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Ducks arrive for bowl prep

Oregon meets TCU in the Alamo Bowl Jan. 2
Dec. 26, 2015 / Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — When the Oregon football team arrived at its hotel for the Alamo Bowl two seasons ago, the Ducks were greeted by a gauntlet of bowl representatives who slapped an endless supply of stickers bearing the bowl’s logo on players’ clothing, luggage … even a forehead or two.

Surely the Ducks’ victory over Texas in that year’s Alamo Bowl was the best memory from the trip. But smaller details like the stickers were memorable too.

And so, when Oregon arrived at the same hotel Saturday, for this year’s Alamo Bowl next weekend against Texas Christian, veterans smiled nostalgic smiles when walking the sticker gauntlet again, while newcomers experienced it for the first time.

“San Antonio is a beautiful place,” senior defensive end DeForest Buckner said. “We’re excited to be back at this bowl game.”

Much more during the upcoming week will feel familiar to Buckner and other veterans who were on hand for the 30-7 victory over Texas in 2013. Oregon’s practices, the first of which will be held Sunday morning, are at the same location, Alamo Heights High School.

There are similar functions for players to enjoy — a San Antonio Spurs game Monday evening, a visit with wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid on Tuesday, and Sea World on Wednesday. It all leads up to next Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. kickoff against the Horned Frogs.

Oregon enters the Alamo Bowl at 9-3 and ranked No. 15, while TCU is 10-2 and ranked 11th.

“We’re playing in a great bowl game against some high-powered competition,” sophomore running back Royce Freeman said.

As they do at home, the Ducks will practice in the late morning this week. They’ll stretch out a normal five-day schedule of game preparation over six days; currently, plans call for Thursday-style non-contact workouts on both Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Inclement weather around Texas caused some travel delays Saturday, but UO coach Mark Helfrich said he expected every player eligible for this season to arrive and participate in Oregon’s preparations this week. Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was one of the players affected by the weather; a few dozen Ducks travelled on the team’s charter from Eugene, but many others scheduled flights directly into San Antonio from their hometowns after spending time with family for the holidays.

Oregon’s schedule for the week also includes a pep rally Thursday, and a trip to the Alamodome for a team photo Friday.

What's Michigan got to do with it?

The Wolverines might be a model for what can happen to a top FB program
Oct. 12, 2015 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

Was that the Oregon football team just a fourth-and-goal conversion from being ranked in the Top 4 earlier in the season?

Wow.

Heading into Saturday’s game at Washington, a program the Ducks haven’t lost to in 11 years, the Ducks are three-point underdogs.

Underdogs to Washington. That’s how much the 2015 season has turned over in two months.

That’s a key part of the Sportsland, Oregon episode for this week, recorded at Pour Sports in Southeast Portland.

The Ducks head to Seattle off a two-overtime loss at home to Washington State in which they failed to stop the Cougars the final four times they had the ball and scored just once themselves in spite of fielding a tailback, Royce Freeman, who ran for 246 yards.

Co-hosts Cliff Pfenning and Derek Weber take on what the state of the UO program is in mid-season and how the rest of the country might be looking at the team as is struggles forward from 3-3 and needing three wins to become bowl eligible - three combined against: Washington, ASU, California, Stanford, USC and Oregon State.

The Blazers get some time, Major League Baseball, the Timbers and, oh yes, roofball.

Episode 27.

What next Mighty Oregon?

Oregon falls from rankings for first time since 2009
Sept. 27, 2015 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

All the scenarios that had the Oregon football team playing its way back into the College Football Playoffs with an undefeated run through the remainder of the season went up in smoke Saturday, and a new reality hit Autzen Stadium - this is now fully Mark Helfrich's team, and he's got a lot of work to do to keep the program up to its expectations.

Wow, a lot of work.

Forget about the 62-20 home loss to Utah - on national TV via FOX - Saturday, as in the actual score and that the result knocked the Ducks out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2009 - 98 straight weeks.

That's quite a turnaround for a team that was just a couple key plays away from a road win over current No. 2 Michigan State just three weeks ago.

And played in the national title game last season.

Let's focus on the future, starting with recruiting.

As was mentioned throughout the game, Oregon has a young starting defensive backfield, which leads to the question "why is that?" For a program with such national exposure, one that has a $100 million facility just for football players, there should seem to be an endless supply of NFL-caliber players waiting to get onto the field.

Yet, Oregon has a freshman cornerback.

And, not so diminish quarterback Jeff Lockie, but having two years experience in the program still didn't impress his coaches enough to avoid bringing in a quarterback from another school who claimed the starting job after less than a month of workouts.

Ohio State beat the Ducks in the National Championship game with its third-string quarterback.

