Defense will tell story of Ducks playoff options

Oregon needs to impress CFP voters to get a spot
By Cliff Pfenning

Offense wins games. Defense wins championships. This is what University of Oregon football fans should focus on for the final month of the season as the LSU at Alabama is set to play out Saturday.

With Oregon placed at No. 7 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, winning out the final four games might seem to guarantee a spot in the Final Four due to so many teams ahead of it playing each other. Only three teams have a chance at going unbeaten and if the Ducks end up with one loss and the Pac-12 title, they should be a natural pick for that honor.

But, the selection committee is going to look at the actual resume of the teams involved, and the loser of Saturday’s game might be a more logical choice for the fourth CFP spot, simply because they might be a better team, at least to the naked eye. This is where defense comes in.

Oregon can score points. That’s not a question. But, keeping the opponent out of the end zone is where the Ducks will make the biggest impression in the next month. They absolutely need to destroy their remaining opponents: Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State on defense. And, beat Utah. This is the way to pump up the Oregon resume and put some major pressure on the CFP voters to offer the West Coast at least a chance to win the title. Remember the Ducks are really just a few inches away - a fourth down on Auburn’s final drive - from being unbeaten. (Auburn, which lost 23-20 at LSU two weeks ago, plays Alabama at the close of the regular season and can be a wrench in this whole argument for a second time).

Oregon’s defense has been up to the challenge for most of the season, especially on Saturday even with giving up 24 points. The dominance of the USC offense as the game went on was huge in the outcome, regardless of the 56 points put up on the scoreboard. The Ducks need to ratchet that performance up a couple notches - and not just focus on winning. But, complete dominance, even after possibly trailing due to a first-quarter score (the Ducks have trailed in the first quarter or first half of its past three games, allowing an average of 32 points per game over that stretch. They need to do much better for the CFP to come calling. 

The CFP voters aren’t going to look at a record so much as it’s belief in a team being able to win. I’d be doing that, too, and currently don’t think the Ducks are a top-four team. Even with the current eight-game win streak, I felt that way throughout the Auburn game - notably with the Tigers starting a true freshman. Auburn won the game at the end with an 18-year-old making plays. The Ducks started a senior and didn’t make the key plays. But, that’s changed as the season has progressed, including a game-winning drive in the final minute to beat Washington State.

The final four weeks - a blowout in the Pac-12 final - will do a lot to convince me they can beat Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State, and that’s what will get the votes to actually have that chance. 

And, the defense is the key to that.



Ducks start as Preseason favorites

Oregon's women are No. 1, men at No. 17
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher

The Oregon basketball program has been improving in quality on an annual basis, but this season may be one of the finest for the combined men's and women's teams, at least according to Sports Illustrated magazine and it's preseason rankings.

Oregon starts out as No. 1 in the women's rankings, while the men are at No. 17. Only Maryland and Baylor have a women's team in the Top 10 and men's team in the Top 25. Baylor is No. 2 and 18, while Maryland is No. 5 and 7.

The Ducks are coming off perhaps their best post-season run with the women's team reaching the Final Four and the men's team getting to the Sweet 16. Only the 2017 tournament was better for the program as the men reached the Final Four, while the women played into the Elite 8.

Could this be the year for a national champion in Eugene?

Both teams are coming off Pac-12 Tournament titles.

The women open their season No. 11 with a home game against Northeastern.

The men's team, led by four-year starter Payton Pritchard, open Nov. 5 against Fresno State, and play No. 16 Memphis in Portland, Nov. 12.


Oregon plays way right out of huge win

The Ducks are getting good at losing big games, too
By Cliff Pfenning

Following the Oregon football team’s season-opener against Auburn via radio in Central Oregon Saturday, the game played out as one fans have come to expect these days - the Ducks worked their way into a gut-wrenching loss.

And, it was gut-wrenching in terms of how they lost - they were right on the cusp of a huge win on a national stage, one that would have signaled the program is back as a elite-level power. But, that’s not where the propram is these days. 

