Oregon and Arizona have shaky perches atop Pac-10 – LA Times

By ChrisDufrense, Los Angeles Times

It might seem like a new day in Pacific 10 Conference football, but we’re still a long way from judgment day.

Oregon (7-1, 5-0) and Arizona (5-2, 3-1) are the only schools that control their Rose Bowl fates, while USC stares up with two league losses and can’t seem to stop anyone on defense.

The conference race is not over, however, and the Rose Bowl bid is not secure.

“We’ve got nine conference games,” Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said on Tuesday’s weekly Pac-10 coaches’ conference call. “It’s a gantlet of games.”

Twice in the last three years, two two-loss teams have tied for the title. USC and California were 7-2 in 2006 and USC and Arizona State were 7-2 in 2007.

Remember too, the schools we’re talking about this year are Oregon and Arizona.

Oregon is coming off a defining 47-20 victory over USC. The Ducks are No. 7 in the Associated Press media poll this week and the offense, behind a dynamic quarterback, appears unstoppable.

This is the same school, though, that knows how fast it can unravel.

The similarities to 2007 are uncanny.

Two years ago Oregon overcame a September loss to Cal, got back in the thick of things with a late October home win against USC, and seemed on a course toward something special.

The Ducks took an 8-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking into a Thursday night game at Arizona, where it all fell apart.

Star quarterback Dennis Dixon, playing with a knee ligament tear that was not publicly disclosed, tried to make a cut and was finished.

Without him, so were the Ducks. Oregon lost its final three games and finished 5-4 in the Pac-10.

This year’s team lost in September to Boise State, upset USC last week, and is 7-1 and riding a hot quarterback with a gimpy knee.

Jeremiah Masoli, who missed the Oct. 10 game against UCLA because of the injury, has come back to perform fabulously in wins over Washington and USC.

How serious the injury is, no one knows — Oregon doesn’t reveal those details. Masoli’s right knee is braced and should have Oregon holding its collective breath for the next month.

Oregon Coach Chip Kelly doesn’t dwell on last week or worry about tomorrow.

“Win the day,” he said.

Oregon has tough Pac-10 games remaining against Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon State — schools with a combined record of 19-12.

Dream seasons, Ducks know, can blow up fast.

“Do you want to be defined because you had a big win over USC in the middle of your season and you finished 7-5?” Kelly said. “That’s the stark reality. . . . Just because we beat USC doesn’t mean we’re going to win the rest of our games.”

Arizona’s tortured history has been well chronicled. The bubble caption on the Wildcats’ cartoon reads “only team from Pac-10 or Big Ten never to have played in Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.”

Arizona has been teased before. In 1998, the Wildcats would have been Rose Bowl bound had Pac-10 champion UCLA earned a berth to the first BCS title game by defeating Miami in early December.

All UCLA needed to do was tackle Edgerrin James once in a wild 49-45 defeat.

Too bad there wasn’t instant replay back then too, because it would have likely overturned a game-turning fumble by UCLA’s Brad Melsby.

Arizona sits at second in the Pac-10 but has already been voodoo cursed this season at Washington, when the Huskies won on a pass that deflected off an Arizona receiver’s foot.

Arizona’s remaining schedule, after Washington State at home this week, does not appear conducive to avoiding a second or third defeat: at Cal, Oregon, at Arizona State and at USC.

“I hope our best football is ahead of us,” Stoops said, “because it needs to be.”

Can Oregon or Arizona be trusted with these leadership roles? USC is wounded, for sure, but six teams remain within two games of the lead.

The Trojans are one of them.


* Oregon’s Kelly said there was nothing to report on the possible reinstatement of running back LeGarrette Blount: “No decision made at all.” Kelly has not even forwarded his recommendation up the chain of command to his athletic director, Mike Bellotti.

* The Pac-10 has four teams ranked in the top 20 of this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings: Oregon (No. 8), USC (12), Arizona (18) and Cal (20). The Southeastern Conference has “only” three teams in the standings, but they’re all in the top 10: Florida (1), Alabama (3) and Louisiana State (9).

* Stanford is hosting green-hot Oregon this week, and Cardinal Coach Jim Harbaugh is hoping the sun shines all week so the grass will grow. “Maybe that’s what it takes to slow them down,” said Harbaugh, who said the tempo of Oregon’s offense right now is “the best I’ve seen in college football.”

* USC hasn’t lost consecutive games since Pete Carroll’s first season, 2001, when the Trojans lost to Stanford

(Sept. 29) and Washington (Oct. 6).