As a coach of one of the so-called lower-echelon teams of the Pacific 10, Oregon's Rich Brooks has had his share of adversity.
Every once in a while, though, the Ducks upset one of the top five teams in the conference, as they did in beating Washington last Saturday in Eugene, Ore., 29-22.
Winning as an underdog is one thing. Getting proper credit for it is another--seemingly difficult--thing. And that irritates Brooks.
The Oregon coach had to endure postgame questioning to the effect of, "What's wrong with the Huskies?", rather than the more positive aspect of his team's accomplishment.
"I've faced this many times," Brooks said Monday. "It happened when we beat UCLA down there a couple of times. People come to me after we have a pretty good win and say what's wrong with the team you beat?
"We're a 17 1/2-point underdog to Colorado on the road and we win. We're a 21-, or 22-point underdog to Ohio State on the road and we're in the game and have a chance to win before we lose, 24-14.
"Then, we come home and beat San Diego State, which is not a great team this year. We're home again against the Huskies as 12-point underdogs and we beat them by 7 points and it shouldn't have been that close.
"So there is something good about us. Don't talk to me about what's wrong with everyone else. When we do something good, why don't we get credit for it?"
Oregon, 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-10, won't be slighted in pregame preparation by USC Coach Larry Smith and his staff. The Trojans, 3-1 and 2-0, will play the Ducks Saturday in Eugene.
Even though Oregon is the surprise team of the conference, Brooks, in his 11th season as the school's coach, is realistic about the future. He has the coaching scars to prove it.
"There are no automatic wins in our league and to crack the top five in the standings in this league is a major, major task," he said. "If one of us (bottom five) does it, we would have to pass up UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona State or Arizona.
"Two years ago, we finished sixth in the league and the top five went to bowl games. Last year, we finished seventh and the top six went to bowl games. We were not a a bad football team either of those years."
Brooks pointed out that he has had a 9-4 nonconference record the last four years. Still, Oregon has never placed higher than a tie for third in the Pac-10 during his tenure as coach.
"It's just a tough league and it has been really tough since the Arizona schools came in in 1978," he said. "For us to be in the position we are now, we obviously feel we got one win (Washington) we aren't supposed to get. We beat one of the upper-echelon teams."
So how is Brooks surviving with a team that was picked to finish no higher than seventh in the conference after losing its outstanding quarterback, Chris Miller, who was the Atlanta Falcons' first draft choice?
"We've got a lot of young players, particularly on offense, who have performed extremely well," he said. "Our quarterback, Bill Musgrave, ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. He has thrown only one interception. Our young offensive line is doing a good job of protecting him. We're not running the ball as well as we hoped and some of it has been due to injuries to our backs."
Brooks also said that he has a great group of small, quick receivers. "Probably the key thing in our success is that we're second in the nation in the turnover-takeaway ratio with a plus 2.3 per game," Brooks said.
When the season began, Brooks figured that his team would be better on defense than it was last year, but not as good on offense. The defense has held up as expected and the offense is better than anticipated.
Musgrave, a red-shirt freshman, has completed 64.9% of his passes for 889 yards and 8 touchdowns.
"He is really a smart quarterback, a 4-point grade average and the high school player of the year out of Colorado," Brooks said. "He doesn't make bad decisions, or get flustered. We sprint out with him, roll out with him, drop back with him and he runs the option. And he's very accurate."
Brooks said that Musgrave doesn't have the strongest arm among his quarterbacks, adding: "Only the best one."
The Oregon coach also realigned his defense from a 4-3 to the more popular 3-4.
"We were 10th and 9th in total defense in the conference the last two years," Brooks said. "I've often said, if it's broke, don't fix it. Well, it broke in half. So we tried to fix it. We're giving up yards but not that many points (an average of 18.3 a game) and we're taking the football away with fumble recoveries and interceptions.
"Last year, teams ran over us, but they can't do it now. Ohio State couldn't run it down our throat, Colorado couldn't run over us with the wishbone and Washington made only 124 yards on the ground."