Head coach Mario Cristobal deserves the credit for getting the program close to the elite level, but also the blame for just not being able to get there. But more than his game management, it’s his loyalty to offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo that’s a question mark on his program.

Oregon’s offense dictated the flow of games in its glory years. Not so Saturday night. Cristobal said as much after the loss in that Auburn’s defense kept quarterback Justin Herbert from throwing up the field. In fact, in one sequence, Herbert completed three consecutive passes, but they didn’t turn into 10 yards and the offense got stuffed on a fourth-down run that stopped what might have been a game-ending drive. 

The Ducks pretty-much gave up their running game in the second half, too, which just boggles the mind in that it was able to run in the first half, and just plain needs to be able to run to win big games in the future. Put that one on Cristobal and Arroyo. Oregon used to dictate games, and needs to again to get its fans into thinking these games will always turn into victories.

Beyond the coaches, though, it seemed like Herbert played his way out of the first round of the NFL Draft with such a spotty performance. The final score is all you have to look at to get that feel. Oregon’s senior quarterback lost to a freshman playing his first game. Bo Nix made the big plays that won the game not Herbert. Whatever you can think of that went wrong, Herbert had the shot at making them minor issues by converting a few more plays into successes. Instead, he fumbled while not handing the ball off in the first half, got called for intentional grounding in the second half, and the following possession took a 14-yard sack that stalled the drive that turned the ball over to Auburn for the game-winning drive.

Nix made the plays on the winning drive, including a dive for a first down that was measured in inches. Nix got beat in the scorebook by Herbert, but he won on the scoreboard and that’s what NFL scouts look at more than anything. Game leadership counts, and Herbert just has not had that in his career. He’s got 12 more games, including a bowl game, to change that and play his way back into the first round.

And, lastly, Oregon’s beloved play-by-play man Jerry Allen, might be at the end of his career, he made so many miscues during the game, including calling one long run moving from the 20 to the 10 to the 15 and then the five. It was had to know where the ball was on the field in stretches of the game. Hopefully, that won’t affect any more contests, and he’ll be calling the Ducks plays in a major bowl game in five months because the team will be playing in a major bowl game in five months.



Rutschman goes first to O's

OSU catcher gets the big payday
Staff Report

Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman was selected by the Baltimore Orioles first overall Monday in the Major League Baseball Draft, earning him a signing bonus of $8.4 million.

Rutschman, who was named the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year this season, helped the Beavers win the NCAA Championship as a sophomore, which led to three teammates being selected in the first round following the World Series. Longtime coach Pat Casey retired following the win.

Oregon State qualified for the NCAA Tournament this season, but lost in a regional this weekend.

In his junior season, Rutschman hit .411 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs. He also set a single-season record with 76 walks, of which 26 were intentional - one coming with the bases loaded during the Corvallis Regional.

A native of Sherwood, Rutschman is the grandson of his namesake, who led Linfield College to three NAIA national titles in football as head coach. In 25 years with the school, he also coached the baseball team for 13 seasons.

Rutschman is the third OSU athlete to be selected first overall in his sport, following Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker by the NFL's Los Angeles Rams in 1963, and soccer standout Danny Mwanga by the Philadelphia Union of the MLS in 2010.



Beavers get no respect in Ohio - from ABC

The network barely notices Oregon State in season opener
By Cliff Pfenning,

The college football seasons opened up for teams across Oregon Saturday and the results were basically as they were predicted ... by Las Vegas ... with No. 24 Oregon scoring a blowout at home against Bowling Green and Oregon State getting mauled at No. 5 Ohio State on national television.

Portland State lost at Nevada .. and Div. II and NAIA teams also kicked off to spirited fanfare - George Fox opened with 122 players on its roster.

The thing that caught my attention most, at least in the morning hours, was ABC’s coverage of the OSU at OSU game, and it owes an apology to Oregon State and Beaver Nation for how it turned the game into a local broadcast of the Buckeyes.

