Oregon Ducks: 3-point stance

3-point stance: No help needed

April, 8, 2014
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1. Northwestern has played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully. The university never blamed its student-athletes. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gone public with his opposition to the union, but has done so with facts and without histrionics. The last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization "grossly inappropriate." Emmert has been an ineffective reformer. He lost a lot of credibility by railroading Penn State before he had the facts. He could best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April.

2. Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann said it would be great if the Newark Star-Ledger went out of business. Hermann doesn't like what one columnist writes about her. The Star-Ledger last week laid off 167 people in her state. You would think an athletic official who has been accused of verbal abuse in the past would think twice before lashing out. Whatever justification Hermann thought she had to say that, she didn't.

3. I got a tour Monday of the not-quite-one-year-old football building that Phil Knight built for Oregon and I have three words: Oh. Em. Gee. Whatever you heard or read about the spare-no-expense design doesn't do the building justice. Italian leather chairs. German lockers. Brazilian wood floors -- in the weight room. Turkish toilets. (I am leaving a few countries out.) Wall coverings and upholstery of football leather. Hand-painted foosball players. And on. And on. The arms race is over. We have a winner.

1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.
1. It will be weird to see Larry Johnson wearing scarlet and gray. The last coaching connection to Joe Paterno at Penn State has left for Ohio State. Like Ed Orgeron at USC, Johnson auditioned for the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and refused to stay and work for the guy who did. It’s hard to believe that Johnson would set aside 18 years, but egos can be slow to heal. Penn State will pay a price for his departure. Defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn already has decommitted from Penn State for Florida.

2. NCAA President Mark Emmert will deliver his State of the Association address Thursday, and the title of the speech alone speaks to the pomposity that the NCAA needs to reduce. How Emmert survived the mess his administration made of things at Penn State and Miami is beyond belief; his inability to push through the increase in benefits to student-athletes he has championed for three years is another poor grade on his report card. Perhaps his remarks Thursday can begin to turn around a disappointing tenure.

3. The first thing to leap out about the Pac-12 schedule announced last week is how well things set up for Oregon. Three of the Ducks’ toughest opponents -- Michigan State, Washington and Stanford -- come to Eugene; the Pac-12 South teams that Oregon skips are defending division champ Arizona State and USC; and the toughest road games are at UCLA and at Oregon State. The intersectional game against the Spartans in Week 2 will serve as a national stage for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Let the Heisman talk begin.
1. As of last Monday, Florida State had closed the gap between itself and the SEC. As of Tuesday, the gap opened again, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving the Seminoles for the same job at Georgia. The reason why? S-E-C (Serious Extraordinary Cash): a three-year, $2.55 million deal, about half again as much as Pruitt made in Tallahassee. As they say down there, it’s just bidness, and that’s a huge illustration of the catch-up that Florida State has to play at that level.

2. Two other points re the Pruitt hire: One, the fact that Georgia gave him a three-year deal is a good indication that head coach Mark Richt plans to stay at least that long, a good sign for the Dawgs; two, if Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing the Alabama-style defense, then I don’t know where else he turns other than his defensive ends coach, Sal Sunseri, who has worked for Nick Saban for four seasons, most recently from 2009-11.

3. Given that Oregon has had success promoting from within, it’s no surprise that the Ducks’ longtime linebackers coach, Don Pellum, succeeds Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator. Pellum has spent 25 years of his 29-year career on the Oregon staff. He is a good teacher, a good communicator, and surely will be the best-dressed defensive coordinator on the West Coast (if not the East). Pellum’s promotion will minimize the disruption at Oregon, which promoted Mark Helfrich to head coach a year ago.

3-point stance: Mariota puts on a show

December, 31, 2013
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1. The Marcus Mariota we saw for two-and-a-half quarters Monday evening before cramps took away his running game is the Oregon quarterback who made it deep into October as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Mariota is a good passer who can improve. Mariota on healthy wheels makes the Duck offense lethal. He and Jameis Winston will get the bulk of the offseason attention. With good reason.

