Oregon Ducks: LaMichael James

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.

Offense

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.

Defense

LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.
Last year’s Stanford-Oregon game didn’t just break the mold of the rivalry’s previous three matchups. It detonated it with an ordnance of smothering defense and glacial tempo.

Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win was a stark contrast to how the previous meetings had played out since 2009 -- the first game that featured both David Shaw and Mark Helfrich on their respective sidelines.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe trend of high-scoring Stanford-Oregon games was halted last season, as Marcus Mariota and the Ducks couldn't get on track.
No. 3 Oregon takes its nation-leading 18-game road winning streak to No. 5 Stanford Thursday night in a true clash of schematic styles. And there are lessons to be learned from some of the recent matchups -- trends and themes that paint a picture of what could transpire Thursday night.

The teams have split their past four meetings, with Stanford winning at home in 2009 and on the road in 2012. Oregon won back-to-back games in 2010 in Eugene, Ore., and 2011 in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the three games prior to last season, the winning team had scored at least 51 points and the loser had scored at least 30. The margin of victory was at least nine points. It was an annual offensive feast worthy of a league known for putting up points.

But last year’s game flipped the script as the offenses took a backseat to trench warfare, making every point a premium.

“Each game is its own entity,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was offensive coordinator for the previous four matchups. “One big thing is our programs are a lot more similar than they are different from a number of perspectives. Their offense is different from our offense. But we’re similar in the fact of playing with heart -- playing fundamentally sound. We recruit a lot of the same people.

“But at some point it’s going to come down to our best person and their best person in space or in tight.”

Clichés become clichés for a reason. Some coach somewhere once said “big-time players make big-time plays” and everyone thought it was a profound statement at the time. Then more and more coaches started saying it and the meaning dulled. And in the case of Stanford-Oregon, it’s cliché, but true.

The past four meetings have all been defined by outstanding individual performances. Some were statistically sensational: Toby Gerhart’s 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 2009; LaMichael James' 257 yards and three touchdowns a year later; James again in 2011; and Zach Ertz in 2012.

Others were more understated. But regardless of the total points scored, it still comes down to players making plays.

“The biggest one is, and I hate to put it on one side of the ball because it is a complete game, but when we make the open-field tackles and don’t miss them, we have a chance,” Shaw said. “And then the two wins, the common denominator is making big plays. Toby Gerhart ripping off some big runs. Chris Owusu had a huge touchdown pass. Ryan Whalen had a huge catch to get us in the end zone. Zach Ertz last year was huge. Then Kevin Hogan's mobility. He ran for a touchdown and could escape and slide and find Zach off schedule. Defensively, we have to make those open-field tackles and line up and not be out of position.”

Thursday’s showdown is a true struggle of strength versus strength when you consider the following:

  • Oregon hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in its past 10 games -- the last time coming in the 17-14 loss to Stanford last season.
  • Stanford hasn’t allowed more than 30 points in its past 17 games, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
  • The Ducks have won 18 straight on the road -- their last loss coming to Stanford in 2009.
  • Stanford has won 13 straight at home, its last loss in Palo Alto coming to Oregon in 2011.

There are dozens of notable sidebars to this matchup. Obviously, Stanford’s defense versus Oregon’s offense is the storyline that garners the most attention. But this is also a Heisman showcase game for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, just as it was for Andrew Luck in the 2011 loss to the Ducks. There are the recent struggles of Stanford’s offense and the inconsistencies of Hogan, who made his first career road start last year at Autzen and was lauded as one of the game’s heroes for his poise on the grand stage. There is Oregon’s defense -- so smothering and so in the shadow of the offense.

Stanford’s top priority is and always will be to stop the run. But the Ducks have also developed a dangerous downfield passing attack that wasn’t as developed last season. No Oregon wide receiver had more than 500 receiving yards last season. This season Josh Huff (703) and Bralon Addison (609) give the Ducks' offense an added dimension that Stanford will have to account for. And then there is the always-accurate Mariota, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the first half of last season's Stanford game.