Oregon State traveled halfway across the country to face a very difficult game - underdogs by 39 points and with a new head coach (the program’s fourth in five years), but it pretty much wasn’t even involved in the game, other than as the program getting fed to the host school.

Jonathan Smith, a former Beavers standout at quarterback, was coaching his first game as a head coach, but ABC didn’t even acknowledge him until more than 12 minutes had gone by. The Beavers had the ball for the fourth time, had already scored a touchdown and been in OSU territory three times before they put the camera on him and let the nation know he was one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. The Beavers even lost their starting quarterback after just one possession to make the game that much harder, yet back-up Conor Blount was performing admirably against one of the premier defensive lines in the game.

The network, and rightly so, opened the broadcast with an update of the drama surrounding Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension that led to assistant Ryan Day taking over as interim head coach. ABC’s broadcast team of Dave Pasch and Greg McElroy covered Day extensively, as it should have.

But, Oregon State actually played in the game, too, and they pretty much forgot to include that element as part of the broadcast for most of the first quarter. They eventually got around to Smith and former coach Mike Riley returning to become an assistant on the team’s fourth possession.

The score by the team’s fourth possession was getting out of hand, and it was a disaster of a game on defense along the way to giving up 77 points. But, the offense played heroically behind Blount, receiver Trevon Bradford and running back Artavis Pierce, and eventually scored 31 points.

ABC just covered Ohio State for almost the entire first quarter, something that shows no respect for a major college program, which might be in a rocky spot in football - almost half of the team had never played in a Div. I game before, but is still celebrating a national title in baseball so there’s plenty to talk about regarding the teams from Corvallis. None of that drama or excitement got anywhere near the broadcast until a half-hour had passed.

The game wasn’t much in doubt pretty quickly, but Oregon State deserved a lot more respect that it got shown by ABC Saturday morning. And, it’s apology worthy - to coach Smith and Beaver Nation, regardless of the eventual score.

No. 3 OSU wins series over No. 2 Stanford

Beavers narrowly miss weekend sweep at Goss Stadium
Staff report

Oregon State's drive to win another NCAA Baseball World Series continued to pick up steam this weekend with a pair of wins over Pac-12 leader Stanford in Corvallis.

The Beavers, who entered ranked No. 3, beat Stanford, No. 2, Friday and Saturday before faltering Sunday at Goss Stadium. OSU led 6-1 after four innings, but lost 9-6 in the 10th.

Next up, the Beavers play the first of two games against San Diego in Corvallis today. The conference schedule winds out with a three-game series at USC that begins Friday, and a three-game series with UCLA, May 24-26.

OSU, which started the season ranked No. 1, has won or tied 15 of its last 17 games.

Stanford remained atop the conference standings with OSU second, although the lead for the Cardinal is just 1.5 games


Oregon wins Pac-12 title, next up NCAA

Ducks move to No. 1 after regular-season series win, reach playoffs
Staff report

Oregon reached one of the goals it set out to accomplish at the start of the college softball season - win the Pac-12 Conference title again.

Now, the second goal - win the national championship.

The Ducks beat Cal in three games during the weekend, running their win streak to 13 straight. That bumped them from No. 2 to No. 1 with the playoffs arriving Thursday.

Oregon will play host to a four-team, double-elimination tournament that includes the University of Albany, Drake and Brigham Young.

The conference title is the team's fifth in the past six years. The Ducks, though, have not won the national title or reached the title game. The Pac-12, once the darling of college softball by winning 10 title in 11 years leading up to 2011, has not won a title since 2011. A Pac-12 school has not won a title since that ASU team did it in 2011.

The conference enters the 64-team NCAA tournament with seven representatives: Oregon, No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 ASU, Arizona, Cal and Oregon State. The Southeastern Conference had 13 of its 14 schools reach the playoffs.

Oklahoma, which has won the past two national championships and three of the past five, and Florida, the national champion of 2014 and '15, are seeded in the top 5.

