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New roost yields little rise from Ducks.

Byline: Rob Moseley The Register-Guard

Two weeks ago, Oregon was 4-0 and ranked No. 11 in the country. Today, one loss later, those same Ducks are 4-1 and ranked ... No. 9 in the country.

That can happen when the loss is to the team now ranked No. 2 nationally, California. And when, in each of the last two weeks, five teams ranked higher than the Ducks were beaten.

"We slipped, and were fortunate that with all the upheaval in college football, and the rash of what people call upsets, that we were the beneficiary of that," UO coach Mike Bellotti said Monday, as the Ducks returned to the practice field following three days off as part of their bye week. "We didn't do a lot to deserve it."?Perhaps not this past week, though Oregon's body of work earlier this season certainly speaks for itself at this point. Michigan is 4-2 and receiving votes in the polls, while Fresno State's only two losses are to ranked teams. And, of course, Stanford is probably still celebrating one of the biggest upsets in Pac-10 history: the Cardinal's one-point win over USC on Saturday.

All of which has to have the Ducks feeling pretty good about themselves entering Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game against Washington State (2-4) in Autzen Stadium. Right?

"We knew what we had before we lost, and we know what type of team we are" UO cornerback Jairus Byrd said. "It doesn't really affect our confidence or anything like that."

Oregon's quarterback, Dennis Dixon, who is fourth nationally in pass efficiency, seemed even less impressed with the Ducks' having broken into the top 10 for the first time since late in 2005.

"No thoughts at all," Dixon said. "This team knows the record at the end is what matters. Right now it's too early in the season."

Dixon went home to the Bay Area for the bye weekend and spent Saturday watching football games with family. He saw former UO offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, now in the same position at No. 1 Louisiana State, help the Tigers survive an upset bid from Florida.

Not playing was hard, Dixon said, but "it was also great to get away." Watching all the upsets and dramatic finishes was educational, he said, "seeing situations where I can prepare myself."?Another team captain, junior center Max Unger, stayed in Eugene for the weekend but also spent his Saturday on the couch watching football.

"It was cool to see the team we really beat up pretty good beat USC," Unger said, referring to Oregon's 55-31 win at Stanford. "It gives us a little bit of hope, but we can't bank too much on that."

Indeed, wins would serve the Ducks much better in the next two months. The stakes get higher each week, particularly when the Bowl Championship Series rankings are released for the first time this season on Sunday.

For the second year, there are 10 spots to be had in the five BCS games. Six conference champions - from the Pac-10, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, SEC and ACC - gain automatic bids, even if they're not among the top two teams that advance to the national title game in New Orleans. But no more than two teams from any one conference can advance to BCS games.

Notre Dame is guaranteed inclusion if the Irish finish in the top eight, but that's all but impossible after they won for the first time this season Saturday against UCLA.

The top-rated conference champ from among five smaller leagues is also guaranteed a spot in the BCS, if it's in the top 12 overall, or the top 16 and ahead of a champion from one of the six biggest conferences. This season, the most likley interloper is Hawaii of the WAC, at 6-0 and ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press.

Those are heady considerations for Duck fans, and certainly the BCS is already on their minds. But the players are trying to avoid the mistake of getting ahead of themselves that hurt so much last season.

"You can never be 12-1 unless you're 5-1," UO middle linebacker John Bacon said. "So we're just focusing on Washington State. They've got some great athletes. They've got a great quarterback. So we're getting ready."

OREGON vs. WASHINGTON ST.

12:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium. TV: No live, replay at 11:30 p.m. on KEZI. Radio: KUGN-AM (590) and KZEL-FM (96.1). More UO football at www.registerguard.com/blogs
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Title Annotation:Football Oregon; Watching higher-ranked teams fall during bye week catches Oregon's attention
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 9, 2007
Words:753
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