Defensively, the Cardinal are very good at getting to the quarterback without having to send extra blitzers. No team in the country has more sacks over the past two years when sending four or fewer rushers at the quarterback.

“They have some guys up front that really try to control the line of scrimmage,” Mariota said. “They have done an awesome job all year of being physical. But I think our offensive line is up to the challenge. They are going to go out and play their best and we’ll do our best at executing.”

The recent past between these teams might not be entirely prologue. But history tells us that big-time players will make big-time plays -- if you'll pardon the cliché.

And on the 27th month, the NCAA shall speak on Oregon, Chip Kelly and L'Affaire de Willie Lyles.

And those pronouncement will produce... what?

Will the sanctions prove harsher than expected, thereby poleaxing the Ducks off their newfound perch among the nation's elite? Or will the sanctions prove manageable, perhaps causing discomfort but not ending the Ducks' quasi-dynastic run in the Pac-12?

We shall see. Folks in Eugene have been consistently optimistic, and it would rate a surprise if Oregon is hammered. Still, you never know with the NCAA.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) will announce its findings in a teleconference with reporters at 11 a.m. ET. The man who shall describe the Ducks' sanction fate will be Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC.

SEC? Uh oh. (Of course, we kid!)

The committee's full report will be released to the media 30 minutes before the teleconference.

Oregon's troubles began in March 2011 when Yahoo! reported the Ducks made payments to dubious Texas-based scouting service operator Willie Lyles, who had close ties to several Ducks recruits, most notably running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk. Things got murkier when it was discovered that Oregon apparently received very little of value for its $25,000.

Yet the NCAA rules on the use of scouting services at the time were vague enough that Oregon could claim it was operating in a gray area. This became one of the complicating elements as the school attempted to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA. That and the fact Lyles had significant relationships with several other schools, schools that had not been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.

Oregon agreed to seven major rules violations, and in October offered to self-impose several penalties, including the loss of three scholarships over three years, recruiting limitations and two years of probation.

The COI, however, rejected the attempt to reach a summary judgment, which forced Oregon officials, including former coach Chip Kelly, to appear before the committee in late April in Dallas.

"We have been informed by the NCAA that the Committee on Infractions report on the University of Oregon will be released tomorrow," the Oregon athletic department wrote in a statement. "Until we have received and reviewed the report we will not comment."

Oregon will have 15 days in which to file an appeal if it is unhappy with the ruling.

As for the severity of the penalties, it's difficult to guess, but Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard makes a good point here:

In a statement that accompanied the October 2012 summary disposition proposal, the Ducks acknowledged that “errors were made and that we will improve” but also that “our coaches did nothing to intentionally gain unfair advantages.”

The NCAA’s enforcement staff -- essentially the prosecutor, while the Committee on Infractions was judge and jury -- agreed during the summary disposition attempt that “the violations were not intentional in nature.” But it also argued that the Ducks nevertheless had “an obligation to ensure that the activities being engaged in comply with NCAA legislation.”

"Intention" matters, and finding a lack thereof is good for Oregon.

It's also notable that the NCAA enforcement staff didn't yoke Oregon with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, instead going with the less worrisome "failure to monitor."

On the other hand, Oregon may fall under repeat violator status due to a 2004 case that was ruled a major violation after assistant coach Gary Campbell, who is still on staff, had improper conduct in the recruitment of running back J.J. Arrington.

Oregon folks would contend the NCAA taking more than two years to resolve this matter is a penalty in itself, with the glacial pace of an investigation allowing a dark cloud of the unknown to shadow the school for an extended period of time.

That dark cloud of the unknown, however, will be removed Wednesday. Whether it gives way to a tornado of sanctions or sunny skies -- or something in between -- remains to be seen.


Oregon UniformsUSA TODAY SportsQuarterback Marcus Mariota, wide receiver Keanon Lowe and running back De'Anthony Thomas are all possibilities to leave Oregon early for the NFL.