Following the 16 Regional tournaments, the winners move to the Super Regionals, a best two-of-three series that will produce an eight-team World Series roster. The World Series will be played out May 31-June 6 in Oklahoma City, Okla.



OSU's Schroeder headed to nationals

The sophomore won her regional by eight strokes
Staff report

Oregon State sophomore Nicole Schroeder is heading to the NCAA National Championships on a major roll, having won the Madison, Wis., Regional by eight strokes Tuesday.

Schroeder shot two rounds in the 60s in the three-round regional, earning a spot at the Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., beginning May 18. The Beavers finished eighth as a team, missing a spot in the finals by two spots.

By winning the regional, Schroeder completed a stunning turnaround from the Pac-12 Championships two weeks earlier when she finished in a tie for 34th at 12-over. Oregon State finished 11th in the conference tournament, but still managed a spot in the 72-team regional line-up, which allowed Schroeder to dazzle the Wisconsin fans.



Basketball season comes to end

Oregon's loss to Notre Dame cuts off college title drives
Staff report

The Oregon Ducks were poised to reach the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament Monday night when a scoing drought led to Notre Dame's 84-74 victory in the Spokane Region women's basketball final.

Oregon led 48-42 early in the third quarter, but the Irish finished the quarter on a 19-7 roll and held off a brief rally in the fourth quarter on the way to the victory. Oregon's season ended at the Elite 8 stage for the second consecutive year.

The Ducks finished at 33-5, the most wins in the program's history, and the Pac-12 regular season and tournament champion.

Sabrina Ionescu, the conference Player of the Year, led the team with 26 points, while Ruthy Hebard added 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Oregon graduates just two seniors - 3-point standout Lexi Bando and Justine Hall.


Beavers prep for Baylor rematch

4CAST: NCAA Tourney, Hawks, Timbers, Thorns, Pac-12
Staff report

The NCAA Tournament established game times for the Sweet 16 Tuesday, and Oregon State got a 4 p.m. slot against second-ranked Baylor in Lexington, Ky.

Oregon will play Central Michigan Saturday at 3 p.m. in Spokane, Wash.

Baylor is 33-1, while OSU is 25-7, but has a 3-0 record against the Bears all-time. The Beavers beat Baylor in 2016 to advance to the Final Four for the first time. It's the third-straight year OSU has reached the Sweet 16.

Oregon heads for the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year after advancing to the Elite 8 last year. The Ducks are 32-4, while Central Michigan is 30-4.


The 72-game regular season came to a close with a 5-4 loss to Spokane Sunday for the Portland Winterhawks, but the season begins anew Saturday. Portland, which finished the regular season at 44-22-1-5 for 94 points, plays the Chiefs in a seven-game series with the first two games in Portland Saturday and Sunday.

The Hawks-Chiefs series is one of eight that starts the first round of the WHL Playoffs. The winner will advance to the Memorial Cup, which will be played for the 100th time this year.


The Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers return to the pitch Saturday with league matches. The Thorns, who drew with Houston 0-0 Saturday at Merlo Field, open NWSL play at North Carolina Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland won its second NWSL title last season.

The Timbers, 0-2 in MLS action, play at Houston Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Portland has scored just once in its two games, and is looking for its first win under new coah Giovanni Savarese.


In Pac-12 softball, Sixth-ranked Oregon is 25-5 heading for a weekend off before a three-game series with rival Oregon State March 29-31 in Corvallis.

Oregon State recovered from a 12-0 loss Saturday to beat Cal 8-3 Sunday and earn a 2-1 series win in Corvallis. Oregon State is 19-10 heading into a three-game series at UCLA Friday.

In Pac-12 baseball, top-ranked Oregon State is 18-1 on the year, matching the 1951, 1962, 2013 and 2017 teams for the best record through 19 games. OSU has won 13 consecutive Pac-12 games dating back to the 2016 season. The Beavers start a three-game series with Washington on Friday.
In other Pac-12 action, Oregon starts a three-game series with Cal starting Friday. Oregon is 8-2 at home this season.

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