr. getting the axe from that as well.  But he may have done the nation a favor with his big mouth.  His intro song gets more annoying with every play, and eventually a new tune was going to be demanded.

Some might argue that Williams was simply expressing his opinions by comparing President Obama to Hitler.  Fair enough.  However, that doesn’t mean he, sticking with the ‘no guarantee’ headline, is not protected from potential punishment from ESPN for his statements.

I could spend hours explaining that a show like MNF would like to keep their people apolitical, but I’m running out of word space. With that in mind, I will simply say that maybe he didn’t have ‘tremendous awareness.’  Okay, now I’m repeating myself.

So until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

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Colvin is full steam ahead


No one said the track to the NFL was an easy one.

Cameron Colvin has been on that track and it has been full of twists and turns. But the 2007 Oregon graduate hasn’t given up on his dream, and maybe it’s proper he currently plays for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.

Cam Colvin had a cup of coffee with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, but his ankle prevented him from making the team by the bay. (Photo Courtesy: Cam Colvin)

Colvin has been dealing with twists and turns all his life. He didn’t have the “normal” childhood. Far from it.

Colvin’s father passed away of pneumonia and a heart attack at the age of 39 when Colvin was just six year old. If that wasn’t enough, his mom died of congestive heart failure when Colvin was just 15 years old, leaving he and his sister to live with their godmother.

“I think dealing with all of that made me strong,” Colvin said. “My mother taught me a lot in those 15 years. It made me understand life and how to deal with adversity.”

All the while, Colvin was making a name for himself as a wide receiver at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif.

He always had he dream of playing in the NFL, but a  suffered a broken ankle in the sixth game of his senior year at Oregon.

Colvin was one of the top recruits in the country when he came out of De La Salle high in 2004. The five-star standout was the leading vote-getter and consensus No. 1 college recruit in the West among the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Best in the West elite. Colvin was also the top choice on the Contra Costa Times’ Cream of the Crop list. He led the Big Valley League with 28 catches for 423 yards and six touchdowns in just six games.

In other words, the kid had game.

Showing some flashes of what made him a five-star recruit, Colvin goes through two Arizona defenders as a freshman. (Photo Courtesy: Cam Colvin)

Those accolades prompted ESPN to invite him to a local station in San Francisco to announce his college of choice. High school students do this all the time now, but it was a rarity eight years ago.

“It was an honor to be one of the first ones to do it,” Colvin said. “I really didn’t decide until on my way to the station.”

Colvin had offers all around the country, but narrowed the choice down to three. It was going to be Oregon, Michigan or USC. NFL star Braylon Edwards was his host at Michigan on a recruiting trip and Mike Williams and some dude named Reggie Bush were his hosts at USC.

But several friends, including then-Oregon wide receiver Demetrius Williams, played for the Ducks and it really came down to that.

“It was just a comfort level for me,” Colvin said. “I had never seen a game at Autzen Stadium, but man, there’s nothing like it.”

When he picked up the Oregon hat instead of the USC or Michigan hat, the roar that came out of the Duck football offices sounded similar to a full crowd at Autzen.

It was that big of a pick up for the Ducks.

Although he spurned the Wolverines, Colvin did play in "The Big House" in Ann Arbor, helping Oregon to a 39-7 Duck victory. (Photo Courtesy: Cam Colvin)

“Signing Colvin was very important for Oregon for on and off the field reasons,” said AJ Jacobson, the editor of, the Duck affiliate. “It was their first major head-to-head recruiting victory over USC, and at the same time, reinforced Oregon’s recruiting inroads into California’s top high school programs such as De La Salle.”

But while the Ducks were making strides in recruiting, Colvin had a hard time making his own stride in Eugene.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide out had a hard time living up to other people’s expectations. In his first three seasons as a Duck, Colvin had just a total of 54 receptions and five touchdowns in 24 games.

But some coaching upheaval didn’t help him either.

In Colvin’s four seasons, the Ducks went through three offensive coordinators. It wasn’t until Head Coach Mike Bellotti found Chip Kelly in New Hampshire in his senior season that Colvin finally started to find his way as a player.

“One of the first things Chip said to us was that we were going to punch people in the mouth, no matter who it was,” Colvin said. “His tenacity rubbed off on us.”

It showed as the Ducks got off to a hot start, including a huge 39-7 win in the Big House of Michigan. Oregon was 4-1 and ranked No. 9 in the country. Colvin had 20 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns. He was poised to have a banner season along with the team.

Everything was set up for the team to make a run to the Rose Bowl and perhaps more. The Ducks defeated Washington State 53-7 to go 5-1, but it came at a costly price. Colvin broke his ankle on a bubble screen where a defender rolled over on it.

His season and college career were over.

Colvin wasn’t the only Duck to go down that season. Quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jeremiah Johnson both went out with a knee injuries that derailed Oregon’s national championship possibilities.

“It was devastating,” Colvin said. “Not only for me, but to see so many guys go down. It was our senior year and we were really clicking as a group.”

Colvin is trying to resurrect his football career by playing in Las Vegas for the UFL's Locomotives. (Photo Courtesy: Cam Colvin)

Colvin’s broken ankle was a devastating one. The trainers at Oregon told him it would take eight to 10 months to recover.

“I was like, ‘What?’,” Colvin said. “The (NFL) combine was just four to five months away. I had to recover quickly.”

Colvin did all he could to recover. He even went to a foot specialist in Florida as well as recovering with the training staff at Oregon. When he worked out for the San Francisco 49ers, he still had stitches in his foot.

