Oregon's win at Stanford shakes BCS, Heisman races
Andrew Luck and LaMichael James embraced with a hug near midfield, wished each other well and jogged through the tunnel in opposite directions.
The aftermath of Oregon's 53-30 stampede past Stanford on Saturday night has both schools and stars suddenly shifting separate ways. The Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) moved up to No. 4 in the new AP poll Sunday, while the Cardinal (9-1, 7-1) slid five spots to eighth.
Now the only way Luck could bring a national championship to Stanford is if he returns for his final year of eligibility - and he has insisted he won't - and his Heisman Trophy campaign no longer seems to be a runaway. Suddenly, James and Oregon are at least in the mix for college football's most coveted awards.
''I think we're right back in it,'' said Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, who threw for 155 yards and three touchdowns while completing only 11 passes. ''Why not?''
That's the question reverberating around the nation.
Not just for Oregon, either.
With previous undefeated Stanford and Boise State losing Saturday, the line behind top-ranked LSU - who Oregon lost to in the season opener - and No. 2 Oklahoma State is a lot shorter. Alabama, whose only loss also came against LSU, is ranked third.
Both teams are working for a rematch in the BCS championship game in New Orleans.
''I feel like if we get another shot at them again, I feel like it will be a better game,'' said Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, who caught a short pass and sprinted 41 yards for a touchdown against Stanford.
Other dreams might need to be reevaluated, too.
Luck has been the clear front-runner for the Heisman since he turned down a chance to be the NFL draft's No. 1 pick this year in hopes of leading Stanford to a Pac-12 championship and maybe even a national title. Even if Stanford lost a game, Luck figured to remain at the top, so long as he played well.
Now the race could be wide open.
Luck accounted for three of the Cardinal's five turnovers - throwing two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and losing a fumble - in a disastrous showing in front of a national television audience and one of the biggest college football games ever in the pro-saturated Bay Area market.
''I knew it wasn't going to be a cake walk,'' said Luck, who threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns. ''I had no grand illusions of just showing up and things just falling for our team because we just show up on Saturdays. We still have football left. For that I'm grateful. Hopefully more games after the conference season is over. There's still goals out there for us to accomplish.''
James and the Ducks ripped away any title talk for Stanford and possibly its star quarterback, too.
James ran for scores from 1, 4 and 58 yards and had Cardinal defenders slipping all over a slick, soggy field. He finished with 146 yards rushing and the three touchdowns.
A Heisman Trophy finalist last year, James had slipped from contention because of a dislocated right elbow that kept him out of two games. He still leads the nation with an average of 150.88 yards per game and also ranks third in all-purpose yards with an average of 190.25.
Perhaps more importantly, James knocked Stanford - and Luck - off for the second straight year.
The Ducks ended the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games - which the Cardinal began after a loss in Eugene more than a year ago - and can clinch the Pac-12's North Division crown over Stanford with a win in one of their final two games against Southern California or Oregon State.
''I think every game he's played in, he's played well,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of James. ''We're going to ride that kid as long as we can.''
Perhaps further than anybody imagined.
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP