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The Oregon Ducks are headed back to a BCS bowl, though not quite of the same stature as last season. With a 49-31 win in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship, the Ducks secure their spot in the Rose Bowl, where a date with the Big Ten champion awaits. Oregon took care of its business on Friday night, putting away the UCLA Bruins at Autzen Stadium, .
UCLA hung around for 30 minutes, heading into the half down 35-17. This may seem lopsided, but remember the spread on the Pac-12 Championship was 30.5 points, and nobody expected UCLA to even threaten Oregon. But thanks to a sloppy first quarter by the Ducks, and a little trickery, UCLA was down by just a touchdown early in the second quarter.
After a UCLA touchdown early in the second quarter, Oregon put up two quick touchdowns of its own, and the Bruins hopes were all but dead. The fourth quarter came and went in relatively quiet fashion, with neither team scoring until the waning moments.
But Nelson Rosario did provide one heck of a highlight reel play on the Bruins' final drive, reaching up high to snare a pass with one hand for the touchdown with under two minutes to go. UCLA failed to recover the onside kick, though, and the Ducks were able to sit on the ball to end the game.
With the 49-31 win, Oregon becomes the first-ever Pac-12 Champion and likely ensures the conference will have two teams, the other of which is Stanford, in the BCS.
The Oregon Ducks are going to the 2012 Rose Bowl, unless the UCLA Bruins can score approximately 1,000 points per minute for the rest of the evening. It'll be the sixth-ever appearance for the Ducks, who dropped the 2010 contest to the Ohio St. Buckeyes.
"The Granddaddy of them all," which I always confuse with the WWE's nickname for WrestleMania, is the oldest and most important bowl game. It is important because it is important. The game was first played in 1902, just nine years after Oregon began playing football.
It's traditionally paired the Big Ten champ against the Pac-10 victor, but that all changes, because it's the Pac-12 now. The Ducks will have to wait until Saturday night to discover their opponent -- the Big Ten Championship Game pits the Michigan St. Spartans against the Wisconsin Badgers. Sparty won Round 1 on a Hail Mary, but Wisconsin's favored by nine or 10.
Game date, time: 5 p.m. ET, Jan. 2
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
TV channel: ESPN
2010 winner and loser: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
It's not fun to play the Oregon Ducks, especially coming out of the half. Sure, the Ducks might let a team hang around, but the second half is almost invariably Oregon time. This has held true in the Pac-12 Championship, despite what appeared to be a momentary chink in the armor.
Oregon did come away with a fruitless possession to open the half, giving UCLA the ball back in prime position after a solid return and personal foul penalty. Four plays later, Kevin Prince kept the ball himself, waltzing into the end zone untouched to cut the Oregon lead to 11.
But that was it for UCLA, and the Ducks did what the Ducks do for the next 12 minutes. Two minutes after the UCLA score, Oregon answered back on a LaMichael James touchdown run from three yards out. Five minutes after that, Darron Thomas hit David Paulson for 22 yards and a touchdown, pushing the Ducks' lead to 25.
With 15 minutes to go in the Pac-12 Championship, Oregon leads UCLA, 49-24.
The UCLA Bruins have scored twice in the Pac-12 Championship, and neither touchdown has come conventionally. The first came on a tip-toe interception return for a touchdown after a bobbled ball landed in Patrick Larimore's hands. The second, which brought UCLA to within a touchdown of the Oregon Ducks, came on a flea-flicker. Tricky, Mr. Neuheisel.
Kevin Prince hit a wide-open Nelson Rosario for 37 yards and a touchdown after handing the ball off, then receiving a pitch back from the ball-carrier. Until the scoring drive, the UCLA offense had struggled, though the Bruins were hanging around thanks to the Ducks' early affinity for turning the ball over.
Oregon answered right back, though, driving 73 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. LaMichael James did the honors, coasting into the end zone from three yards out.
And as I was writing this, UCLA fumbled again. For those scoring at home, that's five turnovers -- three of which belong to the Bruins. All three are fumbles as well.
In the second quarter, the Ducks lead the Bruins in Oregon, 28-14.
