EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — There’s really no spinning Oregon’s No. 1 ranking and the challenge the Ducks pose for UCLA on Thursday night. Coach Rick Neuheisel says he doesn’t need to point out what the Bruins already know.
“Whether or not I talk about it, our guys are going to be well aware of it,” the coach said. “This is a team that has risen to the top of the land.”
The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-10) visit heavily favored Oregon (6-0, 3-0) at raucous Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks will be celebrating their first-ever appearance atop the AP Top 25.
Oregon popped up the rankings after two straight weeks of upsets for the No. 1: Alabama lost to South Carolina before Ohio State lost at Wisconsin last weekend.
The only time an AP No. 1 has lost three straight weeks was November 1960, when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri all fell. But while all the signs point to an Oregon victory, the Ducks are wary.
“We’re obviously aware with what happened the last two weeks with the No. 1 ranking, and that’s gone a little bit into our preparation of ‘You gotta keep doing what you did to get here,”‘ offensive lineman Mark Asper said.
The Ducks, who run an innovative spread-option installed by coach Chip Kelly, have the top-ranked scoring offense in the country with an average of 54.3 points per game. They also have the nation’s third-ranked rushing offense, averaging 321.7 yards a game.
A lot of Oregon’s success on the ground can be attributed to sophomore LaMichael James, who averages a national-best 169.6 yards a game.
“How hard is it to tackle that kid? It’s ridiculous. He looks better than he did a year ago, too, so that’ll be a crazy challenge,” UCLA safety Tony Dye said.
The Bruins’ most glaring issue going into the game is the status of quarterback Kevin Prince, who has been hampered by a sore knee since UCLA’s upset victory over Texas on Sept. 25.
Prince practiced for the Bruins on Sunday, but sat out Monday and Tuesday and reportedly underwent an MRI. Neuheisel would not commit to a quarterback earlier this week, while Prince was playing it cool.
“It hasn’t been getting better as fast as we would like it to,” Prince said. “I don’t think there’s any serious issue, but it’s dragging on.”
If Prince can’t go, Richard Brehaut will get the daunting job of trying to guide UCLA’s dismal passing offense at intimidating Autzen, which will host a “Yellow Out” for the national television audience.
The Bruins installed a trendy Pistol offense this season — but in the process their passing game suffered with an average of just 95.5 yards a game. In five games, Prince has thrown for only 384 yards and three touchdowns. He’s been intercepted five times.
Brehaut made his first career start this season in UCLA’s 42-28 victory over Washington State on Oct. 2. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 128 yards. He also ran a yard for the go-ahead touchdown.
“They both play the same and I think they’re both very similar quarterbacks. I’m not sure who we’re going to play, but either way, we have to be ready for both of them,” Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews said.
The Bruins will be without receiver Josh Smith and F-back Morrell Presley. The pair was suspended for the Oregon game for violating team rules. Neuheisel has refused to comment on the specifics.
On Oregon’s side, quarterback Darron Thomas is fully recovered after tweaking his right shoulder in Oregon’s 43-23 victory over the Cougars on Oct. 9. The Ducks had an open date last weekend that helped.
“(It started feeling better) through the whole week of the bye week, working with the trainers and things like that, working on some stuff to strengthen it,” Thomas said. “I’m 100 percent now and will be ready for the game.”
Thomas has thrown for 1,231 yards and 14 touchdowns through six games. He has been intercepted five times, but he’s also run for 221 yards and two scores.
UCLA, also coming off a bye week, leads the all-time series against Oregon 39-24, but the Ducks won the last one 24-10 in Pasadena.
The Bruins are 4-10 against AP top-ranked teams. Their last win over a No. 1 came in the 1976 Rose Bowl against Ohio State.
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