Oregon feeling Ducky as Michigan awaits

Originally Published: September 17, 2003
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

Sure, Michigan boasts an NCAA-best 826 victories and 11 national championships in 124 seasons of football.

But it doesn't have three 60-inch plasma televisions in its locker room. Nor does it have individualized ventilation and security systems and Internet and video game outlets in each locker.

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  • Oregon does.

    They're all in its new, two-story $3.2 million pregame dressing, grooming and amusement lounge (locker room just doesn't do it justice).

    Michigan offers history, blood-and-guts Big Ten football and perhaps the most famous uniforms in sport. Oregon offers "Lightning Yellow" road outfits (think highlighter ink) and reserves one of its $26,667 lockers for Nike chairman and deep-pocketed alum Phil Knight.

    Michigan is stately tradition, where 110,000 fans can chat easily about General Motors stock in a relatively subdued stadium. Oregon is the high-tech, nouveau riche with boisterous fans making like jet engines in 54,000-seat Autzen Stadium.

    Michigan is college football past; Oregon is college football future. Only one will celebrate the present after the third-ranked Wolverines visit the No. 22 Ducks on Saturday.

    Michigan has dominated its history against Oregon, winning games in 1948, 1960 and 1973 by a combined 59-0. It's never faced Oregon at the Ducks' home, but its last two trips to the West Coast ended in defeat. In 2000, the Wolverines lost 23-20 at UCLA and dropped a 23-18 decision at Washington the following year.

    Of course, those Michigan teams hadn't blitzed three previous opponents 133-10 and weren't coming off a shocking 38-0 decimation of Notre Dame.

    This Michigan team looks like a national title contender, something that can't be said for the well-equipped but nondescript Ducks.

    "I do know it's one of the most difficult stadiums in the country because of crowd noise," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said when quizzed on his knowledge of Oregon. "I don't think there's any chance we will overlook anybody, especially Oregon. Oregon will present one of the biggest challenges of the year for us."

    But these Ducks are different from recent flocks. Oregon is back in the national rankings, a place it nested in for 41 consecutive weeks before going south the second half of last year, but this is a starless team still looking for answers at a number of positions.

    That's why, for the first time in three years, there were no giant billboards in Manhattan hyping individual stars. There are no marquee players deserving of a marquee, nor did the team look ready for Broadway when it lost six of its final seven games in 2002.

    Oregon placed a running back or quarterback on the All-Pac-10 first team in four of the past five years. That won't happen this year because the Ducks are using two quarterbacks and four tailbacks and show no signs of sticking with one as the proverbial go-to guy.

    Oregon coach Mike Bellotti doesn't seem to mind. His quarterback combination of Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife leads the nation in passing efficiency, combining for a 64 percent completion rate and 284 yards passing per game with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. Fife, alone, has connected on 82 percent of his throws.

    As far as the running game goes, who cares if Chris Vincent, Terrence Whitehead, Ryan Shaw and Kenny Washington individually can't duplicate the skills of Onterrio Smith? Their 198.7 combined yards rushing per game easily beat Smith's production the previous two seasons.

    The Ducks also are missing two budding stars: their best offensive lineman, Joey Forster, and best defensive lineman, 340-pound Haloti Ngata. They went down with season-ending injuries.

    But Bellotti doesn't want a star. He wants a constellation.

    "I don't care if we have a 'guy' -- that's the least of my worries," he said. "Parity is good; competition is good."

    Michigan has a couple of guys. Tailback Chris Perry leads the nation with 183 yards rushing per game, while quarterback John Navarre is playing the best football of his career. The Wolverines offensive line might be the nation's best.

    Michigan knows its good. Oregon doesn't know who it is yet. So while there may be an occasional ad in USA Today and a bevy of local billboards, the Ducks mostly have retreated to their palatial locker room where they can scheme about reconstructing their image on the field in front of a national television audience.

    We'll shortly see how that turns out.

    "I don't think we have an answer to that yet," Bellotti said.

    Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

    Ted Miller | email

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