If one were to judge how the Pac-12 Championship would turn out by looking at the first two games, or just taking a logical approach to the situation, it would've seemed like the Oregon Ducks were all set to win by about 50. After all, UCLA fumbled on its second play from scrimmage, leading to a quick Oregon score. All the signs of a rout were there.
Of course, the expected blowout may still happen, but UCLA is keeping things interesting thus far. Following LaMichael James' touchdown run, UCLA found some momentum in the form of a turnover. Of course, a fourth down stop by Oregon with the Bruins deep in enemy territory thwarted some of that momentum, but UCLA's defense came up big a short time later.
Darron Thomas tried to hit Kenjon Barner, but threw it behind the speedy running back on the next drive. The ball bounced up and into the hands of Patrick Larimore, who promptly tight-roped the sidelines and into the end zone to tie the game. And suddenly we had ourselves a ballgame.
And then Oregon quickly drove the length of the field for another touchdown while I was writing this. All is normal again and the Ducks lead 14-7.
The Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins take the field at Autzen Stadium on Friday in a Pac-12 Championship Game that has all the makings of a blowout. Make no mistake about it: all the ingredients of a game set to go off the rails right from the opening whistle are here. The Pac-12 North was the dominant division, Oregon boasts a surgical and fast offense, and UCLA is playing for a lame duck coach who will not be on the sidelines in its bowl game, whether it be the Rose Bowl or otherwise.
This is football, however, and anything can happen. The winner of this game heads to the Rose Bowl, so there's plenty of motivation -- as well as the dangling prize of being the first-ever Pac-12 champion. But there's a reason Oregon opened as a 30-point favorite over the Bruins, and very few, if any, expect this to be a close matchup.
Oregon has the hosting duties as the team with the better overall record, though the Pac-12 has put a few neutral touches on the stadium. No matter the outcome, it is a first for the Pac-12, and there should be plenty of excitement.
Here's the quick details of the Pac-12 Championship.
Time: 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2
Place: Autzen Stadium, Eugene Oregon
TV information: Nationally on FOX
Ranked eighth in the country, the 10-2 Oregon Ducks are 31-point favorites over the 6-6 UCLA Bruins in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game at Autzen Stadium on Friday night. The Ducks, who beat UCLA 60-13 in 2010, are vying for a third consecutive Pac-10/Pac-12 title, which would make them only the second school to do so since the conference expanded to ten teams in 1978.
Ducks running back LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing (142.7 yards per game) and is the school's all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. James, a fourth-year junior who is on pace to graduate this year, could be playing in his final game at Autzen Stadium and leads a Ducks' rushing attack that ranks fifth in the nation, averaging 291 yards per game on the ground. In addition to James, junior running back Kenjon Barner averages 83 rushing yards per game, which ranks 53rd in the country. UCLA's defense ranks 81st or below in every major statistical category, including scoring defense, where they're tied for 87th with a 30.8 points allowed per game average.
Friday night will be the final conference game for UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisal, who was fired following the team's 50-0 loss to the USC Trojans last Saturday night. The Bruins are representing the Pac-12 South because USC is ineligible for post-season play. A loss to the Ducks would drop the Bruins below .500 on the season, but the school requested and were granted a waiver by the NCAA and would remain eligible to participate in a bowl game this season.
FOX has the television rights to the Pac-12 Championship Game, with Gus Johnson on the play-by-play and Charles Davis serving as analyst. ESPN Radio has the radio broadcast rights. UCLA leads the all-time series (39-25), but the Ducks have won three straight and nine of the last 11 meetings. The winner of the Pac-12 Championship Game will face the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game (Wisconsin Badgers-Michigan St. Spartans) in the 2012 Rose Bowl on January 2, 2012.
You knew that interest was low for Saturday's Pac-12 Championship game between UCLA and Oregon, but perhaps not this low. According to the folks at TiqIQ, the Conference USA championship game between Southern Mississippi and Houston is currently a hotter ticket, along with the SEC, ACC and Big Ten Championships.
Ticket prices have gone up since, but can still be had for $23 if you're in the Eugene area. The prices probably have something to do with the fact that, you know, the Ducks will be entering the game as 31-point favorites, Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisal will be roaming the sidelines as a lame duck, and that UCLA is only in the game by default because the 10-2 USC Trojans are banned from the postseason. Just to name a few reasons.