The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2013 season having lost a possible top-five pick to the NFL draft, the No. 2 rusher in the Ducks' history and two all-league linebackers. The loss of Dion Jordan, Kenjon Barner, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will hurt, but potential losses after the 2013 season could sting a lot more.

The 2013 recruiting class was solid, but not spectacular. Next year, the potential of losing De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Hroniss Grasu and Colt Lyerla early to the NFL would be a huge blow to the Ducks as they try and continue their run of BCS appearances. The Ducks will definitely lose three impact players on the defensive line, two safeties, a linebacker and star wide receiver Josh Huff to graduation.

With heavy losses ahead, the Ducks must land a strong recruiting class in 2014. There are negatives to having a roster loaded with NFL talent, and the Ducks are about to learn that the hard way.


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Signing day primer: Oregon 

January, 23, 2013
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With national signing day exactly two weeks from today, DuckNation looks ahead to what Oregon has coming and who the Ducks still need and why.


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Despite all of Oregon's success on the field and the recruiting trail, like all other teams, the Ducks have had their share of misses. For a variety of reasons, some hyped recruits have not panned out.

Here's a look at five recruiting misses from recent Oregon history:

1. Texas running backs

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Haloti NgataG Fiume/Getty ImagesHaloti Ngata lived up to his five-star hype at Oregon and brought that success to the NFL.

For those Oregon fans who worry about how many commitments the Ducks have at this point in the recruiting cycle, all they need to do is take a look back over the past decade or so, starting with the 2002 recruiting class, when the Ducks landed some guy named Haloti Ngata on signing day.

With a handful of spots to fill in the class of 2013, DuckNation decided to take a look back at who the Ducks have added in the final weeks of the recruiting cycle in each year since 2003.


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After a solid run of success recruiting in Texas in recent years, can Oregon do it again this year?

[+] EnlargeTorrodney Prevot
Scott Fink for ESPN.comThe Ducks might not be able to get USC commit Torrodney Prevot, but they've established a Texas recruiting pipeline.
The biggest recruiting splash the Ducks have made in the Lone Star State has been at running back. In 2008, it was LaMichael James. In 2010, it was Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams. In 2011, the Ducks went back to James' alma mater to sign Tra Carson, who broke all of his predecessor's records in high school.

Seastrunk, Williams and Carson all transferred after just one year at Oregon, but James left a trail for others to follow. And that's exactly what they've done. Last year, the Ducks flipped WR Bralon Addison from Texas A&M on signing day. They also convinced his cousin, WR Chance Allen, to flip from Oklahoma State.

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A closer look: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 27, 2012
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As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL

No. 5 Kansas State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Oregon (11-1)

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Kansas State: Bill Snyder's boys proved they could get over a painful Baylor loss. With the Big 12 title in the balance, K-State thrashed Texas with a second-half surge to win the Big 12 title on its home field. K-State made the first 10 games of the season look pretty easy, even with close wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road. The Wildcats largely controlled both games but blew out a whole bunch of 7-5 Big 12 teams like West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have a great case as the best K-State team ever, even though a painful loss to Baylor cost them what looked like a really likely shot at a national title after reaching No. 1 in the BCS for the first time ever after a win at TCU. This was K-State's first Big 12 title since 2003 but the first time it's truly been the Big 12's best team throughout the regular season since 1998.

About Oregon: The Ducks are all about go, go, go and this season's been no exception. The run-heavy offense didn't miss a beat without LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. We'll talk about the Ducks trio more a little later, but Oregon nearly reached the national title game for the second time in three years before a painful overtime loss to Oregon's super offense's kryptonite: Stanford. The Ducks hadn't scored fewer than 42 points all season. Stanford held them to just 14 in an overtime loss the same night K-State lost to Baylor. The teams were No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS on Nov. 17, poised to block the SEC from playing for a seventh straight national title, but the loss also cost Oregon a bid to the Pac-12 championship and a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth. Instead, the Ducks are headed to the desert where they lost to Auburn in the title game two years ago. The Ducks are 4-1 against top 25 teams, but haven't played anyone ranked higher than No. 13, which was Stanford. Those four wins, though, came by an average of almost 29 points.