2. The Pac-12 went into the National University Holiday Bowl on Monday night with a 4-1 bowl record, which means the league was a Washington State last-minute meltdown in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl away from a perfect record. You can argue that the matchups favored the Pac-12 teams and you would be correct. But that shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding year the league had. And with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington, the Pac-12 just got tougher.

3. The Seattle Times reports that Petersen asked Marques Tuiasosopo to stay at Washington, where he had been quarterback coach, where he remains the last quarterback to win a Rose Bowl. And Tuiasosopo wants to go with Steve Sarkisian to be USC’s tight ends coach. Maybe Tuiasosopo wants to flesh out his resume and show he will coach anywhere. Maybe Sarkisian knows how to keep a staff together. It wouldn’t be a long-term blow to Petersen. But it underlines the change that has come to U-Dub.

3-point stance: Cheers to Aliotti

December, 30, 2013
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1. College football will be a lot duller Tuesday because Nick Aliotti will have coached his last game as the Oregon defensive coordinator. Aliotti has done a terrific job under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Last spring, newly a grandfather, Aliotti sounded like a guy who could live without the game. “Football doesn’t define me. It’s what I do for a living,” Aliotti said. “I just happen to be a football coach. Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t need people to interview me. To be honest with you, I’d be perfectly happy to be on the golf course, just being with my wife and my kids.”

2. The difference between a winning season and a losing season? It will be hard to find one snap more important in any bowl than Syracuse freshman Brisly Estime's 70-yard punt return to the Minnesota 14. Estime’s return with 2:00 to play set up the Orange’s winning touchdown in a thrilling 21-17 victory in the Texas Bowl. The Golden Gophers dominated the fourth quarter to that point, fighting back from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead. The best part? It was only Estime’s fourth punt return this season.

3. Miami had a 6-0 record and a No. 7 ranking when the NCAA announced in October that the Hurricanes’ sanctions would include no more bowl bans. Without that NCAA sword hanging above the Canes, they could realize their ambitions, right? Not with this defense. Miami lost four of its last six games, bookending 27-point losses to Florida State and Louisville around 18-point losses to Virginia Tech and Duke. Al Golden can now recruit without having to worry about what the NCAA will do. He needs to.

3-point stance: Blame it on geography

December, 9, 2013
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1. Oregon finished 10th in the final BCS standings, the fifth consecutive year in which the Ducks finished the regular season in the top 10. But Oregon’s streak of BCS bowl invitations stopped at four. The reason? Bad geographical luck. This year, the Tostitos Fiesta had the last pick among the BCS bowls. The Discover Orange took No. 12 Clemson from the ACC, the Orange’s host conference. The Allstate Sugar took No. 11 Oklahoma, a lot closer to New Orleans than Eugene is. If the Fiesta had an earlier pick, No. 15 UCF would be playing closer to home instead of Arizona.

2. College football is played by young men who are faster and bigger than any who have come before them. It is coached by men who have more information at their fingertips than has ever been available. And yet, if nothing else, the 2013 season proved that college football has never been more unpredictable. Auburn, Missouri and Duke were all picked to finished fifth or lower in their divisions. Baylor was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. I can’t explain it, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

3. My three favorite bowls other than the BCS Championship Game: a) the Rose Bowl -- No. 4 Michigan State and No. 5 Stanford play similar throwback styles. Fedoras welcome; b) the AT&T Cotton -- No. 8 Missouri (highest-ranked non-BCS bowl team) and No. 13 Oklahoma State features two explosive offenses and two physical defenses; c) AdvoCare V100 Bowl -- the tailbacks at Arizona and Boston College, Ka’Deem Carey and Andre Williams, respectively, combined to rush for 3,818 yards and 34 touchdowns.

3-point stance: Oregon's trap game?

November, 18, 2013
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1. In the 11th game of last season, Oregon lost to Stanford, 17-14, in overtime. In the 11th game in 2011, Oregon lost to USC, 38-35. In the 11th game in 2009, Oregon held on to win at Arizona, 44-41, in three overtimes. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told me that in April. The coaches didn’t have a reason, other than fatigue or overconfidence. But they are aware of it. If Oregon looks flat at Arizona this week, it won’t be from falling into the same trap.

