BCS bowl talk for the Ducks? Not yet...

Like the Ducks' 2001 team that went the Fiesta Bowl, the 2005 Ducks have leaders among the players that can lead by example. Unlike that 2001 team though, Oregon now is faced with playing without their starting quarterback. Ironically, the Fiesta Bowl may still be a possibility for Oregon but if you ask Oregon's Mike Bellotti, talking about the post season is a waste of energy for his team and they have a more important topic at hand -- Washington State.

The Ducks, 8-1, 5-1 in the Pac-10 are headed into the contest with the Cougars on Saturday evening. Oregon can continue its bid for a better bowl position with a win over Washington State (3-8, 0-6) and possibly into a BCS Bowl. The Ducks are currently ranked 10th in the BCS Bowl standings. By winning the next two games, Oregon could be in a position to be selected for a BCS Bowl.

Oregon has replaced injured starting quarterback Kellen Clemens with sophomore Dennis Dixon and if necessary, back up quarterback, sophomore Brady Leaf can fill in nicely as he did against Arizona and California. Fresh off the 27-20 overtime win against the Bears last Saturday, the Ducks have the luxury of having two players that are young enough, yet mature enough to not let their own ego get in the way of the team's performance. Yet Bellotti points out that it is the teams own leadership that is making the program's success possible. The leadership is making the difference between the 2005 team being mediocre or a BCS hopeful.

"I don't think the talent level is significantly better than teams that have been around .500," said Bellotti during the weekly Pac-10 media conference that was streamed on oregonlive.com. "We've had two teams in the last four years that have been around that mark. Those teams had the talent but lacked the leadership. This team is no more talented but the leadership is significantly better."

Bellotti points out that the senior leadership has been a factor all season long and even more so now since Clemens is lost for the season with an injury suffered during the Arizona game. Bellotti thinks it is because the senior class has the players on the field that are performing with confidence to allow them to be more vocal. Players like wide receiver Demetrius Williams the leading pass catcher with 941 yards through nine games and nine touchdowns. Running back Terrence Whitehead is another leader Bellotti points out. Whitehead has 507 yards on 119 carries and three scores this year including 119 yards and a touchdown against Cal last week. Whitehead also is the team second leading receiver with 40 catches for 370 yards and three touchdowns. The head coach thinks the seniors are backing things up with their play and have earned the respect of their teammates.

"In cases like Demetrius Williams and Terrence Whitehead, they've stepped outside their normal personality," commented Bellotti about his senior players. "They are pretty quiet guys, but they are willing now to talk before the game, talk during the game, go and challenge people when things aren't going very good. When things are well they are willing to say something."

That leadership is going to be crucial this week when Oregon plays in the cold conditions at Martin Stadium on Saturday night. The Oregon coaching staff has established that Dixon is the starter but Leaf will see playing time and this situation is not so foreign to Bellotti. In his coaching career the coach has used a two-quarterback rotation. The first time was he was at Chico State and then later at Oregon with Akili Smith and Jason Maas. More recently Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife shared the quarterback duties. In the case of Dixon and Leaf, Bellotti thinks both players bring something unique to the game and that is a weapon for the Ducks.

"Right now Dennis is the starter and Brady will play," said Bellotti of the quarterback situation. "The amount Brady will play will be determined over the course of this week's practice and what the game plan becomes."

While Dixon is a very talented and exciting player, Leaf is not quite the runner but operates the offense well as demonstrated by his play in both the Arizona and Cal games. Bellotti noted that he has never had a case when using two quarterbacks that the player's ego got in the way of the team performance, but did concede that sometimes it was difficult for a player's style to come out because of the shared duties. Bellotti believes that to be successful the players must put the team first and maturity is very much necessary. He also pointed out that the problems of sharing playing time for the quarterback is not unique to the quarterback position -- that all positions in competition face the same reality. He also thinks the competition for playing time makes the team better.

"It takes a very strong person, to alternate in that position," said Bellotti of rotating quarterbacks. "That's true in any position."

Bellotti had left Leaf in the California game because of the experience gained the game before against Arizona. Since neither quarterback has had much playing time, Leaf's performance against the Wildcats in the fourth quarter was considered in what role he'd play in the overtime session against California. Bellotti thinks that Leaf has grown into his body after being sort of a "gangly youth" coming out of high school. The redshirt sophomore has gained strength to do the things necessary at the Pac-10 level.

The headman thinks that his two quarterbacks are young enough and excited enough about playing to keep their egos in check and also that his team recognizes both Dixon and Leaf bring something that can help the team win. The senior leadership and having players around the quarterbacks that can give them support is important. Having a defense playing like it has over the last few games is also an important factor to this team success and the situation of having to depended upon two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running the offense.

While some may concentrate on their travel plans in December or January, Bellotti is not too concerned about what happens after the regular season ends. He's very concerned however about the next two weeks and particularly next Saturday in Pullman. Even though the Cougars have a record of 3-6, with all losses in the Pac-10, Bellotti thinks Washington State just might be the best 0-6 team in the country. The Cougars have the nation's second leading rusher in Jerome Harrison with 1,550 yards this season just 87 yards short of the his school single season record. Harrison has had 12 straight 100-yard rushing games and last week against Arizona State, he burst for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Harrison is not the only weapon the Cougars have in their arsenal. Wide receiver Jason Hill has 12 touchdown catches this season and is averaging 120.9 yards per game, making him the nation's second leading receiver. Statistically, the Cougars have put up more offense than Oregon, 491.11 yards to 454.78, but defensively, Oregon has held opponents to 353.22 yards per game to WSU's 455.33.

Bellotti has told his team that they will not talk about post season play. He wants his team to focus strictly on this week's game and beating Washington State. Any thinking and dreaming of post season play is simply conjecture and is wasted energy.

"It doesn't mean anything because what we need to do is we need to win this game this week," said Bellotti of the possibility of going onto a BCS Bowl. "Then once we've accomplished that then we need to look at the objective next week."

The game on Saturday in Pullman could be a big challenge for Oregon. While the Duck defense has been stingy against the running game, last week Cal's Marshawn Lynch nearly took it upon himself to ruin the Ducks hopes for a BCS bowl. A courageous stand by the Oregon defenders, particularly in the overtime session saved the day but this week, a very hungry Washington State team has nothing to lose and could regain a considerable amount of pride by knocking off a highly ranked team like the Ducks. Bellotti seems adamant about letting other people talk about post-season play, and continues to talk about focus on the objective, in this case the Washington State Cougars. The senior leadership of the team has been instrumental in helping support the team's new quarterback combination, and that team leadership will be vital if the Ducks want to achieve the goal they don't even speak of now, something only the 2001 Ducks talk can about, a BCS bowl.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. from Martin Stadium in Pullman. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Network.

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