UCLA will test Oregon, but these are the Ducks we expected to see
EUGENE, Ore. -- When the TV cameras finally switched off after a bad night in Boise, many probably figured they'd seen the last of the Oregon Ducks -- aside, of course, from the YouTube clips.
We'd seen the last of Blount, for sure. We wrote off the Ducks, too, after that putrid performance.
But five weeks later, the entire college football season appears headed for a topsy-turvy conclusion -- think 2007 and hold on for the ride. On the basis of its performance in the opener, Boise State ranks sixth and is thinking bigger, but remains concerned about sliding because of a weak remaining schedule.
And Oregon is back in the picture.
Blount is back, too -- well, not quite, but almost. Kelly's decision to reverse his initial ruling is another matter, but if nothing else, we learned Kelly doesn't much care what other people think.
In the last month, we've also learned Kelly and the Ducks weren't what we saw on that Thursday night in Boise. With four straight wins -- including a 39-point undressing of then-No. 6 California -- Oregon has climbed up to 13th in the national rankings; Kelly has restored his reputation as an offensive mastermind, and people are beginning to think he might just be a pretty good successor to
Combined with the evidence that USC is mortal, Oregon looks like a serious Pac-10 contender.
"We always knew we were this good," quarterback
Maybe the rest of us should wait to make that determination, at least until the Ducks travel to UCLA on Saturday afternoon. Oregon's resurgence has been impressive -- especially in the last two games -- but it's taken place in friendly confines of Autzen Stadium. Oregon hasn't been on the road since Boise.
"That's the next challenge for this team," Kelly said. "Last time we didn't play very well on the road. I think we're a little bit older, a little bit more mature, but it's going to be a test."
More importantly, injuries are suddenly a concern. Senior cornerback
And Masoli, who recovered after a shaky first quarter of the season, injured his right knee late in the second quarter last week against Washington State. The Ducks have been coy with injury information, but Masoli isn't expected to play much, if at all, against UCLA.
With the Ducks facing the Bruins with a completely rebuilt defensive secondary and a first-time starter at quarterback, this Rose Bowl talk could be very premature.
Certainly Kelly, whose motto is "every week's a new season," would think so. But when you consider how the first week, or first season -- whatever -- went for the Ducks, it's been an impressive run.
Since the opener, much of the news emanating from Oregon has been made off the field. Or in Blount's case, coming off the field.
Kelly suspended Blount for the season. But last week, he reversed the decision, announcing a plan that would provide the chance for reinstatement and briefly restarting the controversy (and sending everyone back to YouTube).
There was also the report that Kelly had sent $439 to an angry fan for his travel expenses to Boise. Think Oregon football, and it's been about the sideshow. And for once, we're not talking uniforms (against Cal, they even wore retro uniforms that were, well, normal).
With less publicity, the Ducks began putting the pieces together on the field, too. Here's what happened: Kelly returned from Boise, and he evaluated every part of the operation, and ... he didn't change much of anything.
"We didn't panic," Kelly said. "We didn't flinch."
Kelly stuck with his plan, even as the program appeared to be listing badly. He plugged in a redshirt freshman to replace Blount, and the smaller, quicker
Society, Kelly said, might be all about the "quick fix ... but football isn't."
Nothing seemed smooth. Oregon lurched and sputtered. The Ducks edged Purdue thanks to two defensive touchdowns and a failed two-point conversion attempt. They held off Utah, but needed late interceptions to do so.
Against the Utes, Masoli --
But as talk shows and message boards lit up, calling for veteran backup
"He did exactly what everyone knew he could do," Costa said.
Could it be the Ducks are only doing what everyone suspected they could, before the bad night in Boise? Because on second glance, there's a lot to like about this team, starting with the schedule. The four-game home stand proved vitally important in helping a young, fragile team regroup and evolve, and the remainder of the schedule favors a run at the Rose Bowl.
After UCLA, the Ducks have a bye next weekend, providing Masoli time to heal before traveling to Washington. Then the Ducks host USC on Halloween night. You think Autzen Stadium might get rowdy?
Win then, and you have to figure the opening-night flop might finally fade from everyone's minds.
"The only thing that's going to fix that is if we go out and get the Rose Bowl, or a BCS game," tight end
At the very least, the Ducks have positioned themselves to make that run at redemption. After that bad night in Boise, few would have believed it was possible.