Ducks clinch spot in Pac-12 title game with win
Fourth-ranked Oregon will clinch a place in the first Pac-12 Conference championship game with a victory over Southern California on Saturday.
For Ducks coach Chip Kelly, the significance of the title game depends on the eventual outcome.
''We've never been in it, so I can't tell you,'' he told reporters earlier this week. ''If we go to it and lose, I'm going to tell you it's awful.''
After a 53-30 victory over Stanford last Saturday, Oregon needs to win one of its last two games to advance to host the inaugural league championship game on Dec. 2. The Ducks (9-1, 7-0) play the Trojans this weekend before the annual Civil War matchup against Oregon State, also at Autzen Stadium.
Should Oregon lose both games, Stanford (9-1, 7-1) could represent the Pac-12 North Division for the title with a victory in the Big Game against California this weekend. But with the way the Ducks have been playing of late - and particularly in the victory over the Cardinal - that seems unlikely.
In typical fashion, Kelly wasn't jumping ahead. First up for the Ducks are the No. 18 Trojans (8-2, 5-2).
''Nothing's changed for us. Our formula for success is it's a one-week season,'' he said.
While most see Oregon in the title game, the Pac-12 South is totally up for grabs.
UCLA (5-5, 4-3) will play in the title game if its wins its final two games against Colorado and USC. If the Bruins win just one, they'll need Arizona State and Utah to lose one of their final games, too. The Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3) or the Utes (6-4, 3-4) would have to win their remaining games to have a realistic chance.
Oregon has won the past two league championships, which in the past were decided by the final regular season standings among 10 teams. The addition of Colorado and Utah to the conference this season brought about the two divisions and the title game. The Trojans can't play for a Pac-12 championship this season because of NCAA sanctions.
The winner of the title game gets an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl against the Big Ten champion. However, if the Pac-12 champion is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country in the final BCS standings, then that team would go to the national championship.
Many Ducks fans were looking at the multitude of scenarios that would send Oregon to New Orleans on Jan. 9. The latest BCS standings have LSU ranked No. 1, followed by Oklahoma State, Alabama and Oregon. The Ducks lost to LSU in the season opener.
''I feel like nobody on the team thinks about things like that. We haven't talked about national championships or BCS bowl games. That's far from our mindset right now,'' safety Eddie Pleasant said.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley certainly helped the Ducks stay focused on USC after a 40-17 victory over Washington last Saturday.
''I think Oregon is very good this year,'' he said. ''But I think they were better when we played them in the past.''
Barkley also caused a stir before USC's game against the Ducks last season with a post to Twitter after Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar in the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title bout. Barkley tweeted: ''Wow, Brock just got rocked! Lesnar is to Oregon as Velasquez is to SC. Lezgo.''
He later deleted the post, explaining that he was just trying to inspire his teammates. Oregon went on to beat the Trojans 53-32 at the Coliseum.
Oregon running back LaMichael James, who leads the nation with an average of 150.88 yards rushing per game, shrugged off Barkley's latest comments.
''That stuff really doesn't matter. We're not playing a team from last year. We're playing SC 2011, and they're playing us 2011,'' said James, who rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns against USC last season.