Ducks say they're ready for Arizona, Pac-12 season


EUGENE - Ready or not, the Oregon Ducks are entering Pac-12 Conference play, 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 at Arizona.

The Ducks say they feel ready, after whipping Nevada and Missouri State in consecutive weeks, in the wake of being exposed by LSU and dropping from their perch in the national polls.

Oregon will try to win its third consecutive league championship, having conquered the Pac-10 the past couple seasons.

Chances are the Ducks will be one of the league's better teams.

"I'm excited," senior defensive end Brandon Hanna says. "I want to be a Pac-12 champion now."

Receivers have stepped up. Blocking has improved on the offensive line and perimeter. Defensive line play has inched toward respectability. Young linebackers have received playing time. And, the Ducks got two suspended players - linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerback Cliff Harris - back into the action.

"I think we're in a good place," senior offensive lineman Mark Asper says. "A lot of guys are starting to catch on to that vision of what we're trying to do, what it takes to play here and at Autzen Stadium, college football, speed and tempo on game day being a lot different than in practice."

Arizona still has standout quarterback Nick Foles, a solid running game and aggressive defense. The most important thing about Oregon's league opener is that it's in Tucson, Ariz., where the Ducks have seen some traumatic things happen.

In 2005, then-QB Kellen Clemens suffered a season-ending injury, but Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf rescued the team.

In 2007, Dixon blew out his knee completely, and the Ducks lost and waved goodbye to their national championship hopes.

In 2009, the Ducks won in overtime, pushing them into a game against Oregon State for a Rose Bowl berth.

What's so difficult about playing in Tucson? The Wildcats?

"We'll need 60 minutes of everything," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says. "They are a complete football team. Always done a great job on defense, Nick Foles is solid, and they're good on special teams."

The heat?

"It's the humid weather," says Ducks linebacker Dewitt Stuckey, of Stockton, Calif. "It's hot. California is a dry heat. Arizona, it's the humidity."

The crowd?

"Their fans do a good job of creating a rowdy atmosphere," Asper says. "They have good coaches and athletes, and they get up for anybody who comes in their house and try to defend their territory."

Arizona (1-1) was playing its Pac-12 opener Saturday night against Stanford.