Suprised Bellotti Glad to Head to El Paso

Mike Bellotti may have been as surprised as anyone when he found out his Oregon Ducks (8-4, 5-4) had been selected to play in the 2007 Sun Bowl. Bellotti indicated in a media conference on Sunday night that he was called out of the team banquet earlier in the day and informed the Ducks were headed back to El Paso.

"I was called during the middle of our banquet by our athletic administration and they said that (the Sun Bowl) had voted and asked us to play in their game," explained Bellotti of how he found out about the decision. "It was a combination I guess of their belief in our football team, our fans and their ability to travel. I don't think there was any kind of negotiation. We obviously wanted to play in the very best bowl game possible. We are very pleased to represent the University of Oregon, the Pac-10 in the Sun Bowl and play a quality team like the University of South Florida, who at one time was ranked No. 2 just like us.".

A representative of the Sun Bowl explained that the Bowl's contract with Pac-10 allows for the Pac-10's third place team to play, but the Sun Bowl has a "no-repeat clause." The Sun Bowl committee held, what the representative described as a "healthy discussion" and felt that Oregon would do a good job at the Sun Bowl. The Sun Bowl representative also indicated that the decision had nothing to do with what Oregon State did last year, and in fact he (the representative) complimented the Beavers and their fans for the appearance in the 2006 Sun Bowl.

Bellotti went on to say that opportunity to play in the Sun Bowl actually uplifted the spirits of his team who had been in contention for the BCS National Championship until losing to Arizona in a game that marked the injury to the Ducks most valuable player, Dennis Dixon.

The Oregon headman did not have much to say regarding his future opponent. He indicated he hasn't had a chance to see any film on the Bulls but mentioned that Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly played against USF while at New Hampshire. Bellotti thinks that the Sun Bowl appearance may waylay rumors that the Oregon offense has succumbed due to natural causes -- because the loss of Dixon. .

"The rumors about the demise of our offense is a little exaggerated," cracked Bellotti. "We did some pretty good things and are going to get better and better. A healthy Jonathan Stewart, he played on one leg yesterday and gained 163 yards against the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation."

Bellotti further mentioned the Ducks should be healthy in the Sun Bowl at linebacker and receiver. The coach mentioned that Casey Matthew's injured shoulder will not require surgery and that both Terence Scott and Aaron Pflugrad should be in good condition for the bowl game. A.J. Tuitele will be back at full speed for the match up in Texas, which will help the ailing linebacker corps for the Ducks.

While neither Dixon nor Brady Leaf will play in the Sun Bowl, Bellotti feels that both Cody Kempt and Justin Roper have made significant strides in their progress.

"When you come in and your first pass goes for a touchdown, when you didn't even score in the game before it builds a tremendous amount of excitement and confidence is instilled in everybody on the team," commented Bellotti on Justin Roper's progress. "Justin threw for two touchdowns and ran for another so that's a pretty good effort in his first real extended playing time."

Bellotti went on to say that Kempt had actually outplayed Roper in the preceding week before the annual Civil War game against Oregon State.

Stewart's health of course is the first question on everyone's mind.

"He walked up to receive his award, slowly and gingerly, but he did it very well," described Bellotti of Stewart's health. "I think he is very excited for the opportunity to continue to add to his record, the most yards gained in a season. He made the comment 'let's go get this bowl game', as did every single person that visited the podium."

When queried how many times Stewart will be asked, between now and the Bowl game, if he's turning pro, Bellotti responded, "probably more times than he carried the ball yesterday."

Bellotti mentioned that he will be on the road next week to New York and Florida to attend awards banquets in which Dixon is a candidate for but the coach will also use the trip for recruiting purposes. Dixon will have corrective surgery that requires six-to-eight month's recovery. Oregon's team doctors will perform the procedure.

The team will conduct about 17 practices leading up to the Sun Bowl. Oregon will depart for El Paso on Dec. 26th. The game will take place on Dec. 31st.

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