2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.

3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.

3-point stance: BCS shakeout begins

November, 8, 2013
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1. For two months, Baylor's point-a-minute-plus offense begged the question of quality of opponent. November arrived, and the Bears answered that question with authority. The 41-12 defeat of No. 10 Oklahoma should allow Baylor to slip into Oregon's chair in the BCS debate. The Sooners, meanwhile, have a question to answer. Where are they going to find a quarterback?

2. In preparing for Oregon, Stanford head coach David Shaw watched the Cardinal's last five games against them. The lack of turnover in their coaching staff makes it worth his time, Shaw said. "Just looking at things that they changed, things that we changed, things that maybe worked before, or things that didn't work before that we don't need to try again," Shaw said. Anyone else that Shaw delves that deep into history? "For nobody except these guys."

3. The convincing nature of No. 6 Baylor's victory, and that undefeated record, makes it conceivable the Bears will leapfrog the No. 5 Cardinal in the BCS ratings Sunday. Stanford solidified its position as the top one-loss team. And, of course No. 2 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State will benefit from the Ducks' loss. The BCS race is only starting to get interesting. All the handwringing about a surplus of undefeated teams is a waste of energy. There are five Saturdays left.

3-point stance: Losing parallels

November, 7, 2013
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1. History provides parallels of sort to the possible demise of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in their big games this week. No. 2 Oregon, with a quarterback who was the Heisman favorite, lost on the road in November 2007. But that was at Arizona, not Stanford, and quarterback Dennis Dixon had a torn ACL when the game began (the knee gave out in the first half). The last time the No. 1 Crimson Tide was a two-time defending national champion, 1980, the Tide made it into November with ranking intact before losing an SEC game, 6-3. But that was at Mississippi State, not home against LSU.

2. A Georgia Tech fan on my chat Wednesday asked if the Yellow Jackets had hit a ceiling with Paul Johnson and his option offense. Georgia Tech is 6-3 as it prepares to play No. 7 Clemson. But no one wants to play an option team -- ever. A week after Pitt lost to Georgia Tech, 21-10, and Notre Dame edged Navy and its option, 38-34, the Panthers and Fighting Irish play. The first thing Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Tuesday? “I know for both teams, we're excited about getting away from the option offense that we have both seen over the last couple of weeks.” Exactly.

3. One of the most intriguing stories this month will be whether Duke -- yes, Duke -- can win the ACC Coastal. The Blue Devils are 6-2, 2-2 in the league, and with their victory over Virginia Tech, in the thick of the division race. A year ago, Duke started the season 6-2 – and finished 6-7. Unlike last year, the Blue Devils enjoyed an off week before they hit November. “It gave us time to talk about what lies in front of us,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Everybody’s aware on this team of what happened a year ago. We didn’t win. We had all the losses, but it’s easy to forget that we played good football in November.”

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.

3-point stance: Florida State is back

October, 21, 2013
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1. We are fooled easily in the excitement of the moment. Yet Florida State so dominated at Clemson that the 51-14 victory will be one of the seminal moments of the season. It will mark the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in prime time, literally and otherwise. As good as Winston played, the Florida State defense played better. The Seminoles are back, and what better time? The university that dumped Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden four years ago will honor him this Saturday.

2. The one complaint against the makeup of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that has merit is that West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, at age 53, is the youngest member. It makes sense that the commissioners wanted gravitas on the committee, and with the presence of members such as Tom Osborne, Mike Tranghese and Pat Haden, they have it. But they made room for a woman and a retired sportswriter. However hard they searched for a member under 40, they should have looked again.