Wildcats to watch: In case you missed the second half of the Wildcats' win over Oklahoma State, Heisman finalist Collin Klein is K-State's offense. Receiver Chris Harper and running back John Hubert are fine talents in their own right, but Klein is the man who makes it all go. When he's out or plays poorly like he did against TCU and Baylor (performances that ultimately cost him the Heisman Trophy), K-State can look very, very average offensively. Linebacker and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown has led one of the Big 12's best defenses along with cornerback Nigel Malone and big-time pass-rusher Meshak Williams.

Ducks to watch: How many players on any team ever have had three different players earn legitimate Heisman hype at some point during the season? Scatback De'Anthony Thomas was an early-season splash before slowing with limited touches as the season moved forward, though Kenjon Barner emerged as the team's best back throughout the season. In the middle of the season, though, quarterback Marcus Mariota landed on a few ballots with some big games, too. Barner is the team's best player, ranking fifth nationally with 1,624 rushing yards, but Mariota's passer rating of 165.36 is higher than every Big 12 quarterback but J.W. Walsh. Linebacker Michael Clay racked up 92 tackles and fellow backer Kiko Alonso led the team with 12 tackles for loss (two defensive linemen, Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart, combined for 20.5), but let's be honest: It's all about the offense on this squad.

Did you know? Because of expansion quirks, there have been six Big 12 teams to play in this game in the past five years. No Big 12 team won the game from 2001-08, but the league is 3-1 in the game in the past four seasons, including huge wins over No. 10 Ohio State and No. 4 Stanford over that stretch. (There were also rumors of a win over a five-loss team from somewhere in the Northeast, but I don't know anything about that.)

More on the Big 12 Bowls:

Oregon recruiting: Quick hitters 

November, 27, 2012
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With their 48-24 victory in the "Civil War" on Saturday, the Ducks capped off another regular season that gave fans and the rest of the country plenty of reasons to believe Oregon isn't going anywhere.

The Ducks lost game-breakers LaMichael James and Darron Thomas without losing a step. In fact, they may be even better. With another strong close to a recruiting cycle, the Ducks should be able to stay at the top of college football.

[+] EnlargeThomas Duarte
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comOregon TE target Thomas Duarte is hoping to lead Mater Dei to a CIF Southern Section Pac-5 title this weekend.
While many fans are still upset about the Stanford loss, it hasn't had any effect on recruits who are considering the Ducks. Two of Oregon's remaining targets were visiting Oregon State over the weekend. What they saw was the Ducks win their third straight game in Corvallis.

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Kiper: Kenjon Barner's pro prospects

November, 26, 2012
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Mel Kiper and Todd McShay evaluate the NFL potential of all the Heisman Trophy contenders. Kiper breaks down the game of Kenjon Barner, comparing him to former Duck LaMichael James.

Click hereInsider to read the full report on Barner and the rest of the Heisman candidates.
Oregon DucksHarry How/Getty ImagesFormer Houston Aldine star Darron Thomas, whose 66 TD passes are an Oregon record, was a spark for the Ducks' offense as a two-year starter before opting to go pro at the end of last season.

The Ducks have never had the benefit of loading up on local players who grew up dreaming of playing for the them. The talent level just isn't there. The truth is, it likely never will be. The Ducks have always recruited California as well as they can be expected to. In recent years, the Ducks have done a great job of going into states such as Texas to secure commitments from some top players.

The Oregon football program is basically the exact opposite of the Texas Longhorns' program. Texas has tradition, Heisman Trophies, national championships and dozens of recruits who come knocking at their door, begging to play for one of the most iconic college football programs in history. Oregon has no national championships, no Heisman Trophies and less than a handful of in-state recruits to choose from each year.

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After a second straight offensive masterpiece in the LA Coliseum, the Oregon Ducks have now won four of the past six meetings with USC. Since Oregon's modern era of football began in 1994, the Ducks have won nine of the 15 meetings with the Trojans. In that same time period, USC has beaten the Ducks for numerous recruits. With all of USC's success on the recruiting trail and its ideal location, how have the Ducks been able to have the edge on the field?

