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TOP 25 COUNTDOWN

Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 6 Oregon

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

August 29, 2009|Chris Dufresne

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 6 Oregon

Oregon leads the decade in wretched uniforms and rotten luck.

While USC was stealing headlines, Oregon was reporting robberies.

In 2001, Oregon finished No. 2 in both major polls but didn't play No. 1 Miami for the national title because the Ducks ended up No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. And that's how we got Miami-Nebraska (yuck) at the Rose Bowl.

Two years ago, Oregon was making another national title run when quarterback Dennis Dixon, on his way to becoming the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, blew his knee out in November.

Last year, Oregon couldn't keep a quarterback standing upright and entered the season with a fifth-string junior college transfer named Jeremiah Masoli.

But sometimes bad luck turns into good luck.

By season's end, Masoli had taken Oregon's offense to another level. In Oregon's last four wins -- Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State, Oklahoma State -- Masoli had 14 touchdowns (seven each rushing and passing) while accounting for 1,268 yards.

Respect for Oregon is still not a given, though, and forecasts for this year are all over the map: Sporting News has Oregon ranked No. 7, but Phil Steele's highly regarded magazine does not have Oregon in the top 50.

Steele obviously assessed the losses -- six players taken in the NFL draft -- and this year's first four games and hedged the Ducks would be out of national title contention before they ever got in it.

He might be right.

The make-or-break part begins with a Thursday night opener at Boise State, followed by home games against Purdue, Utah and California.

If Oregon is 4-0 on Sept. 26, the Ducks will be national title contenders with the prospect of USC getting spooked in Eugene on Halloween. The Trojans haven't won in the state of Oregon since 2005.

The Ducks have to regroup on the waddle, though, replacing six starters on offense and defense. But never, ever bet against the spread (offense).

One of the smartest things Mike Bellotti did was three years ago hire New Hampshire offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Bellotti was the first Pacific 10 Conference coach to recognize the phenomenon of the spread, and he identified Kelly as the man to exploit its virtues.

Bellotti's move to the athletic director's job last spring leaves the program in Kelly's capable hands.

Kelly and Masoli are already quite a team. Oregon, in its final two games last year against Oregon State and Oklahoma State, totaled 107 points and 1,163 yards.

Oregon loses 1,000-yard rusher Jeremiah Johnson but returns 1,000-yard rusher LeGarrette Blount.

Masoli and Blount will be working behind an offensive line that needs to replace three full-time starters. The defense also needs retooling.

But at what point do you just accept that Oregon is good?

Asked at Pac-10 media day about not being ranked in Steele's top 50, Kelly shrugged.

"We have players," he said.

Ranking Oregon so high is a risk. But with risk comes reward. We'll find out early whether the Ducks are worthy -- and whether their luck has finally changed.

The countdown so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State; 21. Florida State; 20. Nebraska; 19. North Carolina; 18. Utah; 17. Georgia Tech; 16. California; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Alabama; 13. Georgia; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas Christian; 10. Mississippi; 9. Louisiana State; 8. Ohio State; 7. Oklahoma State; 6. Oregon.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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