* Besides the MAC. We love you, MACtion.
There's very little intrigue surrounding Friday night's inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game in Autzen Stadium.
Pac-12 North champ Oregon Ducks, who went 10-2, have the nation's sixth-most potent offensive attack (510.6 yards per game) and rank third in the nation in scoring offense (45.9 points per game) play host to the 6-6 UCLA Bruins, who lost five of six road games on the season, allow an average of over 30 points per game, and fired head coach Rick Neuheisal following last Saturday night's 50-0 shellacking at the hands of crosstown rival USC, who would be representing the Pac-12 South had they been eligible for post-season play.
With a coaching change in-progress, UCLA will win the battle of subplots, though Ducks junior running back LaMichael James possibly playing his final game in Autzen Stadium on Friday may be a close second.
"I'm not really thinking about the future right now," James, a fourth-year junior, said according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.
Fentress notes that James is on pace to graduate this year and is the school's all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, points scored and a few other offensive categories. The slightly-built (5-foot-9, 195-pounds) James missed two games in October with a dislocated right elbow and injured his left elbow in last week's 49-21 over the Oregon St. Beavers in the "Civil War".
With little else to prove at the college level, athletically or academically, 2012 may be the time for James to enter the NFL Draft.
If Oregon and UCLA meet in the inaugural Pac 12 Championship Game and no one watches, will it even happen? That is more or less the scenario facing the Ducks, who will meeting the 6-6 Bruins in the least-anticipated matchup of all the 2011 Conference Championship Games in prime time on Friday night.
How bad is it? Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder sums up the game and sticks a bow on it:
It’s too bad there’s no skipping ahead, no way to fast-forward Oregon into the Rose Bowl. We’d all be better off.
Quick, what’s your worst-case scenario for the Pac-12’s inaugural championship game? You’ll have a hard time surpassing this:
The actual South Division winner is ineligible to participate. The runner-up is 6-6, coming off a 50-0 loss to the actual winner. Oh, and then the runner-up fires its coach.
To their credit, Oregon is not taking UCLA lightly, getting an early jump on practice during the short week.
"I think we’re relishing the chance to play in this game. And it’s always easier when you’ve reached the end of the tunnel, to see the light and push toward it, " guard Carson York told the Register-Guard columnist.
For more on this game, keep up with our comprehensive 2011 Pac 12 Championship Game: Oregon Vs. UCLA StoryStream and visit UCLA blog Bruins Nation and Oregon blog Addicted To Quack. Head over to SB Nation NCAA Football for more on Championship Weekend.
It's safe to say that few, if anyone, are expecting UCLA Bruins to defeat the Oregon Ducks during Saturday's inaugural Pac 12 Championship Game. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisal will be on the sideline despite reports that he will be let go after the game, adding intrigue to what ought to be a blowout according to oddsmakers. Despite the negative press surround his team, Neuheisal stressed that the Ducks would receive nothing less than the Bruins' best.
"I don't care what people think," Neuheisel said during a press conference Sunday in L.A. "As far as I know, they are sending a plane to pick us up and we're going to get on it. ...
"The bottom line is we're going to do the best we can, players and coaches alike. We'll figure all that out when the powers that be figure all that out. It can't be a distraction right now."
Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince was equally resilient, saying that the team would not let any outside distractions take away from their preparation.
"We don't have a choice but to ignore it," UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince said. "Things like that can kind of tear us apart and that's the last thing we need right now is to be torn apart as a team, so we've just got to continue to stick together and keep that noise out if we can. We're not going to worry about what coach Neuheisel's situation is.
"Obviously we want him to stay. We love having coach Neuheisel as our coach, but right now we're just concerned about the game on Friday."
Still, any objective look at Saturday's game seemingly spells doom for the Bruins. Less objective sources, meanwhile, aren't even bothering to break down the game.
The Oregon Ducks host the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game when the UCLA Bruins visit on Friday. The Bruins need to pull off the upset to remain bowl eligible, as a loss has them with a losing record for the season.
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