How much Vernon Adams' broken index finger figured into the debacle Saturday is up for debate, but the team should definitely scored more than 20 points with one of the receivers running the offense. That would have gone a long way to keeping Utah from scoring 62 points by just keeping its offense off the field.

Utah scoring 62 points in Autzen Stadium. No one saw that coming.

Helfrich said Sunday he would work to refocus his team, not work on rebuilding, but that seems to be on the mind of more than just a few fans and supporters Monday. If Utah can roll into Autzen and put up 62 points - nothing against Utah because it was a helluva team - what might USC do? And, Stanford has looked very impressive with an injured quarterback.

Oregon has road games three of the next four games, which is a good way to refocus becase it won't have the comfort of home during those weekends which should lead to that refocusing. Hopefully, it works because if it doesn't there's a huge rebuilding task at hand.

 

 

College football should realize playoff pressure

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 4:08pm
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Three weeks into the college football season, the race to predict the four teams headed to the national championship semifinals is in full swing.

Ohio State is No. 1, but barely beat a Northern Illinois team that's not a gimme to win its own conference, the Mid-American. Mississippi played its way up to No. with a resounding win at Alabama Saturday. TCU continues to remain the pride of the Big 12 and a prime contender for one of the four spots. And Notre Dame is No. 6 with its legitimate hope of getting in with an unbeaten record. If the Buckeyes, Rebels, Horned Frogs and Irish all win out, then there's no problem picking the playoff semifinalists.

Trouble is when those teams start to lose, even once. Then, the decision to name the four teams turns to persons who aren't involved in the action on the field, which is a problem that the game can actually resolve fairly easily. College football needs a conference ranking system, not a team ranking. The conference schedule then becomes the integral part of the playoff system, as it should be.

Michigan State and Oregon are in key positions to illustrate this argument especially if Oregon should happen to win the Pac-12, but lose another game. The Spartans have a win over then No. 7 Oregon - a thrilling game that featured playoff pressure. But, it wasn't a playoff game because the teams are in different conferences so the outcome only affected people's opinions. And opinions don't win games, teams do.

The big potential challenge could very well happen November 21 when OSU plays host to MSU. If both teams win out until then, they should be No. 1 and 2. Should OSU win, and then win the Big 10 title the following week, they're in the semifinals. Easy.

Michigan State's 31-28 win over Oregon in the second week of the season gives Spartans fans that feeling of confidence that even if they lose to OSU and Oregon wins the Pac-12, they should be one of the four semifinalists ahead of Oregon because of the head-to-head win. That conundrum gets better, though, if Oregon should lose to USC when the teams meet November 21, but then return to beat the Trojans in the Pac-12 final two weeks later ending the season at 11-2 and with its conference title. 

Unbeaten Mississippi beats unbeaten Florida for the SEC title and earns its spot.

Notre Dame loses twice: to USC and Stanford, and is out.

TCU has a loss to Baylor, which also has a loss - to eventual 7-5 Nebraska, and those two schools finish as the only two ranked teams from the Big 12 (which actually only has 10 schools). Baylor is ranked as the conference champion.

Clemson goes unbeaten through the season, but loses in the ACC title game to 10-2 Duke, which has losses to Northwestern and Georgia Tech. Duke is 11-2, while Clemson is 12-1.

How does a two-loss Oregon team get into the semifinals over teams that have one loss? Same for Duke, which also has a conference title.

Easy, the Ducks and Blue Devils would be two of four conference champions, having won the games that mattered most - those that got them to their conference title games, and then that game, too.

With five Power Conferences, the only rankings the playoff committee would need to make is the one that ranks the five conferences - with No. 5 getting left out of the playoff. That was TCU and the Big 12 last year.

MSU has only one loss and a win over Oregon. But, that was a non-conference win. The Spartans' key game is Ohio State, assuming they beat their other four division rivals. That takes on the pressure of a playoff game, with the game's loser being dropped from the playoffs.

The five conference champions might very well be ranked this way: Ohio State, Mississippi, Baylor, Oregon and Duke.

Duke gets left out. Florida, Clemson, Michigan State, TCU - all one-loss teams, scream to be ahead of Oregon, but none have a conference title.

That Michigan State loss is out there for the college football world to salivate over at the right time because of insider opinions, but it shouldn't be, even if the Ducks lose another game. Oregon has five division games, which lead to a conference title game, and that's the playoff system that every other team has, too - the Big 12 has more conference games, so that's its argument to overcome the lack of a conference title game.