“They gave me a two-year contract and said they would give me a shot if I recovered,” Colvin said. “But I just didn’t have that same Cam Colvin explosiveness and it’s a business.”

After his release, Colvin took some time off for himself.

“I had to get my body healthy and in the meantime,” he said. “I was able to start my business, Cam Colvin Inc.”

The business ( is a marketing venture, and Colvin has struck deals with such companies as Marvel Comics and Blue Star Jets.

But that was in 2009 and, while the business is thriving, Colvin’s body is healthy. Thus, he’s trying to do what he does best: play football.

Colvin is currently a wide receiver for the Locomotives.  After playing two games, his numbers may not show it, but he is now able to do the things he is used to doing on the gridiron.

“We’re pretty much a running team because we have some outstanding backs,” he said. “There is a lot of NFL talent on this team We also have an amazing coaching staff with Jim Fassel (former New York Giants coach) and receivers coach Tim Rattay (former 49ers quarterback).”

Colvin’s agent has told him that several teams have been looking at him and, if he is able to stay healthy after the UFL’s six-game season, he will get another shot somewhere.

“Right now I’m taking everything day to day and just the cards fall where they may,” he said.

And he’s waiting to see where the track leads him next.

— Don Smalley for EDN

The madness is beginning…


By Sam Finley, EDN

Get out your green and yellow (or black and yellow, if you prefer).  The months of anticipation are about to come to a halt.  Yes, it is hard to believe, but Oregon’s football season is just over three weeks away.  In about two weeks, I’ll give a prediction for how I think the Ducks will do this season.  But not today.

No, this time, I’ll simply discuss what I’m looking forward to this year and why. So let’s start with one of my favorite things to do during any given season:  Talk to Oregon’s defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.  Journalists always love it when they can ask a guy one question, and he gives them an answer that could cover their whole story.

Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti can talk with the best of them. (Photo Courtesy: Eric Evans).

Aliotti never fails to disappoint in this category. The guy loves to talk at great length, and even if his defense isn’t playing well, he always tries to stay in good spirits when talking to the press.  Moreover, he’s always willing to at least give you a minute of his time, even when he is in a hurry.

But from a personal standpoint, I suppose I really like talking to coach Aliotti because of something he said to me last summer.  I was interviewing him in his office, and he told me that he was glad to sit down with me, because I had always been fair with him.  That may not seem like much of a compliment, but to a journalist, it tells you that someone has been impressed with how you conduct yourself at games and practices.  Thus, it is the highest honor a frequent interviewee can pay the interviewer.

Another thing I’m looking forward to this season is something we might as well expect to be coming our way once or twice before it’s all over:  ESPN GameDay.  When they bring their crew to your town to do their show, it means the biggest matchup in college football is being played in Autzen Stadium.

Yes, the GameDay crowds can get a little crazy at times, but it’s a good kind of crazy.  It is a chance for quacker backers to prove why they have one of the best fan bases in the country.

Of course, you also have to love it when ESPN GameDay comes here, because of Lee Corso.  It amazes me that so many people can remain entertained by the same act done over and over again:  During the game predictions segment, Lee will always put on the Duck mascot head, confirming he expects Oregon to win the game.

I suppose that it has less to do with the result of the action, as much as how he’ll perform it.  Will he do it in the crowd surrounded by cheerleaders and then ride off on a motorcycle?  Or will he simply sit at the desk with the rest of the crew and don the head right there and then?  Nonetheless, it is an act that never gets old.

But in all honesty, I’ll tell you the real reason I like it when GameDay comes to town:  It is a great excuse to get your picture taken with the folks like Corso, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Desmond Howard.  Truthfully, I have yet to have my picture taken with any of these guys, and that’s because I was making sure I had my spot secured for a snapshot with Erin Andrews.  A guy has to have his priorities, right?

Yours truly with ESPN's Erin Andrews. Poor me, huh? (Photo Courtesy: Michael Konowitz).

Seriously, if you really want to know what I’m looking forward to this year, it is the overall journey that takes place.  It is possible that the opening game against LSU in Dallas will tell us everything about the 2011 campaign for the Ducks, win or lose.  But it is also possible, that like the debacle at Boise State two years ago, it could tell us nothing. (I mean, was anyone thinking that season would end with them playing in the Rose Bowl at the time?  Probably not).

There are going to be some seasons like 2009, when the team is going to start slow and still find a way to get it together for greater heights.  There will also be others where the team, like in 2002, could start fast with a 6-0 record and a number six national ranking, only to have a fatal flaw (like an undersized secondary) eventually cause them to finish 7-6.  And then there are years like last year, where the Ducks were able to run the regular season table and have the chance to play for the national championship.

However, even in that latter case, it’s not like Oregon played perfect in every game.  Sure, they were able to plant 50 or more points on the scoreboard against teams like Stanford and USC.  But they also had to grind it out against Cal to the very last second, and it took them a half against Arizona and Oregon State before they made the necessary adjusments and make just enough plays to win the game.

If every game was truly a sure thing, why would we even bother to watch?  I can tell you what is likely to happen, but the truth is no one knows until the event is played.  It is because there is always a sliver of doubt in every contest that we get so passionately involved in the final outcome.  And it is also why, in the end, win or lose, we simply need to enjoy the journey.  Otherwise, there is no fun in sitting in the bleachers. 

Sam Finley became the EDN sports editor in June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback.


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