Oregon soars to No. 1 in AP poll

Posted Oct. 17, 2010, at 2 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 19, 2010, at 3:13 p.m.

Known for its ever-changing, often outrageous uniforms and a point-a-minute offense, Oregon now has a new distinction: No. 1 team in the country.

The Ducks climbed to the top spot for the first time Sunday, moving up one position during an off week after previously top-ranked Ohio State lost 31-18 at Wisconsin on Saturday night.

“We don’t have to talk about rankings with these guys,” Ducks coach Chip Kelly said in a telephone interview. “Whether we’re No. 1 in the country or 101 it won’t affect how we prepare.”

“But the only important thing is to be No. 1 in a month and a half on Dec. 5.”

That’s when the final BCS standings come out. The first came out Sunday night and had Oklahoma first with Oregon second and Boise State third.

In the AP poll, which is not part of the BCS standings, Boise State also moved up one place to No. 2. Oklahoma jumped three spots to No. 3, passing No. 4 TCU. Auburn moved up two spots to fifth, while the Buckeyes dropped to 11th.

Oregon becomes the 43rd team to hold the No. 1 ranking in the AP media poll, which dates to 1936. The last time a team was No. 1 for the first time was almost 20 years ago to the day, when Virginia rose to No. 1 on Oct. 14, 1990.

Ohio State’s loss came a week after then-No. 1 Alabama was beaten by South Carolina. Heisman Trophy contender LaMichael James and the Ducks will try to avoid three straight weeks of No. 1 losing when they play at home against UCLA on Thursday night.

The Ducks received 39 first-place votes and 1,471 points. Boise State had 15 first-place votes and TCU (three) and Oklahoma (three) also got votes as the top team in the country.

The rest of the AP top 10 was LSU at No. 6, followed by Alabama, Michigan State, Utah and Wisconsin, which jumped eight spots after its big win at Camp Randall Stadium.

The coaches’ poll had the same top nine as the AP poll.

Florida was one of four teams that dropped out of the poll. The Gators lost their third straight game Saturday — 10-7 to Mississippi State — and are unranked for the first time since the final poll of the 2004 season.

Also dropping out were Air Force, Nevada and Oregon State. Nebraska fell nine spots to No. 14 after losing 20-13 to Texas. The Longhorns moved back in at No. 22, along with No. 23 Virginia Tech and No. 25 Miami. Mississippi State is No. 24, its first ranking since 2001.

That was also a breakout season for Oregon. Under coach Mike Bellotti, quarterback Joey Harrington and the Ducks finished No. 2 and probably should have received a chance to play for the national championship. But they were squeezed out by a BCS formula that was later changed.

Bellotti took over the program from Rich Brooks after the Ducks went to the 1995 Rose Bowl and Brooks bolted for the NFL. It was Oregon’s first Rose Bowl appearance in almost 40 years, a major happening for a program that had spent decades as an afterthought.

The 1995 Rose Bowl trip was only the 10th bowl appearance in school history.

Under Bellotti and with the help of a multimillion-dollar deal with Nike, which is run by Oregon alum Phil Knight, the program bolstered its facilities and resources, and Oregon became a consistent winner and contender in the Pac-10.

“When I came here I considered Oregon a have. I considered Oregon a consistent top-20 team,” said Kelly, who was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire when Bellotti hired him in 2007.

Thanks to Nike, the Ducks have become the fashion plates of college football, seemingly breaking out a new eye-catching look every week. The Ducks donned all sorts of yellow, green, black, white and silver outfits, mixing and matching a multitude of combinations.

But after that 2001 national title run, the Ducks slipped a bit on the field as Pete Carroll and Southern California dominated the Pac-10. In 2007, it looked as if the Ducks were breaking through again, beating the Trojans and reaching No. 2 with Heisman contender Dennis Dixon.

Dixon blew out his knee on a Thursday night against Arizona, though, and the Ducks went into a tailspin. After the 2008 season, Bellotti stepped down as coach and Kelly was promoted.

Oregon finally unseated USC atop the Pac-10 last season and returned to the Rose Bowl with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli leading the way.

Masoli was kicked off the team after legal problems, but the Ducks haven’t slowed down.

Quarterback Darron Thomas has stepped into the role of dual-threat triggerman and James leads the nation in rushing at 169 yards per game. Running a high-speed offense that leaves weary opponents gasping, the Ducks are averaging 54 points per game, tops in the nation.

Three times already this season, Oregon has faced a double-digit deficit and gone on to a double-digit victory.

“This group is very confident because of their preparation,” Kelly said. “They also know the game lasts 60 minutes.”

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