The Power 5 conferences will each have a champion, and those are the only five teams that should be considered for the four semifinal spots, regardless of their records. That's how a playoff system works - the better team doesn't always win because which team is better is from an opinion based on stats and records. The actual better team wins on the field, and every team in the Power 5 (plus Notre Dame) has its shot at winning the games that matter.

 

 

Oregon narrowly misses a huge win

Ducks lose 31-28 at Michigan State, but show they're title contenders
Sept. 12, 2015 / Oregonsports.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Connor Cook threw for two touchdowns, and No. 5 Michigan State held on to beat No. 7 Oregon 31-28 on Saturday night in college football's marquee game of the week.

The Spartans stopped the Ducks four times on fourth down, including one key stand in the second quarter near the Michigan State goal line.

The Spartans (2-0) led for most of the second half, and it was 31-21 before Oregon's Vernon Adams, Jr. threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Byron Marshall with 3:25 remaining. After a Michigan State punt, the Ducks (1-1) drove to the Spartans 33 before Adams overthrew Marshall, who had beaten his defender on second down. A sack moved the team out of field goal range and Adams missed on the pass that effectively ended the game.

Michigan State avenged last season's 48-27 loss at Oregon, which will play Georgia State at Autzen Stadium Saturday.

It was the first time two teams in the AP top 10 met at Spartan Stadium since 1966, when No. 2 Michigan State and No. 1 Notre Dame played to a 10-10 tie.

Adams, who threw two interceptions – half of the team's total from all of last season, nearly rallied the Ducks. His scoring pass to Marshall marked the 70th consecutive game Oregon has thrown a touchdown pass, breaking a record the Ducks had been sharing with Texas Tech.

In what overall was a shaky performance, Adams completed 22 of 39 passes for 309 yards and the scoring pass. Most of the yards were picked up after the initial completion by receivers Braylon Addison, Charles Nelson and Byron Marshall.

Addison, in addition to his seven catches for 138 yards, returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.







 

Adams, Oregon show off well

Sat, 09/12/2015 - 10:22pm
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The University of Oregon football program got a pretty good idea of who Vernon Adams, Jr., is as a quarterback under duress Saturday night, and he performed at an uneven level. But, you also got a good idea of his inner drive, and he showed off he's got the will to win.

He certainly didn't perform at the level the UO world may have thought he was going to when he announced his intention to transfer from Eastern Washington in spring, but at the end of Saturday's thrilling game with Michigan State, the Ducks were in position to win. With a couple fewer yards on a lofty pass down the left sideline, Adams may very well have led the No. 7 Ducks past the No. 5 Spartans.

Overall, it was a gritty performance by a veteran playing on the national stage for the first time with the final a frustrating 31-28 on the scoreboard.

Frustrating in that Oregon fans can easily look at the game as that the Ducks didn't win, not so much as the Spartans beat them. Michigan State survived, although that's all that's needed.

Adams showed he's a gamer, able to overcome his shortcomings and keep his team in contention to win.

Oregon's defense did that, too, inspite of giving up 31 points. Oregon's offense should have topped that total in the game, and might have with some better play calling.

Scott Frost's game as offensive coordinator might be the biggest issue from the game in that the plan seemed to go away from what was working in terms of getting passes outside and letting what might easily be the best trio of receivers in the nation make excitement happen. Just simple screen passes. That opened up the middle for running back Royce Freeman, which carried the team to a score on its first possession and seemed like a pathway to many other scores.

But, as much as Adams is working his way into the Oregon playbook, Frost seems to be working his way into understanding Adams in the playbook. That's what a severe lack of preparation will do to a top-flight program like Oregon.

And, inspite of those issues, the Ducks were in position to win a game that might have moved them up to as far as No. 3 or 4 in the nation.

Still, it showed they're a team worthy of consideration of mention as playing its way back to the title game.

That's an easy road with just a dominating performance in Pac-12 play, which they seem capable of doing if Saturday's game is an indication.

 

Helfrich had a banner season, almost

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 1:09pm
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Well, Mark Helfrich is no Urban Meyer. At least not yet.

Pretty darn close, though.

Helfrich got his version of the Oregon Ducks to the first college footb

all national title in just two years, taking over a program that had gotten to the previous version of the national championship in the second season under Chip Kelly. Unlike Kelly, though, Helfrich doesn't seem like the type of coach who will use the college game as a steppingstone to the National Football League.

And, there's not really any place to go in college football that's going to be more higher-profile that Oregon. So, for the foreseable future, it looks as though Oregon fans have their coach, and he's only going to get better ... at game management, program management, recruiting.

Recruiting gets its first major test with replacing Marcus Mariota - even though he hasn't officially announced he's leaving for the NFL.

With Braxton Miller, the Ohio State quarterback who has one season remaining and could transfer?

Miller will be a Heisman Trophy-level quarterback when he arrives, and Oregon is a school that expects that level of player at that position. The Ducks have two quarterbacks who were redshirting this past season, and sophomore Jeff Lockie as Mariota's back-up. Bringing in a transfer might be seen as unfortunate for those guys who are already in the system, but that's the level the Ducks are at now - national title contenders every year. The player who takes the snaps needs to be at that level, and if Miller does transfer in, the way to get snaps for the players currently in the system is to simply be better than he is.

Or wait for him to get injured. Ohio State had three quarterbacks capable of taking the team to the title game and winning. If Miller transfers in, that would give the Ducks at least one player at that level. The other quarterbacks would only benefit from that kind of competition in practice, and they've all got at least one more season of eleigibility left after 2015.

In Eugene, in might start to be rare - and hopefully it is this way - that a freshman gets to start at quarterback because the level of play ahead of him is at such a high level.

Off we go into Helfrich's third off-season, one of many more to come.

 

SI has it wrong on title game score

There's a better score for title game - a rematch of Oregon vs. Ohio State
Jan. 7, 2015 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

Oregon 45, Ohio State 41?

Al least Sports Illustrated has the correct team winning the college football national championship game, set for Monday at 5 p.m. (PST).

The opening episode of Sportland, Oregon, delves into Monday's final, and the possibility of a repeat of a past UO/OSU title game - one involving the NCAA ... from 1939.

Oregon played Ohio State in the first NCAA men's basketball final, and won that game. And, it was a football-level score, too.

Ohio State got a measure of revenge by beating the Ducks in the 2010 Rose Bowl - 26-17, but there wasn't a national title at state.

That's all part of the episode that co-hosts Cliff Pfenning and Derek Weber talk about, recorded at Blitz Pearl in Nortwest Portland.

The NFL Playoffs get their spot in the conversation, as does the NBA, specifically the Trail Blazers and the Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks strolled through the Rose City and played their way almost to the top of the NBA standings.

That and more on the opening episode of Portland's longest-running sports podcast, now in its fifth year.

 

 

 

A great day for Oregon, almost

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 9:20am
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As the clock wound down on Oregon's 59-20 thrashing of Florida State on Thursday, many of the FSU players were taken to task a bit for not crossing the field to shake hands with their fellow college athletes, regardless of the outcome. Then, shortly thereafter, Oregon players surfaced on the internet for having taunted FSU quarterback Jamies Winston, which attracted immediate attention.

In the Dirty Laundry-crazed world, it's extremely unfortunate that the internet video of something that had no bearing on the game ends up being one of the headline moments for most of the media. On numerous information sites such as Yahoo.com, the Oregon players' post-game chants of "no means no" got a headline higher up on the page than Oregon's on-field win.

It is the world we live in.

As troubling as that is, though, it's not nearly as troubling as the FSU reaction during the game to Oregon's offense. It wasn't hard to see the Seminoles basically stop trying once the score got away from them. Oregon's only struggle with scoring was converting a center snap in shotgun formation in the fourth quarter.

That's something that has to give every school recruiting against FSU a big edge for several years to come.

Florida State reaching the College Football Playoffs might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the program because is showcased how the program handles adversity at the championship level. Sure, the team responded to deficits all season long, but when the deficit became too great, they just gave up.

Oregon's program showed itself off, too. After the Ducks lost to Arizona, they basically blew out the rest of the schedule with the final two games - the Pac-12 title game and Thursday's Rose Bowl, as huge recruiting statements. And, some of the handling that success is learned following games through the internet.

Lillard for President? Rose Bowl redux

The year-end episode of Sportsland delves into the hardcore topics
Dec. 29, 2014 / By Cliff Pfenning, Oregonsports Journal

So, what happened to the Rose Bowl?

Sure, it's where the Oregon football team will be playing in the College Football Playoffs Thursday, but the game itself - the Rose Bowl, got pretty much dropped to a playoff game being played at the Rose Bowl. That's a topic the Sportsland crew takes on in the year-end episode, recorded at Blitz Pearl in Northwest Portland.

It's just a semifinal, and might not ever be the same game - although the playoff committee might have been able to keep the game relevant with a simple switch of match-ups. What if Oregon were playing Ohio State instead of Florida State?

Then, it's onto the NBA and the amazing Blazers' season, led by Damian Lillard. He'll never get voted to the All-Star team, because Portland is so far from the national limelight, but if he continues to play at his current pace, might he be a top contender for MVP?

The cast talks up his competitors as well as which team looks most dangerous in terms of playoff potential.

And, a few picks for the NFL playoffs, all of which wraps of the year.

 

 

 

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