With wins, with a No. 1 ranking in college football comes thorough examination of the team – the good and bad of its style, the campus it lives on, the town it breathes life into.
Oregon is dealing with that sort of stuff as we speak – or virtually brushing it aside, depending on your translation of Ducks coach Chip Kelly’s comments about the off-the-field publicity in recent weeks.
To wit: After the Ducks’ fourth-quarter explosion put away USC, 53-32, on Saturday, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin remarked the Ducks could run the table right to the BCS national title game.
Kelly’s reaction during the Pacific-10 Conference call with reporters Monday?
“It doesn’t matter if Lane Kiffin says it, or anybody else, it really doesn’t mean anything,” Kelly said. “I don’t think our kids are going to say, ‘Hey coach Kiffin said we’re going to run the table, so let’s go take a vacation.’”
Ah, the potential pitfalls of standing atop the mountain.
“You can’t really pay attention to that stuff,” said Oregon running back LaMichael James, now a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. “Talent doesn’t win games. Hard work wins games, and that is what we really believe in.”
Perhaps if you could poll the Ducks on who deserves the most credit in streamlining their belief – there are many stars to choose from – winning in a landslide would be the university’s most influential sports icon.
The Coos Bay native was a three-time NCAA Division I men’s cross country champion. He also held seven American middle- and long-distance marks in the 1970s, and has been credited most for the boon for road racing in this country for decades – even after his tragic death in 1975.
Not much can excite Kelly more than the topic of Prefontaine. He runs the “Prefontaine trail” almost every day near campus as part of his workout. He constantly preaches to his team about the relentless work ethic the runner lived by.
“Prefontaine ran as hard as he can,” Kelly said, “for as long as he can.”
Last season, Kelly and the coaching staff escorted the team near the scene of Prefontaine’s fatal car accident on Skyline Boulevard near Hendricks Park, and relayed many tales about the track star.
“It’s a coaching story for me and my teammates,” James said. “Coach Kelly always stresses … we shouldn’t save (our energy) for the next play. Prefontaine was a good guy with great work ethic.”
In practice, Kelly has told players over and over that he wants them to run around the with same aggressive style and conviction as Prefontaine once did. That’s saying something for an offense that operates more at a sprinter’s pace, not a mid-distance runner.
“Through our season, every game we’re getting faster as we’ve gone along,” Ducks tight end David Paulson said.
** THURSDAY PRACTICE (and other stuff): James – the nation’s leading rusher – said he values one honor over the Heisman Trophy. It’s becoming an academic All-American. “It’s my No. 1 goal,” he said. “It’s something I can control.” … The UW receiving corps will be short-handed again Saturday. Jordan Polk (head) suffered a concussion late in practice Wednesday, and is out. … Tight end Chris Izbicki (sprained foot) returned to practice, and should play Saturday. … It was Luther Leonard – not UW coach Steve Sarkisian – who capped the week as scout-team quarterback, running the Oregon offense. … Mike King, a walkon quarterback from Aberdeen High who arrived in September, has left the team to tend to personal issues.