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Originally published Friday, August 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | At Oregon, Mike Bellotti era is one of raised expectations

Although the quarterback situation is muddled because of the recent loss for the season of projected starter Nate Costa, Oregon is rated No. 21 by The Associated Press heading into the season opener Saturday against Washington at Autzen Stadium.

Seattle Times staff reporter


UW @ Oregon, Eugene, Ore., 7 p.m.

There was a time when a 9-4 season might be enough to get a guy's name immortalized on a field in Eugene.

In fact, it happened in 1994 when Rich Brooks' last team finished 9-4 en route to the school's first Rose Bowl in 35 years. Since Brooks left, the Ducks have played on Rich Brooks Field in Autzen Stadium.

When Mike Bellotti's Ducks finished 9-4 last season, the feeling was more of what-might-have-been after Oregon had risen as high as No. 2 in the polls before fading late when injuries hit.

That a 9-4 record could elicit even a hint of disappointment might be one of the greatest testaments to the job Bellotti has done since taking over for Brooks in 1995. Only nine other times in Oregon's 112-year football history has the school won as many games as it did last season, including five with Bellotti as coach.

Despite losing two of the best players in the school's history — quarterback Dennis Dixon, who might have won the Heisman had he not been hurt late in the season, and running back Jonathan Stewart — expectations remain high.

Although the quarterback situation is muddled because of the recent loss for the season of projected starter Nate Costa, Oregon is rated No. 21 by The Associated Press heading into the season opener Saturday against Washington at Autzen Stadium.

Proof, apparently, that prognosticators think Bellotti and the Ducks have entered that rare "reload-rather-than-rebuild" zone that defines great programs.

Bellotti, now tied for fourth all-time for Pac-10 wins (65-41), admitted this week that "the reality is, I don't know that you replace" Dixon or Stewart.

Instead, he envisions the success of this Oregon squad being more of a team effort, as opposed to resting on the shoulders of a couple of stars.

"We think, certainly, we have some really, really good quarterbacks and they are going to need some help from the people around them," Bellotti said. With Costa sidelined, sophomore Justin Roper will get the start, the second of his career. He can only hope it will go as well as his first, when he threw four touchdown passes in Oregon's 56-21 win over South Florida in the Sun Bowl last December. Bellotti said the Ducks also will give junior-college transfer Jeremiah Masoli, a sophomore, some time at QB.

Oregon's hope is that experience just about everywhere else on offense will make up for the lack of it at quarterback. The Ducks have two all-conference candidates on the line, including senior center Max Unger, plus senior receiver Jaison Williams, junior tight end Ed Dickson and senior running back Jeremiah Johnson.

It is that line, featuring four senior starters, that figures to be the biggest challenge for the Huskies on Saturday, considering UW's youth on its defensive line. Three true freshmen figure to see significant time up front, and only one player returns who has any serious playing time.

And where UW's offensive line emphasizes bulk, Oregon's is built on speed and quickness with only two players more than 300 pounds.

"I haven't seen all the [offensive lines in the Pac-10], but I would think this rates toward the top," said UW defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "They have been together, very quick, a smaller line than we've seen in practice, so it will be a little bit of a tempo thing when they see this group."

And though Dixon is gone, the Ducks still operate a spread offense that emphasizes deception and last year gained 661 yards on the Huskies, including 465 on the ground, the most ever against a UW team.

"There's a lot of got-to-find-the-ball against these guys," Donatell said.

The Ducks also count on having a better defense than a year ago with seven starters returning, including three in a secondary that some are calling one of the best in the nation. It's led by safety Patrick Chung and cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd.

That's another matchup that appears to heavily favor the Ducks. UW enters the game with just one receiver who has caught a pass in a game for the Huskies, sophomore D'Andre Goodwin (six receptions for 29 yards last season).

"That's a good secondary," said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. "That's not hype. ... That's a pretty good test for us early. But we're just going to have to find out where we stand. Obviously, if we can have success against them, then we are pretty good."

That's Washington using Oregon as a measuring stick — yet another indication of how things have changed since Bellotti took over in 1995.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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