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Expectations drop at Oregon

BCS bid, Pac-10 title no longer realistic goals as 5-2 Ducks look to recover from WSU loss
by: , Kent

A bruised psyche could be Oregon's most difficult opponent this week.

No longer can the Ducks realistically think about winning the Pac-10 or being invited to the Bowl Championship Series party. Two losses, including last week's 34-23 defeat at Washington State, with their four turnovers and some leaky defense, virtually eliminates the Ducks.

So, will Oregon be able to accept the fact that getting to the Sun Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl would be an accomplishment?

'Two losses and it's the end of our season? Not at all,' receiver Jordan Kent says. 'We still have a lot to prove as a team. We have some big games ahead of us.'

Coach Mike Bellotti believes his team - young by many standards - will be just fine, especially with Division I-AA Portland State visiting Autzen Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

It would be easy for the Ducks to go through the motions against the Vikings, but Bellotti says the WSU loss in 'a winnable game' should elicit more urgency this week.

'They need to respond,' Bellotti says of his players 'We're 5-2, but I'm not happy where we're at.'

Beat PSU and Oregon becomes bowl eligible. The Ducks would certainly like to win a seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th game, although nothing seems certain anymore.

An improved Washington comes to Eugene on Nov. 4, followed by the Ducks' first visit to USC since 2000 on Nov. 11. A win appears to be on the horizon against offensively woeful Arizona on Nov. 18. Many thought the Ducks would break the nine-game winning streak by the home team in the Civil War this year, but surging Oregon State could be competitive in Corvallis on Nov. 24.

Bellotti, meanwhile, won't give up on Pac-10 title talk. Being two losses behind USC and Cal 'doesn't change what we have to do - win every game,' he says. 'We have to hope some things happen. … With the exception of Stanford, I think anybody can beat anybody else' in the Pac-10.

Clearly, the Ducks have to fix some things in their offense. Oregon has lost rhythm and tempo, due to miscommunication, lack of downfield explosiveness and turnovers. The Washington State game was the Ducks' third four-turnover performance in their last five outings.

Quarterback Dennis Dixon, who coaches say remains the starter ahead of Brady Leaf, has thrown seven interceptions in the past five games, including the backbreaking pick that WSU's Tyron Brackenridge returned to pay dirt. Running back Jonathan Stewart had his hands on four fumbles in Pullman, Wash., while being credited with one lost fumble.

Defensively, opponents continue to run on Oregon, to the tune of 169.6 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. An opposing runner has topped 100 yards in five of the past six games - the latest being WSU's Dwight Tardy with 145 - and UCLA's Chris Markey came up just three yards short.

It all starts at practice, but Bellotti says injuries throughout the team have led to the most inconsistent workouts in his 12 years as coach.

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