Adv17

Updated: August 14, 2003, 7:49 PM ET

EUGENE, Ore. -- Jason Fife and Kellen Clemens say they're pals. They play golf together. And they insist that it's no big deal that they're competing to be Oregon's starting quarterback this season.

Or they might not be. It's anyone's guess, and coach Mike Bellotti isn't saying.

"It may be sometime in fall camp, it may be first game, it may not be decided until midseason," he said. "And it may be a system that allows us to play two quarterbacks on some type of regular basis, whether it be rotating series or quarters or specific plays.

"I really don't know."

Fife had the impossible task last season of trying to fill the shoes of departed fan favorite and Heisman finalist, Joey Harrington.

But Fife -- a one-time child actor who had a bit part in the film "Addams Family Values" at age 12 -- handled the pressure admirably. He never shied away from criticism and was always quick with a joke.

He started the season well, completing 109 of 179 passes for 1,614 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the first seven games. He ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency.

But as the Ducks struggled down the stretch, so did Fife.

He finished the season with 24 touchdowns, third most in school history behind Akili Smith 32 touchdown passes in 1998 and Harrington's 27 in 2001. But he also had 10 interceptions. Clemens completed 23-for-40 passes for 201 yards an interception and two touchdowns.

Bellotti said the two head into this season on equal footing.

Both are good-natured about the competition. Although both want the starting job, and both are willing to fight for it, there's an amicable "let the best man win" mentality.

"It's not been a cutthroat thing. We've helped each other and we will continue to help each other," Fife said.

Clemens said he has to be ready even if Fife does get the starting job -- if for some reason a game situation called for him to jump in. As a sophomore, he'll also need to be prepared for next season when Fife, a senior, is gone.

"I think no matter who starts, you have to be supportive of each other. And I think both of us are ready for that," Clemens said.

The quarterback controversy that everyone says is hardly controversial is just one of the uncertainties surrounding the Ducks this season.

Led by Harrington, Oregon went 11-1 in 2001, claimed the Pacific-10 Conference title and argued for a share of the national title after soundly defeating Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Even though Harrington moved onto the pros, hopes remained high for Oregon last season, and it first seemed like the team simply picked up where it left off: The Ducks opened by reeling off six-straight wins, got ranked as high as sixth and appeared well on their way to another conference title.

But Oregon lost six of its last seven games and punctuated the dramatic slide with a 38-17 loss to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl to finish 7-6. Clemens replaced Fife in that final game after the first quarter.

As Oregon looks to this season, which opens at Mississippi State on Aug. 30, the Ducks want to forget last season's results, but remember its lesson.

"We did start off good, but our philosophy is not how you start, it's how you finish, and we didn't finish very well," linebacker Kevin Mitchell said. "We didn't know how to patch it back together. We can't rely on the coaches to do that for us -- they're not the ones on the field."

In the Pac-10 preseason media poll, the Ducks were projected to finish fifth in the conference, behind Southern California, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State.

Punt returner Keenan Howry graduated and headed to the NFL, while running back Onterrio Smith and tight end George Wrighster both decided to forgo their senior seasons and turn pro.

The three returning tailbacks, Terrence Whitehead, Ryan Shaw and Kenny Washington, had fewer than 100 carries combined last season.

While the Ducks' offensive and defensive lines are strong, they are struggling at cornerback. Oregon's secondary was among the worst in the nation last season.

Oregon drew some negative attention in the offseason when the team recruited junior college cornerback Rodney Woods out of Fresno City College.

Woods was convicted of felony assault for his role in a fight at a party in Southern California in May, 2000. Christopher O'Leary, 17, died after a separate assault at that party.

Woods, who spent a year in jail, petitioned the court to reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor so that he could attend Oregon. A judge granted his request earlier this year.

In fall practice, Woods' performance was drawing as much attention as the competition between Fife and Clemens.

Woods is determined to put his past behind him.

"I've learned that you can get a second chance in life," Woods said. "You need to take advantage of your second chance."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index