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Another drip of water torture by Ducks

BERKELEY, Calif. — They’ll wake up Sunday as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team in the polls, but that will roll off like water off a Ducks’ back.

“That’s great to talk about, but now we have Stanford,” said Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich after the Ducks’ 59-17 victory over California Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. “A very talented team, a different set of challenges.”

Top-ranked Alabama’s 29-24 loss to Texas A&M would touch off a celebration in many locker rooms around the country. Not Oregon’s.

“All that matters is next week,” Helfrich said of next Saturday’s date with Stanford, “and (Alabama’s defeat) is the perfect example of that.”

Alabama’s fortunes, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota allowed, “has no effect on how we play. That’s out of our control. All we focus on is Cal and getting this win.”

Kenyon Barner wasn’t biting, either.

“I don’t know anything about Alabama,” said Oregon’s senior running back, who finished with a pedestrian 65 yards on 20 carries Saturday night. “Alabama’s way in the south. (The Crimson Tide) are not on our schedule. I don’t need to worry about them.”

Told they might be on Oregon’s schedule later, Barner smiled.

“If they are,” he said, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Despite the upset loss at Tuscaloosa, Alabama could still wind up in the BCS championship game. That’s the power of the SEC, with four of the top eight teams in the BCS standings entering Saturday’s play.

Oregon, which entered the weekend third in the BCS standings primarily because it stood sixth in the computer ranking, should be in position to move up on strength of schedule with Stanford, Oregon State and a potential Pac-12 championship game opponent on the horizon.

But Kansas State and Notre Dame are still unbeaten, once-beaten SEC powers Georgia and Florida are looming and really, who knows what’s going to happen?

In two weeks, Florida must play Florida State. Kansas State faces Texas, and Notre Dame has to get by Southern Cal. Upsets could be in the making, and include Oregon in that conversation.

Oregon looked vulnerable for a while Saturday — on defense, anyway, as Cal opened gaping holes against an injury-decimated Duck front. The Bears had 200 yards rushing through three quarters and finished with 236 yards on the ground.

Cal had the ball trailing 24-17 midway through the third quarter, with Barner’s numbers (10 carries, 21 yards) raising eyebrows. By that time, Mariota and Barner had both been banged around and left the game briefly with minor injuries. ESPN.com had an upset alert on its home page.

Then Cal quarterback Allan Bridgford — subbing for injured starter Zach Maynard — served up an interception that Boseko Lokombo snared at the Bear 35. On the next play, Mariota connected with Josh Huff for a touchdown pass for a 31-17 lead.

Always, it seems, the Ducks find a way to beat you with a little water torture. Drip, drip drip, then comes the flood. Four touchdowns later, the Bears were drenched.

“That is a great team,” said beleaguered Cal coach Jeff Tedford, struggling through a 3-8 season. “It can really get away from you in a hurry when they get rolling.”

From the start, the Cal defense loaded up at the line of scrimmage and dared the Ducks to throw.

Boy, did Mariota throw. Oregon’s prize redshirt freshman completed 27 of 34 passes for a season-high 377 yards and matched the school record with six TD passes.

“He continues to prove me right in everything I’ve said about him,” Barner said. “The kid’s future is extremely bright. The way he carries himself ... and he plays this game like he’s been playing for years, not like a freshman.”

Mariota didn’t know he’d put his name in the record book.

“Thank God (UO receivers) caught the ball,” said Mariota, who also rushed eight times for 42 yards. “Those guys did a good job of running routes and getting open.

“(The Bears) did a good job of filling the box. That’s going to give us a little more opportunities in the passing game. I had a lot of fun throwing it around a little bit.”

If you’re media, you don’t talk to the Ducks about the BCS championship game, or about rankings, or about injuries. Mariota let it slip that he had banged up his left shoulder, “but I’m fine,” he said several times.

As for Barner, it appeared he hurt his hand. Right?

“I don’t know. What’d you see?” he said.

Looked like he got the hand re-taped, then re-entered the game in the second quarter.

“I didn’t like the tape job,” he conceded. “A little uncomfortable.”

If the Ducks were uncomfortable with Cal still in range midway through the third quarter and the defensive line down to third-stringer — and even tight end Koa Ka’ai for a while — they didn’t show it.

“Our guys didn’t flinch,” Helfrich said, using another of Chip Kelly’s buzzwords.

“Great win,” Nike patriarch Phil Knight said as he patrolled the UO sidelines near game’s end. “But boy are we thin on the D-line. We had to use guys who hadn’t played — and it showed.”

Next week is Stanford. The Cardinal could provide a stiff test for the Ducks, even at Autzen Stadium. Or maybe it will be just another example of water torture by the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.