[+] EnlargeHerman Lathers
AP Photo/Wade PayneLaMichael James was a two-star recruit, but starred at Oregon.
Oregon's success can be attributed to coaching, player development and finding the right players who buy in to the system. In spite of all the flash and recent success, the Ducks still have to fight harder for recruits than nearly every program out there. Having unlimited recruits within a couple of hours drive of your campus gives programs like USC a built-in advantage that can't be understated.

Each year, USC could essentially pick a recruiting class full of elite prospects who grew up dreaming of playing for the traditional powerhouse. On the other hand, the Ducks usually have two or three local recruits to choose from.

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LOS ANGELES -- Oregon turned in a singular, historic offensive performance against USC in the Ducks' 62-51 victory on Saturday in front of 93,607 fans in the Coliseum. No team has ever gained 730 yards or scored 62 points on the Trojans.

That's in 120 years of football. Heck, it's 107 yards more than Notre Dame piled up in 1946 in setting the mark that lasted 66 years.

The man at the center of this Ducks feeding frenzy is an unassuming guy who just earned his emphatic "hello world" moment: Running back Kenjon Barner. And by "hello world," we mean, "Here's your ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."

Said one observer, "I think that he's the best player -- that's singular, not plural. I think he deserves the Heisman. He should be right up there with everyone else. He's been doing it day in and day out. If they weren't beating people so bad, he'd probably have 2,000 yards right now. He's great."

That observer would be LaMichael James, a former Ducks running back and Heisman finalist himself, and he was reacting to Barner shattering James' team single-game rushing record of 288 yards, set last year against Arizona. Shattering? Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against a Trojans' run defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the country, giving up 123 yards per game. That defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns in its previous eight games.

Barner and James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, just happen to be best buddies who talk frequently.

"I'm happy that he broke that record," James said. "Anytime your best friend can break your record, it means more. It's like, 'Man, my record got broken. But Kenjon broke it, so it's OK.'"

Barner entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in rushing. He now has 1,295 yards on the ground, and his 143.88 yards per game would have ranked second last week. He now averages 7.23 yards per carry and has scored 19 touchdowns, numbers that will rank among the very best in the nation this week.

With a potential injury to Collin Klein, Kansas State's multi-talented field general, it's possible Barner could even become a threat for the Heisman front-runner position.

Barner, who also caught two passes for 26 yards, including a 12-yard reception that converted a key third down in the fourth quarter, would hardly rate as euphoric after the game. He didn't seem too surprised with the way his and the Ducks offense's evening went.

"I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. People doubt, I don't," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what this team is capable of."

Barner had 169 yards at halftime and 250 yards entering the fourth quarter. Of his 38 carries, he lost yardage on only one.

And, yes, he'd like to get Heisman consideration.

"It would absolutely be meaningful," he said. "Who doesn't want to get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"

Barner's touchdown runs covered 27, 5, 9, 5 and 22 yards. He sliced the Trojans from the outside and diced them inside. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior simply couldn't be stopped.

"He's a warrior -- he's had an unbelievable impact on our team," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's the one leader of [the offense] and he's really embraced that role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, but he lives it. It's the same way in practice.'

And Barner is a true believer in the Tao of Chip Kelly. Ask him about big-picture questions, the kind of query that Kelly knocks away with a smirk, and he doesn't even sniff the bait.

Such as: Did he and the Ducks make a statement by running all over the Trojans?

"There is no statement to be made," he said. "We just come out and play football. If you come out playing with a mindset of your having to make a statement, you're not focused on the task at hand."

At 9-0, and on the cusp of moving up in the BCS standings, Oregon again looks like a national title contender. While Barner won't look past the next weekend, or attempt to sell his team to national pollsters and pundits, he will make clear what he thinks of the 2012 Ducks.

Said Barner, "I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night."

Maybe. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Ducks might be -- again -- the best offensive team in the country. And that Barner may be the best offensive player.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
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Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"

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