HAPPY DUCKS

Vot­ers nar­rowly pass over South­ern Cal in fa­vor of last sea­son’s cham­pion Ducks

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Greg Beacham

Col­lege foot­ball:

The me­dia picks Ore­gon as Pac-10 pre­sea­son fa­vorite

Ore­gon coach Chip Kelly said Thurs­day that his team won’t put much stock in their pre­sea­son rank­ing.

PASADENA, Calif. — Even with­out their star quar­ter­back, the Ore­gon Ducks ended South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s sev­enyear reign as the Pac-10’s pre- sea­son fa­vorite.

A year af­ter break­ing USC’s seven-year stran­gle­hold on the Pac-10, coach Chip Kelly’s de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons were picked to win it again in the pre­sea­son me­dia poll Thurs­day. Ore­gon edged long­time dar­ling USC by three points, un­der­lin­ing the bal­ance in a con­fer­ence race that usu­ally was all about chas­ing the Tro­jans in re­cent years.

Don’t ex­pect Kelly to get giddy about added ex­pec­ta­tions, though. Not af­ter dis­miss­ing trou­bled passer Jeremiah Ma­soli from his team be­fore head­ing into what’s ex­pected to be the most wide- open sea­son in nearly a decade for a grow­ing league striv­ing to prove it be­longs with the nation’s best.

“Last year, you picked us third and Ari­zona eighth,” Kelly said at the Rose Bowl on Thurs­day for the an­nual me­dia day. “I learned from last year’s poll that we prob­a­bly weren’t go­ing to put a lot of stock in it. The teams that win in this league are the teams that keep their play­mak­ers healthy.”

Or keep them out of trou­ble with the law, which Ma­soli couldn’t man­age. Kelly is look­ing for­ward to a pre­sea­son com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Dar­ron Thomas and Nate Costa, who led the Ducks to a win last sea­son over UCLA on the same Rose Bowl field.

The Ducks edged USC 314311 in the poll’s sec­ond-clos­est vot­ing since it be­gan in 1961. Af­ter re­turn­ing the league’s fewest starters last sea­son, Ore­gon will rely on its ex­pe­ri­ence to get through any per­son­nel short­ages in an­other com­pet­i­tive sea­son.

Ore­gon State was picked third with 262 points, with Stan­ford fourth and Ari­zona — which fin­ished in a sec­ond­place tie and made the Hol­i­day Bowl last sea­son — fifth.

Af­ter a record seven teams re­ceived at least one first-place vote, ev­ery Pac-10 coach re­al­izes there’s no clear fa­vorite this fall. That par­ity has sent a burst of en­ergy through­out a league that once strived to avoid its rep­u­ta­tion as the Pac-1 dur­ing USC’s dom­i­nant decade.

“We’ve been the left-coast con­fer­ence and per­ceived as a fi­nesse con­fer­ence for years,” said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bru­ins were picked eighth. “You get into con­ver­sa­tions with some­body east of the Mis­sis­sippi River and they’ll tell you, ‘You play that throw­ing-the-ball-around foot­ball, not the three-yard­sand-a-cloud-of-dust, tough-guy stuff.’”

Thurs­day, much of the Pac10 talk re­volved around the Tro­jans, who are still el­i­gi­ble to win the con­fer­ence but are banned from a bowl game. USC fin­ished fifth last year.

New coach Lane Kif­fin isn’t sur­prised most me­dia mem­bers didn’t pick USC to win an­other ti­tle.

“I wouldn’t have, ei­ther,” he said. “We went 5-4 in the con­fer­ence, lost four guys early to the draft, and lost the best coach in the coun­try. I was sur­prised we were sec­ond.”

chris carl­son

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