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PACIFIC 10 CONFERENCE FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : Only Oregon State Can Deter Oregon

November 19, 1994|DAN HAFNER

Nobody can con Stanford Coach Bill Walsh into believing in the Stanford football team the way Bill Walsh can.

The leader of Stanford's football fortunes had himself convinced that the Cardinal was going to knock Oregon out of the Rose Bowl last weekend.

That conviction even brought a couple of unhappy thoughts for Walsh. Oregon Coach Rich Brooks is a close friend. And, as Walsh told a reporter, "My gosh, I'm about to put USC into the Rose Bowl."

Walsh said he continued to think Stanford would win even after learning that Scott Frost, not Steve Stenstrom, would be his quarterback. Stenstrom had surgery for a broken finger.

As the shadows started to close over Stanford Stadium in the first quarter last Saturday, Walsh realized he had sold himself a bill of goods. The Cardinal wasn't able to repeat its performance against Washington and the Ducks weren't about to let down.

Even Stenstrom probably couldn't have stemmed the Oregon tide. Duck quarterback Danny O'Neil had his finest game, throwing for six touchdowns, and completing 21 of 37 passes for 339 yards in a 55-21 victory.

"Although the statistics won't show it, Danny has become a better quarterback," Brooks said. "This, of course, was his best game, but he has improved rapidly since coming back from (an) injury. Where he has improved the most is in decision-making. He no longer makes mistakes in judgment. He always could pass about as well as anyone and now he's a complete quarterback."

The only thing between Oregon and the long-awaited trip to the Rose Bowl is the Civil War--the always bitter battle for supremacy in the state of Oregon--against Oregon State today. Seldom has the game meant so much.

Oregon State won a wild 15-12 game at Eugene last year. This one, in Corvallis, will be big for the Beavers too. Not only could they win their fifth game of the season, they would be beating a nationally ranked team for the second week in a row.

"We haven't won five games in a season since 1971," Beaver Coach Jerry Pettibone said. "When we beat Washington State last week, it was our first win over a ranked team in years."

The Beavers are eager.

"I want them to come here high as a kite," running back J.J. Young said. "They have to come through us."

*

This is the last full weekend of the Pacific 10 Conference season, so maybe it's time to name the player of the year. There have been some good ones--Napoleon Kaufman of Washington, Rob Johnson of USC, Oregon's entire defensive backfield, and countless other defensive stars, such as UCLA's Donnie Edwards.

But in this writer's opinion, the best player has been Stanford's Stenstrom. Although his broken finger cut his season short, Stenstrom had a fabulous one.

Walsh wasn't conning anyone when he said before the season that Stenstrom, the senior from El Toro, was the best college quarterback. Against strong odds, he has been just that.

Stenstrom took a beating in every game. And he played on a team unable to stop the opposition. He lost his best running back, Mike Mitchell, after the first game. Nevertheless, he was responsible for Stanford's producing 462 yards a game. When he had the time to throw, he simply didn't miss.

Cornerback Alex Molden of Oregon summed up the feelings of the Ducks when he said, "It was a huge break for us when he couldn't play.

"Every time I watched him on film, he kept getting better and better. Not having him really hurt Stanford."

Before the injury in the middle of his eighth game, Stenstrom already had thrown 14 touchdown passes. He had completed almost 65% of his passes and was averaging 314 yards a game.

"I feel sad that he didn't get a chance to finish," Walsh said. "He would have had at least 800 more yards. With three more touchdowns, he would have broken John Elway's record (77)."

*

In the middle of October, the college football excitement in the Northwest was in Washington, not Oregon.

The Washington Huskies, despite having no place to go because they were on suspension, were flying high. In convincing fashion, they had ended Miami's record-breaking home winning streak and they had overwhelmed Ohio State and UCLA. Kaufman was in the running for the Heisman Trophy.

And there was another goal. The Huskies were going to knock some teams out of the Rose Bowl race.

Across the state, Washington State had established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the nation.

The Cougars were ready for the showdown with Arizona that would put the winner in the lead for the Rose Bowl.

When the Cougars and Huskies meet today at Pullman, it will be just another game.

The Cougars are out of the Rose Bowl race and probably will go to the Alamo Bowl. Kaufman is no longer in the running for the Heisman, and the Huskies, after yielding 46 points to Stanford, can only wait till next year.

Pac-10 Notes

It didn't turn out to be the year of the quarterback, as had been anticipated, but last week was the week of the quarterback. Five of them threw for more than 300 yards--USC's Rob Johnson with 390, Pat Barnes of Cal with 389, Wayne Cook of UCLA with 380, Dan White of Arizona with 370 and Danny O'Neil of Oregon with 339. They passed for 18 touchdowns.

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