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An aura of their own?

Ducks trying to build tradition, match mystique of USC
by: JAIME VALDEZ Oregon’s LaMichael James has the end zone all to himself after a 4-yard touchdown run during last week’s 53-30 victory at Stanford. Now the Ducks have to play USC, the Pac-12 team with the most football glory.

EUGENE Mystique and aura are words reserved for only the most storied athletic teams. With 11 national championships, a 24-9 record in the Rose Bowl and seven Heisman Trophy winners, USC’s football program has been surrounded with mystique and aura. “They’ve had a great program in the last century,” Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell says of the Trojans. While Oregon has a lot of glitz and glam, the Ducks’ only Rose Bowl win came in 1917, when they defeated Pennsylvania 14-0. Mystique and aura only go so far, though. Once, when he was asked about mystique and aura surrounding the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling responded: “Those are dancers in a nightclub.” Oregon coach Chip Kelly, by the way, is a Red Sox fan. And while he says he was sleeping during Schilling’s 2004 bloody sock game against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, he can still remember being awakened in Portsmouth, N.H., the night the Red Sox ended “The Curse of the Bambino.” “I heard all sorts of commotion, cars honking horns and things like that, and I was asleep,” Kelly says. “I figured either there was a fight outside, a fire, or the Red Sox had won the World Series.” Heading into Saturday’s 5 p.m. football game at Autzen Stadium, the Trojans (8-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12) are under NCAA sanctions; this is the second of two years in which they cannot go to a bowl game. With USC faltering, the Ducks (9-1, 7-0) have been climbing. Oregon’s coup d’état last year —the signing of star freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas, who had committed to the Trojans —may be one sign that Oregon’s program is getting closer to becoming what USC’s program has been for years. “That’s a sign that there are people who recognize us as one of those types of teams,” Campbell says. “De’Anthony saw a program that he thought was flourishing and a program that was beginning that kind of tradition.” nAfter the Reggie Bush fiasco, USC players have given back more Heisman Trophies than Oregon players have won. But, if he had his druthers, Ducks running back LaMichael James says he would prefer that his name not be added to a Heisman list that now includes six Trojans —running backs Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen and quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. A Heisman finalist last season, James has made a habit of spurning what might be the most iconic award in sports. “It’s a prestigious award to who?” James asks. “Not to me.” It did not take long after the Ducks’ 53-30 victory last Saturday over Heisman front-runner Andrew Luck and Stanford for James to re-enter the 2011 Heisman discussions. James has the best rushing average in the NCAA this season (150.9 yards per game). Despite missing two games with an elbow injury, James is sixth in the nation in total rushing yards, with 1,207 (Virginia Tech’s David Wilson leads at 1,360, 136.0 per game, 6.5 per carry). Campbell says that James, who has averaged 7.9 yards per rush this season, belongs in the Heisman talks. “I don’t think he’s getting enough recognition,” Campbell says. “I don’t know how they judge it. But I thought it was for the best college football player in America. I don’t know what he has to do. If I’m in the voting, he’s higher than where he is now.” Oregon offensive lineman Carson York says there is no other player he would rather lead the way for on a play from scrimmage. “He’s the best running back in the country,” York says. “I don’t think you’re going to hear any of us say any differently. There’s nobody in the country, quarterback, running back, anybody, that I’d rather block for.” Still, when it comes to receiving the Heisman Trophy, James makes it clear that he is not interested. “I don’t care,” James says. “At all.” nWith James and quarterback Darron Thomas healthy, Oregon is arguably playing as well as any team in the country. But, with a season-opening loss to LSU, the No. 4 Ducks no longer control their destiny when it comes to getting a second straight invite to the national championship game. A loss by either No. 1 LSU or No. 2 Oklahoma State could throw the polls into chaos, and an argument could be made that Oregon is one of the top two teams in the nation, provided the Ducks continue to win. Should that happen, Kelly says he would refuse to be one of those arguing for the Ducks to get into the title game. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody get a ranking because the coach lobbied for it,” Kelly says. “You can’t lobby if you’re not getting it done on the football field. If you go out and lose Saturday, no one is going to talk about you. “I don’t have enough time during the day to put together a campaign to get us lobbied up because some reporter said, ‘Hey, did you ever hear what the guy at Oregon said? That’s really sharp. Let’s vote them No. 1.’ ” Had Oregon not opened its season against LSU, the Ducks might be in a different position in the polls. But Kelly does not regret scheduling that game. “If someone gets to a championship game because of creative scheduling, then so be it,” Kelly says. “That’s never been my theory. If you’re going to be the best, play the best. If you’re going to duck people, then people shouldn’t be voting for you.” If Oregon is pinched out of the title game, York says the Ducks have no one to blame but themselves. “It’s our fault,” York says. “At the beginning of the year, you control what happens. If you win out, you usually get a shot at whatever you want. We lost the first game.”