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BILL PLASCHKE

Oregon fits the bill as No. 1 college football team

It's obvious to this observer that the Ducks deserve to play in the BCS national championship game.

October 30, 2010|Bill Plaschke
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley is forced into an incompletion by Oregon defenders Brandon Bair (8) and Kenny Rowe on Saturday.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley is forced into an incompletion by Oregon defenders… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

I can't duck it anymore.

Oregon is the best team in the country.

I'm going to stop being so daffy about it.

Oregon deserves a spot in the national championship game right now.

I tried — oh, Phil Knight knows I tried — but my mocking disbelief no longer works, not after what happened Saturday on a beak-dropping, metaphor-flying night at the Coliseum.

It was USC's title game, and Oregon kicked the BCS out of the Trojans.

It was the first time the top-ranked Ducks had truly been hit in the mouth, and they just grinned. It was the first time the Ducks had been enveloped by 80,000 hostile screams, and they just roared.

The Trojans led once, twice, three times, including by three points midway through the third quarter, but each time the Ducks came scampering or soaring or just slugging back, eventually taking a 53-32 victory.

USC wasn't ready for this. Nobody is ready for this.

"We feel like we can do anything," said Oregon running back LaMichael James.

Oregon is now 8-0 and, in four games, here's guessing it will be 12-0. Even with Arizona coming to Eugene and Oregon State waiting in Corvallis, the Ducks will not play a tougher game all season.

They were run around by USC's offense for three quarters, yet they never lost their breath. They were flustered into 85 yards' worth of penalties, yet they never lost their grip. They allowed the Trojans to average nearly 25 yards on punt and kickoff returns, yet the lousy field position only made them stronger.

I can no longer make jokes about a "gimmick" offense that gained 599 yards, including 239 yards rushing by James, who would have already been given the Heisman Trophy if he played in Tuscaloosa. I can no longer poke fun at a "soft" defense that knocked around quarterback Matt Barkley and his star receivers, causing bad passes and thumping drops and a rising temper in Coach Lane Kiffin.

"Our offense was terrible today," Kiffin said.

I will no longer even keep reminding Oregon of how its funky offensive system was overpowered against Ohio State in last season's Rose Bowl, because this is clearly not last year's team. I will no longer keep saying that Oregon will have no chance against an SEC team if they meet in this year's bowl, because for all of Auburn and Alabama's skill, they simply do not have the combination of athlete and playbook that Oregon possesses, not this time.

With previously unbeaten Michigan State and Missouri losing Saturday, Oregon, currently No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, will surely retain one of the top two spots if it wins its final four games, putting it in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz.

I can't imagine the crowd there being nastier than Saturday night's. I can't imagine the Ducks falling behind as many times as on Saturday night. I understand now that none of that will matter.

When USC took a 3-0 lead, Oregon scored barely two minutes later. When USC took a 17-15 lead, Oregon scored barely two minutes later.

It wasn't just when the Ducks fought back, but how they fought back, not only with head butts but, finally, with a headlock. When USC scored twice in the third quarter to take the lead, Oregon pushed back in a totally different style, slowly and painfully, driving down the field in a dozen plays, 69 yards, finishing when Jeff Maehl caught a ball across the middle, wide open, and ran untouched into the corner of the end zone, a 30-yard touchdown to give Oregon a 36-32 lead.

On a third-and-13 play.

It was the start of a 24-0 run to end the game, the BCS colliding with the NBA.

"We honestly thought coming into this game that we had a good chance of beating them, but that offense is better than a lot of people thought," USC defensive end Wes Horton said.

As in, like, me.

"Our team feels they get stronger as the game goes on," said Oregon Coach Chip Kelly.

How good was Oregon? It ran one play that faked out at least 20,000 people, the end zone crowd roaring at a backfield tackle of James while quarterback Darron Thomas ran 21 yards around end.

How good was Oregon? It even ran many folks out of the Coliseum's best seats. When the game ended, the Ducks ran along the sidelines and slapped hands with their fans who had moved down to the usually filled front row.

How good was Oregon? It turned the usually bold Kiffin timid. As Oregon's power became more apparent, there were times when it seemed as if the Trojans' coaching staff backed into a corner and covered up.

Example: In the last two minutes of the first half USC, trailing 22-17, faced fourth and one on its 37. But instead of going for it and keeping that wicked offense off the field, the Trojans punted.

Two plays later, Thomas threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lavasier Tuinei to make it 29-17.

"It's about making plays," Kiffin said.

Not to quack on about it, but right now, Oregon does that better than anyone.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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