3. The old protocols are butting heads with the new spread offenses, and everyone is groping for the right way to act. Should the offense throw when it’s way ahead? Baylor is averaging 64.7 points per game, and judging by the Bears’ No. 8 ranking, no one is holding that against them. Should the offense throw if it’s way behind? Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti ripped Washington State head coach Mike Leach for throwing 89 times, then apologized last night. No one knows what the rules should be any more.
1. The last unbeaten team in the SEC East is Missouri, and who saw that coming? As much as I have made of head coach Gary Pinkel revamping his team’s practice and training methods, I missed another big reason for the Tigers’ success. In its 41-26 victory at No. 7 Georgia, Missouri started 11 seniors, eight of them fifth-years. That’s how Auburn won the BCS in 2010. It’s a simple plan for success. The hard part is signing the right guys, developing them, keeping them healthy and contributing, and not losing them to the NFL.

2. Think about the most recent round of realignment. In most cases, conferences took teams that, based on history, would struggle to compete against their new opponents. Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12? Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC? But look at what has happened. Utah just beat No. 5 Stanford. Missouri and Texas A&M have played better in the SEC than they did in the Big 12. No, it’s not because the Big 12 is tougher. Those programs, infused with new income and a new incentive to compete, have stepped up their games. Sue me -- even Colorado is better.

3. We pointed out last week that as well as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has played, he hasn’t played with a game on the line, because the No. 2 Ducks have been too dominant. Through five games, Mariota hadn’t even thrown a pass in the fourth quarter. At No. 16 Washington on Saturday, Oregon began the fourth quarter with a 31-24 lead. From that point on, Mariota went 5-for-6 for 75 yards and a touchdown, and rushed five times for 33 yards and a score. Oregon won, 45-24. He has been the best player in college football over the first half of the season.

3-point stance: Oregon’s road test

October, 10, 2013
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1. Oregon plays its first ranked opponent this season when it goes to play its biggest out-of-state rival, No. 16 Washington. Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota is in the middle of setting a school record, having thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to the 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Here’s a streak that may end Saturday: Mariota has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter in five games this season.

2. The story broke Thursday that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play in 2016 somewhere within the 160,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s safe to say that the game will set the modern attendance record, which Michigan raised to 115,109 earlier this season when Notre Dame made its last scheduled Big House appearance. However, the all-time record remains the estimated 120,000 who jammed into Soldier Field in Chicago for the first Notre Dame-USC game in the Midwest. The Irish won, 7-6, in 1927.

3. A lot of Texas fans date the beginning of the Longhorns’ woes to Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury early in 2009 BCS Championship Game. Austin native Garrett Gilbert replaced McCoy and acquitted himself well for a true freshman in that setting. But Gilbert proved prone to the big mistake, and he transferred last season to SMU. Last Saturday, Gilbert completed 45-of-70 passes for 484 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the three-overtime loss to Rutgers. That’s the type of game everyone thought was in him.

3-point stance: Breaking down Baylor

October, 7, 2013
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1. Baylor’s offensive numbers challenge history and strain credulity. The 4-0 Bears are averaging 779.5 yards per game. They are the first team to score 70 points in three consecutive games since 1930 (and scored 69 in their opener). But those pale in comparison to the most impressive statistic to me. Through 61 possessions, Baylor has yet to snap three downs and punt. They did turn the ball over once before making a first down, and they’ve had a couple of end-of-half knee-downs. But no three-and-out punts. That is mind-boggling.

2. Miami (Ohio) and Mike Haywood must think of 2010 as a fever dream. The RedHawks went from 1-11 in 2009 to 10-4 and the MAC championship in 2010. Haywood, Miami’s head coach, got hired as head coach at Pittsburgh. Within the month, Haywood got fired after a domestic violence arrest. The charges were dismissed but he hasn’t coached again. Miami hired Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell to replace Haywood. Treadwell had a record of 8-21, including an 0-5 mark this season, when Miami fired him Sunday.

3. Oregon has released no details about why tight end Colt Lyerla left the program except that he did so for personal reasons. But this much we know: Lyerla came into the season ranked as the 20th-best player in the Pac-12. He publicly complained about head coach Mark Helfrich. He apologized. And Lyerla, a junior with NFL potential, has made as many catches in 2013 as he has missed games -- two. Lyerla surrendered the chance to play with quarterback Marcus Mariota. No. 2 Oregon, at 5-0, has played well without him.

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